Don’t be surprised when the Rays announce a record high capacity filled percentage later this season. Sure, crowds will presumably be bigger, assuming the Rays continue on a decent pace, but more due to the official capacity number being dropped for the second consecutive season.
In 2006 the Rays drew over 40,000 fans on opening day and last year right around 38,500. Under the capacity numbers both constituted a complete sellout; however the team has lowered the number to just around 36,000, knocking off a pesky 2,000 seats since mid-season last year.
Take a quick look at the capacity filled percentage for each of the past three seasons:
A 9% increase in capacity filled since taking over is nothing to hang your head in disgust about, and especially considering the team hasn’t made vast increases in standing or winning gains the attendance could’ve easily slid off. Now let’s project the team wins enough to raise overall attendance by 2% based on the 36,000 number.
We get a projected 6% jump in filled capacity, which is simply mind blowing. We’re not talking about a World Series contender either, but simply just a competitive enough team to add around 87,000 fans in one season.
Here’s the kicker; the organization has taken steps to ensure that extra fans will attend per game. Let’s start with the removal of free parking for non-carpooling attendees. How many people will simply round up three others to ride with instead of paying the parking fee? Families of four aren’t going to stop attending, they’ll still get in free, but the USF students are a different story.
How does this effect anything? Take the new stadium, when the season ends the team can announce they had 60% of the seats filled this year, a new high that suggests fans are starting to really latch onto the home team. "Our attendance per game rose by nearly 1,000 people." Or "Our filled capacity rose from 44% to 51% this year." Which is more impressive, and perhaps misleading, to the voting public?
I’m hardly suggesting that the Rays are the only team to ever skew the numbers slightly, and you have to admire them for doing so in such an astute manner, but there’s another side to this and that would be the potential to raise ticket prices next year. Simple supply/demand economics, with fewer seats available the team can raise ticket prices slightly and presumably maintain a good market. As the competitive level of the team rises the prices will as well until moving into the new ballpark where capacity will be roughly 34,000. Add in attractions like the waterfront, a winning team, and the always popular new park feel, and ticket prices could definitely see quite a hike.
Of course we’re looking quite a bit in advance, but something as seemingly insignificant as lowering full capacity by 2,000 seats can simply be a phase of posturing for down the road price rises.