Baseball fan roots and rooting interests in Florida

Much was made recently of Rays manager Joe Maddon’s comments about fans at Tropicana Field cheering for Derek Jeter and the Yankees. According to the comments, Maddon didn’t mind fans acknowledging Jeter’s longevity in the game, but drew the line at fans actively rooting for Jeter and the Yankees.

“Yeah it’s great,” Maddon said. “It’s great that it’s sold out. And I understand that the people like Derek Jeter. But you’ve got to come out and root for the Rays, too, you understand. I mean, I totally understand what’s going on. But I’m not going to sit here and defend all of that noise in the Yankees’ favor in our ballpark. I’m not going to defend that. So we’re going to come out and root for the Rays. We’d appreciate that.”

These comments sparked hours and hours of discussion, claims, and faux analysis on every media outlet from ESPN to local sports radio shows across the nation. Most said the same things:

  • “Rays have no fans”
  • “Tropicana Field is a home game for the Yankees”
  • “All the New Yorkers in Florida tip the scale against the Rays”.

How true are these claims? Polling tells us the Rays have fans, so claim one is bupkis. We also know the Rays bat in the bottom of the inning no matter what team visits, so claim two is bupkis. But what about claim 3? Is there a preponderance of New Yorkers in Florida, and if so, what are their rooting interests?

Fortunately, the New York Times recently published an interactive article that helps find the answers to these questions. Entitled “Where We Came From, State by State“, the article showed demographic breakdowns of each state’s population origin from 1900 to 2012. Here is a screenshot of Florida. (Click to embiggen.)

Florida demographic trends 1900 2010

According to the chart, in about 1970, New Yorkers started moving to Florida in large numbers. Prior to 1970, Georgia was the top non-native origin of Florida residents. From 1970 to the present, we also see large growth in the “Outside the United States” segment of the chart.

Here is the numeric breakdown of the Florida’s population since 1970 based on the New York Times chart.

Florida demo 1970-2012 chart

In 2012, the amount of Floridians born in Florida was almost what it was in 1970. The lowest point of natural born Floridians in Florida was 1990. That year was also tied with 1980 as the highest point of New York-born Florida residents and residents from Other Northeast States (New England, etc).

(Disclaimer: My family moved to Florida from New York in 1987. I grew up a Mets fan and stick my head in the ground like an ostrich when the Mets play the Rays.)

Using these percentages, a Florida population estimate of 19.5 million, and a high estimate that 50% of Florida residents are baseball fans (May 2012 Quinnipiac University poll – rounded up from 46%), we get the following:

FL residents baseball fans

(For South Carolina, we used 0.9% – a number less than 1%.)

We now have a high estimate of all the baseball fans in Florida and where they come from. But who are they rooting for? Are their rooting interests loyal to where they come from?

Again, we reference the Quinnipiac May 2012 poll. The Quinnipiac poll also asked baseball fans who their favorite teams are. For the sake of this post, we are not going to deep-dive into sex or age of fans, only the totals in the red box.

Quinnipiac survey

The following chart multiplies the above percentages by the total statewide estimated baseball fanbase of 9,750,000.

Note: In order to match the two charts, I added the teams from each state and included Detroit among the Midwest states. The far right column shows the difference between the estimated fanbase per team in Florida minus the baseball fans living in Florida from that particular state.  (“50% = baseball fans” from previous chart).

This assumes fans from each state do not change loyalty, which is probably not the case, but we do not have data to the contrary, so we have to assume fans stay static. In other words, a baseball fan from New York will remain a Yankees or Mets fan throughout their time in Florida.

Florida population: 19,500,000 x 50% (baseball fans) = 9,750,000 baseball fans in Florida

rooting chart 2012

We see some teams have a bigger fanbase in Florida than the amount of baseball fans from those states living in Florida. Some teams, on the other hand, have smaller fanbases in Florida than the amount of baseball fans from those states living in Florida. And finally, some fanbases are exactly as we would estimate based on the Florida population originating from that region of the US.

