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Rays Monthly Attendance Analysis: August 2019

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All eyes are on the Rays continued struggles to fill the Trop.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Welcome to our fifth monthly review of the Tampa Rays 2019 attendance. This post will look at attendance in the Rays 13 home games played from August 3 to August 31, 2019.

  • Total August 2019 Tampa Bay Rays home attendance: 161,226
  • Average attendance per August game: 12,402
  • Highest attendance: 17,228 on Saturday, August 17th
  • Lowest attendance: 7,455 on Tuesday, August 20th
  • Average August game time: 3 hours, 8 minutes (2 extra inning games)
  • Highest attended series: 15,859 per game vs Tigers, August 16-18
  • Lowest attended series: 8,144 per game vs Seattle, August 19-21
  • Total Tampa Bay Minor League August attendance: 56,136
  • Tampa Bay Minor League August attendance per game: 1,194 (47 games)

(Note: TB Minor League attendance includes Tampa, Clearwater, Bradenton, and Dunedin - teams within 30 miles of Tropicana Field.)

Comparing August 2019 with previous years

The following chart compares August 2019 average attendance to other recent years.

The Rays’ August 2019 average attendance decreased 11% from their August 2018 average (1,558 fewer fans per game).

Overall, Rays August 2019 attendance was the lowest attended August under the Sternberg ownership and lowest since 2003, when the Devil Rays averaged 11,103 during the month.

August 2019 was also the second time under the Sternberg ownership that the Rays failed to draw 20,000 for any August game. The first was in 2016. We can hypothesize the blame on the schedule in 2019, as the Rays did not play any of their usual rivals with large visiting fanbases, but they didn’t play the Red Sox or Yankees in August 2011 or August 2012 (years that drew at 20,000 for at least one game) and they did play the Red Sox at Tropicana Field in 2016.

Perhaps the lack of postgame concerts could also hurt. In 2011 and 2012 - years without AL East rivals visiting Tropicana Field in August - the Rays scheduled postgame concerts to draw fans. They ended the postgame concert program in 2018, but had decreased the number of concerts years before that, possibly reducing the marketing allure.

August Attendance and Winning

A popular convention is that winning equals greater attendance. The teams that play better in a month should see increased attendance. The problem with this sentiment is that those who make this claim never make clear how often the winning should occur, when in the season it should occur, or how long the team needs to win before seeing attendance increases. They only say winning equals butts in seats.

Throughout the history of the Rays, we have seen that winning doesn’t always equal attendance increases. There are many other factors in play (location, economics, opponent, etc.). But is there a relationship between a good August record and a year-over-year attendance gain?

Here is the Rays August attendance since 2007, with percentage changes and winning percentage.

The Rays have played very well in August, with only two losing records in the month since 2007. However, as typical for the franchise, attendance highs and lows do not match winning.

Here is a graph of August’s average attendance as relation of winning percentage.

The results of this chart further prove there is no correlation between winning in August and attendance at Tropicana Field.

Weekdays vs Weekends

Let’s look at the Rays August attendance on weekdays (Mon-Thurs) and weekends (Fri-Sun). The Rays usually have one of the biggest differences in Major League Baseball in regards to weekday versus weekend attendance.

August 2019 breakdown:

  • Weekday home games: 6
  • Weekend home games: 7

The following chart shows the Rays average August weekday attendance since 2007.

The Rays weekday attendance in August 2019 averaged over 500 fans less per game than in 2018. Average attendance in 2019 continued an interesting trend of declines. We see after the peak in 2009, August weekday attendance settling in the 13,000 range from 2011 to 2013, then a brief bump, then the 12,000 range from 2015 to 2017, then the current rate of decline and commonality of less than 10,000 average attendances.

We will discuss sub-10,000 attendance more after the season in our September analysis, but needless to say, for Rays ticket sales, it is not trending in the right direction.

The following chart shows Rays average weekend attendance in August since 2007.

Rays August weekend average attendance in 2019 was 5,000 fans per game less than their August average in 2018. The 2019 August average was the second lowest August weekend attendance since 2007, second only to 2016, which it only beat by 63 per game. Again, not a good trend for Rays ticket sales.

Interestingly, there is a trend in August weekend attendance. We see from 2008 to 2010 attendance nearing 30,000, then a drop in 2011 due to lack of AL East rivals on the August schedule. From 2012 to 2015, August weekend attendance was in the 20,000 range, then it dropped again to current levels, with the only exception being August 2018 and the impact of a well-attended weekend series against Boston.

The following is the difference between weekend and weekday attendance.

The Rays have always had one of, if not, the largest weekend to weekday differential in Major League Baseball. This is explainable by the distance of the stadium from the wealth of the fanbase. Monday through Thursday attendance is impacted by traffic and time both to the stadium and heading home after the game. Weekend games do not have the same pressures and time crunch. Convenience counts.

As usual, the Rays in August 2019 sold more tickets for weekend games than on weekdays. Whereas some of the years have smaller differences, probably due to scheduling, there are no surprises on this chart.

Conclusion

August 2019 was one of the Rays worst months for attendance in recent history. I have been exploring and studying Rays attendance trends for over five years and I can’t figure out why sub-10,000 attendance have become so frequent. Of the six weekday games in August, four of them sold less than 10,000 tickets.

If we look at the common factors for attendance, many of them point to estimated increases in attendance.

  • The economy in Tampa Bay has improved since the 2008-2012 recession.
  • The area population has increased.
  • The jobless rate has decreased.
  • I-275 through Tampa is no longer under construction.
  • The Rays are winning.
  • The stadium has not moved further away.

My only conclusion is marketing and public relations. As I pointed out on twitter recently, while there are huge banners throughout Tampa for the Lightning and Bucs, I have yet to see a banner or billboard on this side of the bridge for the local professional sports team closest to the playoffs.

The Rays are good again. The city should be buzzing. The games should be on at every sports bar in town. There should be Rays flags flying. But I don’t see it.

Yes, college football has started. Yes, the Bucs season has started. Yes, the XFL team is now a thing. Yes, sports radio, local newspapers, and other media are no longer focused only on the Rays. But the Rays have competed for attention in Tampa Bay before and they have captured the pulse of Tampa Bay.

Maybe it is marketing. Maybe it is a malaise caused by the stadium situation. Maybe fans are frustrated with ownership. Maybe the Rays aren’t doing enough to reinforce their presence in the area. Maybe the additional wildcard has watered down excitement or confused fans instead of making the final month hinge on a final swing as it was in 2013.

As we wind down the season, the Rays play home games against the Red Sox and Yankees. They should be in a dogfight for the wildcard. The good new should be that, in regards to ticket sales, 2019 should end on a positive note and leave the Rays with a slight increase over 2018 total home attendance.

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Previous Monthly Attendance Analysis:

You can find Michael Lortz’s previous attendance analysis work at Tampa Bay Baseball Market and FanGraphs.