Adding context to Rays attendance analysis

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One of the many reasons I cringe when people outside Tampa Bay try to talk about Rays attendance is because they don’t understand the many factors that go into giving the situation a fair examination.

For example, the other night, independent baseball researcher Scott Lindholm tweeted the following statement and chart:

Lindholm Chart

This is a great chart. It shows Rays attendance as a percentage of Tampa Bay metro population.- how many people of the population are attending games. I’ve mentioned this before, but if the metro population of Tampa Bay is 3 million as Lindholm uses, and 1.5 million total go to 81 games, then 50% of the metro population supported the Rays. It doesn’t matter if people go once, twice, or 81 times. If they go twice, then one other person in the area doesn’t have to go.

But here is the problem with coming to conclusions of Rays fans behavior based on this type of chart: it does not accurately account for Tampa Bay’s very split baseball demographics. It assumes everyone in a metro area supports one team. Which is not the case in Tampa Bay.

For example, here is Lindholm’s chart for Pittsburgh:

Lindholm Chart Pitt

The Pirates in 2015 drew 2.5 million fans. Their metro population in 2015 was 2.3 million. So they drew 107% of their metro population.

But as we’ve looked up before, there is a higher percentage of Pirates fans in Pittsburgh than there are Rays fans in the Tampa Bay area.  Assuming 50% of Pittsburgh’s population are baseball fans, and 75% of baseball fans in the Pittsburgh area are Pirates fans, then there are 862,500 Pirates fans in the Pittsburgh metro area.

Comparatively, if of the 3 million Tampa Bay metro residents, 50% are baseball fans, and only 50% of them are Rays fans, then there are only 750,000 Rays fans in the Tampa Bay area.

Now, let’s make another calculation:

2.5 million (Pirates attendance) divided by 862,500 means each Pirates fan attended approximately 3 games in 2015.

1.25 million (Rays attendance) divided by 750,000 means each Rays fan attended 1.6 games.

If 75% of Tampa Bay were Rays fans and they attended 1.6 games each, attendance would have been 1.8 million. If they each attended 2.2 games each, attendance would be very similar to Pirates attendance.

The problem isn’t just that Rays fans don’t go to enough games, the problem is that there aren’t enough Rays fans in the Tampa Bay area. A new stadium might be able assist in getting the Rays fans that exist to games more often, but the team needs to create more fans. Hence the need for the Rays to push to be the monopoly of baseball entertainment in the region. Anything less than a monopoly, and the Rays will always lag in percentage of metro population at the ballpark.

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