Fanbases in Florida that are exactly as the baseball fan population estimate from that state include:

  • Fans of Ohio teams: Reds, Indians
  • Fans of Northeast states teams (non-New York): Red Sox
  • Fans of West states teams: Dodgers, Giants, Padres

Fanbases in Florida that are below the estimated amount of baseball fans from that state include:

  • Fans of Other states teams: Rangers, non-listed teams (-97,500)
  • Fans of Other Midwest states teams: Tigers, Cardinals (-195,000)
  • Fans of Florida teams: Rays, Marlins (-292,500)

Fanbases in Florida that exceed the estimated fanbase based on the amount of baseball fans from that state:

  • Fans of Pennsylvania teams: Pirates, Phillies (+97,500)
  • Fans of Illinois teams: White Sox, Cubs (+195,000)
  • Fans of the Georgia team: Braves (+487,500)
  • Fans of New York teams: Yankees and Mets (+1,560,000)

Why Florida fanbases are higher than expected for these teams:

Pennsylvania – The Quinnipiac University poll states fans of the Phillies and Pirates are primarily located in SW and Central Florida. Although there is not a high amount of fans in the “Bay” column on the poll, the additional amount of fans rooting for teams from Pennsylvania could derive from the lengthy time the Phillies and Pirates have been spring training in Clearwater and Bradenton, respectively.

Illinios – According to the Quinnipiac poll, Cubs fans in Florida outnumber White Sox fans 3 to 1. These fans could possibly be attributed to the longtime national broadcast on WGN. Or perhaps the White Sox won the hearts of some Sarasota residents when they spring trained there from 1960 to 1997.

Georgia – There are 487,500 more Braves fans in Florida than there are Georgia-born baseball fans living in Florida. This surplus can be attributed to a several things:

  • Before the Marlins (1993) and Rays (1998), the Braves were the only team in the Southeast
  • Braves broadcasts on TBS were nationwide
  • Residents from other southern states who moved to Florida could have carried with them Braves fandom. As a matter of fact, the Braves surplus exactly matches the estimated amount of baseball fans from “Other Southeast states”.

New York – There are 1,560,000 more people in Florida rooting for New York-based teams than there are New York-born baseball fans in Florida. According to the Quinnipiac poll, Yankees fans in Florida outnumber Mets fans in Florida 4 to 1.

  • 1,560,000 x 80% = 1,248,000 more Yankees fans
  • 1,560,000 x 20% = 312,000 more Mets fans

Here are three reasons explaining the high amount of non-New York born Yankees fans in Florida, ranked from least to most significant. These are not the only reasons, but three reasons I think are the biggest.

3. Tradition – The high amount of New Yorkers who moved to Florida since 1970 promoted their fandom to their children, grandchildren, etc. Yankees brand loyalty is very high as they are baseball’s premier “global” brand.

2. Spring Training – The Yankees have conducted Spring Training in Florida since 1924. They have been a mainstay on the Florida sports scene. The longest home run Babe Ruth ever hit was supposedly in Tampa at Plant Field. To this day, the Yankees still draw the highest attendance of any spring training team in Florida.

1. Non-US state residents – There are approximately 2,047,500 baseball fans living in Florida who came from outside the United States. Not all of them are Yankees fans, of course. But there is no doubt the Yankees global brand has won them the hearts and minds of fans living in Florida born outside the 50 US states.

In few places outside of New York are the Yankees more popular than in Puerto Rico. With over a million Puerto Ricans in New York, baseball fandom is conveyed from the Bronx to the island and back again. Yankees history is also rich with stars from the island such as Ed Figueroa, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada.

As of August 2013, there were 900,000 Puerto Ricans living in Florida, many of whom live along the I-4 corridor. According to the Quinnipiac survey, Central Florida has the highest concentration of Yankees fans in Florida. There is no doubt the Central Florida Puerto Rican population plays a role.

The Yankees are also a favorite team of the Cuban population, both on the island and in Florida. Former Cuban stars Jose Contreas and Orlando Hernandez saw success with the Yankees. While there is no formal poll I could find of baseball fans on the island, this first-person blog cites how a Yankees fan was greeted well by baseball fans in Cuba.

