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Attendance Update: We Don't Suck

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There's been a lot said these past couple days about the Rays' attendance so far this year, most of it negative.  And rightly so: since we've last had an attendance update here, the Rays' attendance has dipped from an average of around 27K per game to around 22K per game.  Personally, I was expecting our attendance to remain around the 25-27K mark so when I first noticed the drop-off, I was just as concerned as Matt Silverman.  For a team that just just made it to the World Series last year, an average attendance under 25K is rather ridiculous.

But that's simply our first impression and it'd be rather naive to simply stop our analysis there.  Yes, 22K seems really low, but what really matters is how our final attendance numbers look at the end of the year.  Is there any reason to believe our average attendance will go up by the end of the year?  Also, is 22K really all that bad?

As we've reviewed in my past posts, attendance depends on two main variables: day of the week and opponent faced.  Could it be that during this first part of the season, we had an inordinate amount of middle of the week home games versus less than stellar opponents?  If this were the case, we could expect the Rays' attendance to increase from this point forward even without a change in fan behavior.  Let's look at how we've done so far:

#

Avg

Mon-Thurs =

20

18044

Fri-Sat =

15

28658

Going forward, we've got 45 more home games with 21 of them during the middle of the week and 24 of them on weekends.  If the averages remain the same, that increase in weekend games would raise our current average attendance from 22.5K to 23.2K.  Okay, so that's not a huge difference, but what about competitiveness?  So far, we've only had one home series against the Yankees (3 games) and one against the Red Sox (4 games).  Going forward, we're scheduled to have two series against the Yankees (6 games) and two against the Red Sox (5 games), the majority of which are scheduled during the middle of the week.  I expect these series to raise the 18K weekday average attendance, although by how much is tough to tell.

Also, overall the Rays are facing slightly more competitive teams during the second half of the year.  In order to create an off-the-cuff measure of competitiveness, I ranked the Rays' opponents for each home game by their current PECOTA rankings.  For instance, the Red Sox have the best record in the AL, so they received a ranking of 1, while the Royals received a ranking of 13 (I discounted the Rays).  I then averaged all of these together to get a general idea of how competitive these halfs of the schedule are.  While the difference isn't huge, the Rays' opponents averaged a 7.9 up to this point in the season, while they average a 6.7 for the remainder of the season.  While these numbers are obviously tough to quantify, I think we can assume that the Rays will draw more as the season wears on, especially if they are in the race for a playoff spot until late.

So now after taking scheduling into account, it appears like the Rays should average in the range of 24K per game (plus/minus 1K, though more likely plus) by the end of the season.  Like RJ has said countless times, when in doubt: regression, regression, regression.  However, I think we can all agree that 24K is still far from ideal.  Many people were hoping for fans to turn out for games as much as they did during the Rays' inaugural season.  While the current economic state of the country tempered those expectations somewhat, I don't think anyone figured that the Rays would only average 24K per game. Then again, human perceptions and expectations can be wildly off at times.  Bud Selig did warn at the beginning of the season that attendance could be down 17-20% across the league this year.  If this were the case with the Rays, a 24K per game average would be more like 28-29K in a normal economy.  With this in mind, I decided to take a look at how badly the economy is hitting MLB attendance figures.

If you look at this spreadsheet, you'll notice that only 6 out of the 30 major league teams have experienced a growth in attendance so far this year.  The Rays are one of these six, despite the fact that the Tampa Bay-St. Pete metropolitan area has an unemployment rate of 10.1%.  In fact, the Tampa Bay-St. Pete metropolitan area is tied for the second largest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area supporting a major league baseball team (tied with Los Angeles, trailing only Detroit).  Major league baseball is averaging an 8% decrease in attendance, but that does not take into account potential fluctuations in attendance figures that teams would have otherwise experienced, like an increase in attendance for teams with new stadiums, teams making the playoffs, etc.  

So putting the Rays attendance figures in context, it is rather incredible that the Rays have increased attendance at all this season.  If the Rays were to finish with an average attendance of 24K, that would be an increase of 8%.  While not the giant increase the Rays were expecting, it would still be an impressive figure considering the circumstances.  The only problem is that no matter how impressive 24K per game may actually be in this climate, it's still most likely not enough to pay for the Rays' large increases in payroll.

Or in other words, we've got a Good-Bad situation on our hands.  Good: the Tampa Bay-St. Pete area doesn't suck!  Bad: Where the heck is our franchise going to get money?