Final 2009 Attendance Figures for the Tampa Bay Rays

First, just the facts:

Rays' Attendance Figures

2008

2009

Change

Average per game =

22,259

23,147

+3.8%

Total attendance =

1,780,791

1,874,962

+5.0%

Ranking (out of 30) =

26

23

+3


No matter how optimistically you try to look at the numbers, the final attendance figures for the 2009 Rays are rather underwhelming.  Coming off of a year where the Rays made the World Series, posting a final attendance figure below 25K per game seems rather ludicrous.  And it is.  I'm not going to attempt to spin it in a positive light; it's really disappointing.  I'm sure this is far below what Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman were hoping to draw this year.

That said, I believe we should hold off on the torches and pitchforks, and save judgement on whether Tampa Bay is a "Baseball Town" or not for another day.  Just as you could easily make the argument that Tampa isn't proving to be a competitive baseball market, you could easily make the argument that we still haven't given the area enough time. Considering this was only our franchises' second competitive year, it's way too early to declare one way or the other that the issue is closed for debate.  And even if the Rays were to move, it wouldn't be for another few years at the very earliest, so we have plenty of time to assess how the Tampa-St. Pete fanbase develops.

Since this is DRaysBay, though, we can't leave our analysis at such a surface-level depth.  To only look at the obvious numbers without attempting to dig below them and investigate more...well, that just doesn't happen here.  I don't claim that I'm going to reach any final conclusions or find definitive data; I'm just hoping to provide the Rays' 2009 attendance numbers with some context.

The Recession

First, as you all probably know, the US has been going through a bit of a rough stretch recently, economically-speaking.  This recession hit baseball pretty hard this season, with total attendance for all of major league baseball down around 7% from last year.  For a look at how it specifically affected every team, take a look at this spreadsheet.  You'll notice that the Rays were one of only 8 teams to increase attendance this season, and they had the 5th highest rate of attendance increase in all of baseball.  At the same time, the Tampa-St. Pete metropolitan area has been hit extremely hard by the recession (11.3% current unemployment rate; MLB average = 9.6% unemployment rate).

Between 2008 and 2009, there is technically no direct correlation between a team's change in attendance and their city's unemployment rate, but I don't think anyone would argue that the decreased attendance around the league had nothing at all to do with the recession.  The lack of a correlation is probably because there are many other factors at play which can influence attendance, like new stadiums, changes in competitiveness, Zack Grienke (really, why else would the Royals have increased attendance this year?), strength of the fanbase, etc.  Despite the lack of correlation, having a high unemployment rate can't be a good sign for your team's attendance at games...

 

Mid-season Changes in Competitiveness

Up until around mid-August, the Rays were well within the hunt for the playoffs at only around 5 games back in the division and a couple back from the Wild Card; however, on August 12th, the Rays fell to 10 games back in the division and their playoff odds were severely diminished.  Exactly one month from that day, the Rays were in the midst of that 11 game losing streak that dropped them to 20 games back from the division, eliminating any small glimmer of hope that may have been lurking.  Take a look at what happened to our attendance per game average after these two dates:

Attendance/Game changes 
(Quick note: this graph starts in mid-May, when our attendance/game average had leveled from its early season fluctuations.)

While these drops in attendance may have been a result of random variation over the course of the season (weekday games, poor competition, etc), we definitely dropped off quite steeply after falling out of contention.  If we were in the thick of the Wild Card hunt, would we have drawn less than 20K/game against the Red Sox in early September?  Even though it was a weekday series, I highly doubt it.

 

Pricing Changes

Despite the fact that we only increased attendance a small amount this year, our amount of revenue from the regular season most likely increased by a larger degree.  How come?  

Prices

2008

2009

Percent Change

Avg. Ticket

17.23

18.35

6.5%

Avg. Premium Ticket

57.28

59.82

4.4%

Beer

5

8

60.0%

Soft Drink

3.75

5

33.3%

Hot Dog

3.25

5

53.8%

Cap

15

18

20.0%

Notice I said regular season.  Since we're not in the playoffs, our total team revenue will definitely decrease this year; however, as far as regular seasons go, we're making more than we did last year and probably more than we've made in any regular season in recent memory.

 

Wrap-Up

I don't have any agenda in presenting the information that I have; I merely wanted to show a couple of attendance-related points that I'd noticed.  Yes, it stinks to have attendance as low as we did this - there's no real way around that - but it's very tough to tell what this means about the Tampa-St. Pete area going forward.  There are indications that attendance should improve in the future, but then again, there are so many variables at play, it's tough to say with any certainty exactly what our attendance will look like next year.  In a similar vein, it's also really tough to say what our attendance this year means for the Rays' payroll going forward.  Feel free to interpret the data I've presented on your own and come to your own conclusions.  Personally, I'm going to remain hesitantly optimistic about the future.  If the economy improves by next season and we start off the year on a hot-streak...well, who knows?

** All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Team Marketing Reports.

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