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Rays Postseason Attendance Analysis

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MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I started tracking and analyzing Rays attendance in 2014. That year, the Rays went 79-83, their first year under .500 since 2007. The year earlier, in 2013, the Rays made the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.

The Rays continued to slump in 2014, again finishing under .500. The year that followed, 2015, was a rebuilding year. Gone were Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon, architects of the 2008-2013 contenders. In came Kevin Cash, Matt Silverman and eventually Erik Neander, and a rebuilt core of players. The Rays struggled to win games and lost approximately 30% of their regular season attendance, decreasing from 1.5 million annually to 1.1 million.

I tracked it all. The high days, the low days, and the even lower days. But not until today am I finally able to write a post I have wanted to write for five years.

I finally get to write about Rays postseason home attendance.

Writing about playoff attendance was never fitting until now. I couldn’t write about playoff attendance in the middle of a season, especially one in which the team wasn’t in contention. I couldn’t jinx the team and analyze playoff attendance while they were in a pennant race. And doing so after a season in which they didn’t make the playoffs wouldn’t make much sense.

But with home postseason games played at Tropicana Field in 2019, I think it is time to take a look at fan ticket purchasing trends for playoff home games at Tropicana Field.

The following is a list of Rays home playoff games in franchise history.

A few observations:

  1. Nearly half of the Rays postseason home games came in 2008. That makes sense as that was the year they made it the furthest and they haven’t made it past the first round since.
  2. The Rays have a losing postseason record at Tropicana Field at 8 wins and 9 losses. Only in the 2008 ALDS and 2019 ALDS did they win all their home games.
  3. There hasn’t been a weekend home playoff game at Tropicana Field since the 2008 ALCS.
  4. Since 2010, five of the Rays nine home playoff games have been day games. Weekday day games to be exact. Not the easiest games to fill for a small-to-mid sized market.

Many in the media were surprised to see crowds over 30,000 at Tropicana Field for the 2019 ALDS. They were making assumptions based on the Rays regular season attendance, which at 1.1 million was among the lowest in franchise history.

But that was the wrong number to look at. The playoffs are not normal games, they are events. It helps to compare apples to apples. The Rays postseason average attendance entering 2019 was 36,247. The 2019 games would naturally draw less, as Tropicana Field lost seats to a major renovation in 2014. But there was no doubt Rays fans were going to show up en masse to Tropicana Field for the ALDS.

And no, Steve Phillips, they weren’t paid actors.

(Glad to see the former Mets general manager deleted his ignorant tweet.)

Due to the renovations of Tropicana Field, the 2019 ALDS was the Rays second lowest attended playoff series in franchise history, only better than the 2011 ALDS. We can estimate the Rays 2011 postseason attendance was possibly affected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday Night Football game on October 3rd, 2011. This Monday Night Football game was between the Rays two day playoff games on Monday and Tuesday, October 4th. Fortunately for the Rays, there was an opportunity for fans to attend both the playoff game in St. Petersburg and the NFL game in Tampa.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the many disadvantages of being in a small-to-mid sized market is that MLB will rarely schedule the Rays for night games in the first round of the playoffs. Night games in primetime go to teams in bigger markets such as the Yankees or Red Sox. The only exception is deciding games when the other ALDS has already ended, such as what happened this postseason.

Despite drawing over 32,000 in 16 of 17 games, there is often discussion of whether the Rays sell out their postseason games. This is a very difficult conversation to prove positive or negative. According to wikipedia, Tropicana Field’s max capacity is 42,735. The most the Rays have drawn for a playoff game is 41,845. Does this mean they have never sold out a playoff game?

Not quite.

The Rays front office always releases tickets for postseason games strategically. They want to maximize demand for tickets.They are also very hesitant to open upper deck seats obstructed by the rings of Tropicana Field. So the number of tickets for sale for each game varies. Without extensive research, it is very difficult to determine how many tickets were actually for sale. In 2019, for example, the Rays were strategically releasing tickets until the morning of Game 4 of the ALDS.

Critics of the Rays fanbase will always use this to their advantage, but the fact is that many Rays fans don’t know how many tickets are left to buy, in what part of the stadium, and for what cost. If tickets are temporarily sold out, fans have to pay attention to Rays media to find out if additional seats become available.

The 2019 season brought a fun and exciting return to the postseason. Rays fans filled Tropicana Field much to the surprise of those who don’t understand Rays fans past behavior. I mentioned often on twitter that the Trop was going to be loud, and it was.

Hopefully the future brings additional playoff appearances for the Rays at Tropicana Field and hopefully I don’t have to wait another five years to write a postseason attendance analysis.