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Raynomics: Branding, Tickets, and Age

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The Kazmir post is on a bit of delay, so instead I decided to take on a topic that was covered in Vince Gennaro's Diamond Dollars book; team branding to be exact and it lead to something else.

In the book he uses the likes of the Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, and Royals to make his point on what strong brands are - the aforementioned threesome of large market terror - and how a non-existent brand can build credibility within their fan base. For our purposes I'll apply the situations to the Rays.

The chapter begins with a chart labeled "Team Brand Development", and lists the three phases: build credibility and trust, provide compelling entertainment value, create emotional bond with fans. Inside Gennaro labels a few attributes for every plateau, we'll examine a few of these as they relate to the Rays.

Beginning with building credibility and trust Gennaro theorizes that the owner must show commitment to the community - Sternberg has put forth money to local fields amongst other projects and obviously wants to stay around town.

Team shows effort, has a few name players, the broadcasts are accessible, the park is clean and fan friendly, and promotions add value to the ticket.

Again, nearly all of those have been reached by the new ownership, the Trop pre-Sternberg was miserable in most regards, since taking over the improvement has been like none other. Most games are on television and radio, and the promotions show signs of attempting to design an identity for the fans as a whole - a la the cowbells.

I believe the Rays have moved to the second step of the pyramid - compelling entertainment value. Some of the criteria worth noting: fans have a sense of optimism about the team's competitive chances, team is building continuity with key players, and team has homegrown budding marquee players.

Check, check, and check. From this site alone you can tell the hopes are higher than they've been in quite a while, and with Crawford, Upton, Kazmir, Shields, ect. are homegrown, and as the team wins should develop into marquee players - or in Crawford and Kazmir's case, into billboard sized players.

The final step includes launching a regional broadcasting network full of the team's brand, think YES or RSN. The Rays aren't, and may never, get to the point where we have the Rays channel, but Sun Sports could certainly work as a place where more team oriented broadcasting is placed.

I'd like to discuss the idea of building owner credibility a bit more, Gennaro notes how the Royals brought in the likes of Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Grudzielanek, and Reggie Sanders through free agency along with keeping their veteran star Mike Sweeney as a way to gain trust with the fan base. Keeping your good players and adding veteran players on top shows an effort to win, but I don't agree with that bringing in those specific players should gain a fan's trust.

As Rays fans we've been burned before by veteran players past their prime. There's a difference between bringing in a name and bringing in a utility to a team, and this off-season we've seen that. Now that's not to say the Royals signings were awful, Mientkiewicz had a good 2006 (.283/.359/.411) and Grudzielanek won a Gold Glove, which naturally earns the casual fan's attention, but if you run Reggie Sanders 2007 through a stat database he's roughly equal to Upton's 2006 year - essentially his career is finished.

The problem with this idea is that if a team has a productive farm system the need for marginal veterans is minimal. Remember signing Robbie Alomar when Jorge and Nick Green produced just as poorly, perhaps slightly better for far less?

My theory is that bad teams who actually use their farm systems for the right reasons - building future talent and using it instead of paying unproductive veterans - might actually take a shot at the ticket box and bottom line. Simply put, the younger the team, the smaller the crowd, giving credence to the thought that if the team signs crappy veterans they actually gain more respect with locals than producing their own soon to be crappy veterans.

For this experiment we can't use the Rays, after all the novelty factor of actually having a big league team ran through the only year the Rays had a team age over 28, instead we'll look at the Royals.

As you can see, the numbers seem to suggest that fans did go to the stadium more when the team was older, let's look at the ranks of each:

Age (1-5, 1 being youngest) / Attnd. (1-5, 1 being lowest)

There appears to be somewhat of a correlation there, although to be fair, the team won its most games during their oldest year, and lost their most during their youngest year.

Here's a graphic look at attendance and age:

Again there's a slight making of a pattern going on there, although nothing too specific and clear, but you could suggest that perhaps the young players on the team just weren't good, giving the same result as a team of marginal veterans, except none of the young players likely bring a marquee tag or name, barring hyped prospects or a September showoff from the year before.

Of course all of this is irrelevant if teams win, and we know that losing teams full of young players can make a profit the same as a winning team, but the question becomes how much more of a profit can a team make if they sprinkle in some veterans?