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Tampa Bay Rays Attendance Analysis: April 2019

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What are we to make of the attendance figures from the last month?

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

Note from the Editor: The Rays came home from a difficult road trip with the best record in baseball to welcome the competitive Arizona Diamondbacks for a weekday series on Monday night, and as Cy Young winner Blake Snell flirted with a perfect game, only 8,124 fans were in attendance — the lowest non-hurricane related attendance at Tropicana Field since the 2006 season, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Fans may not love it, but attendance will receive heightened focus this season as the Rays Stadium Saga rages on and ticket purchases dip across baseball. Accordingly, I’ve welcomed Mike Lortz of Tampa Bay Baseball Market back to DRaysBay for a monthly review of Rays attendance figures for the 2019 season. You can follow him on twitter @TBBaseballMkt for commentary throughout the year as well.

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Welcome to our first monthly review of the Tampa Rays 2019 attendance. This post will look at attendance in the Rays 16 home games played from March 28, 2019 to April 30, 2019.

  • Total March/April 2019 Tampa Bay Rays home attendance: 224,141
  • Average attendance per game: 14,009
  • Highest attendance: 25,025 on Thursday, March 28th (Opening Day)
  • Lowest attendance: 8,298 on Tuesday, April 23rd
  • Average March/April game time: 2 hours, 59 minutes
  • Highest attended series: 21,008 per game vs Red Sox, April 19-21
  • Lowest attended series: 9,238 per game vs Orioles, April 22-24
  • Competing events:
  • March 30: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Amalie Arena
  • Total Tampa Bay (Tampa, Clearwater, Dunedin and Bradenton) Minor League April attendance: 64,060
  • Tampa Bay Minor League attendance per game: 1,562 (41 games)

Comparing March/April 2019 with previous years

The following chart compares March/April 2019 average attendance to other recent years.

The April 2019 average attendance decreased 7% (1,059 fewer fans per game) from their April 2018 per game average. However, as we see in the following chart, the Rays played more games in March/April 2019 than they had during previous March/April periods under current ownership.

Perhaps MLB is trying to reduce weather-related postponements of northern teams by having more games in southern cities in March/April. But, as we will see, this might actually be detrimental to Rays average attendance.

Weekdays vs Weekends

Let’s look at the Rays March/April attendance on weekdays (Mon-Thurs) and weekends (Fri-Sun). The Rays usually have one of the biggest weekday/weekend differentials in Major League Baseball.

March/April 2019 breakdown:

  • Weekday home games: 10
  • Weekend home games: 6

Not only did the Rays play more games in March/April than average, they played more weekday home games in March/April 2019 than they ever in previous years under Stuart Sternberg’s ownership.

Loading up the schedule early in the season, especially with weekday games puts a lot of pressure on the Rays marketing department to get people to buy into the product without seeing how well it does. It is easy to sell the experience of a team in contention in September, but much harder to sell an experience in March/April.

This chart shows the Rays average March/April weekday April attendance since 2007.

With 66% more home games in March/April than average, the Rays drew a larger total number of fans, but had a far lower average weekday March/April attendance in 2019 than in 2018, decreasing 3,151 fans per game. These averages include Opening Day.

However, let’s subtract Opening Day. This game almost always sells out. In 2019, however, the Rays have eliminated all third deck seating and reduced the capacity of the stadium by 6,000 seats. This decrease has little impact on most days, but it does have an impact on Opening Day.

When we subtract Opening Day from our average, we see that the Rays actually increased their weekday per game average from 8,997 in 3 games in 2018 to 9,839 over 9 games in 2019.

The following chart shows Rays average weekend attendance in March/April since 2007.

The Rays March/April weekend average attendance in 2019 was 3,111 more tickets sold than their March/April average attendance in 2018. Their 2019 weekend average was the highest it had been since 2016.

The obvious reason was weekend attendance in March/April 2019 was better than previous years was the impact of the Red Sox series at Tropicana Field April 22-24. However, the Rays also played the Red Sox in a weekend series in March/April 2018. Let’s compare:

The 2018 series against Boston included Opening Day, but if we exclude that obvious high drawing game, the 2019 series drew more fans to Tropicana Field averaging 21,008 to 2018’s 17,099.

There are three obvious reasons to explain this increase:

  1. Boston just won a World Series and it is possible more Boston fans want to see their team.
  2. The Rays are better in 2019 than in 2018 and it is possible more Rays fans want to see their team.
  3. With three games instead of four, Boston fans have fewer options.

One takeaway from these figures: if given the choice, the Rays should never open their season against the Red Sox or Yankees. Opening Day will draw automatically but other games need as much help as they can get.

Conclusion

Overall, the Rays saw their sixth decline in average March/April attendance in 7 years. That’s not good. They were also burdened with a loaded March/April home schedule, with an unusually high number of weekday games. While that might be good for the team on the field, giving them the comfort of home to get into the grind of the season, it puts a lot of pressure on the marketing and ticket sales department, who have to sell their product based on last year’s results.

Despite the bad news, there were a few glimmers of hope in the Rays 2019 March/April attendance: Excluding Opening Day, weekday attendance increased over weekday attendance in 2018, although it was still below 10,000 per game. And again excluding Opening Day, attendance against the Red Sox increased, which should be a good sign if the Rays stay near the top of the AL East standings.

May is typically not a good month for Rays attendance, as it is usually their lowest average month. There are many reasons for this: school is still in session, it is still early in the season, the weather is nice enough to watch Minor League Baseball outside, and in some seasons, the Lightning are still making a playoff run. In other words, don’t expect much in May, although the Yankees series from May 10-12 should draw well.