(It will be interesting to see if the career of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez has any effect. While his starts were well watched in Miami, his only start against the Rays in St. Petersburg drew barely under the Monday average in 2013. If the Marlins can keep him under contract, he could create a new generation of Cuban-American Florida baseball fans.)

Meanwhile, there is a deficit of 292,500 baseball fans born in Florida but not identifying as fans of either the Rays or the Marlins. Attracting these fans should be the priority. Florida teams will always be behind as franchises if they can’t at least attract the approximate number of baseball fans living in their own backyard. If Florida baseball fans don’t root for their home state teams, why should anyone else?

21 comments for “Baseball fan roots and rooting interests in Florida

  1. Professor Twain
    August 21, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Great job, you used the available data reasonably and I think your numbers are really informative. As I mentioned on Twitter, that NYT analysis presents a lot of other data to fit with your conclusion that Yankees fans are from all over.

    I think it would be really interesting to see a study about factors that determine whether people keep their home team loyalty when they move, versus develop a new team loyalty. I don’t think it’s just a matter of age. I think it’s a part of having an identity that the new location is truly HOME. I’m from St. Louis, remained a Cardinals fan despite living in Massachusetts, Seattle for four years each, then Alabama for 12. But we moved to TB to STAY, and became Rays fans. I know plenty of older people who have converted to being Rays fans.

    Fun to consider.

    • Mike Lortz
      August 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Thank you for the kind words! I sometimes wish I had a team of survey people. I think I would keep them busy. There is so much to find out about fan behavior.

  2. Kei
    August 21, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Saw this post after ESG linked to it. Very illuminating read. I actually live in Orlando myself, and can maybe count on both hands the number of native Floridians that I know who are older than me. I recall one of them (an old co-worker) saying he was a Braves fan, but aside from that, I don’t know if anyone else was a baseball fan.

    The fan breakdown in Orlando, in general, is pretty interesting. It should be a natural secondary market for the Rays, but it’s swarming with Yankees and Red Sox fans. Even the Marlins seem to have a bigger following here (probably owing to our large Hispanic community, plus a number of ex-Miami residents in town).

    • Mike Lortz
      August 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks! I appreciate the kind words. I think Orlando has a lot of potential. It is the 19th biggest market in the US and the biggest without baseball. But Minor League baseball hasn’t been able to stick there.

  3. Joe Dunn
    August 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Great news…..the % of people living here that came from NY is GROWING . . . .I might be puking into my mouth.

    • Mike Lortz
      August 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Actually Joe, it is going down. From 10% in 1990 to 8% in 2012.

  4. Aaron
    April 23, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    When I was a toddler, I lived in a part of NJ where you could be a fan of the Yanks, Mets, and Phills. Of course, I was groomed to be a Yank. After the 86-88 Mets run, I chose them as my team. Around that time I started playing baseball and going to summer camps that always took day trips to the Phillies games. I soon realized that logistically we were a lot closer to Philly then NY. I became a Phillies fan because I could easily go to their games and be a part of the team I liked, as opposed to watching it on tv. When we moved to Sarasota a few years later, I became a fan of the Rays because I could be a part of it.
    I can understand if you love the team you grew up with, I always keep tabs on mine. I just can’t understand you purposely moving your family to a town you deem better than the one you came from, and not rooting for that team. I always see young kids decked out in the opposing teams uniform and think these kids whole baseball youth is going to be watching television. A team that plays thousands of miles away when they can be watching and going to see a team that plays in their own town. I don’t get it.

    • Michael Lortz
      April 24, 2015 at 4:08 am

      I appreciate the comment. I think a lot of it stems from the division rivalry. I grew up a Mets fan. I see no problem rooting for the Rays. Would I feel the same if I was a Yankees fan? Not sure.

      • Robert Rothlein
        July 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm

        Either do I,born and raised in Queens NY I am a Mets fan but living in St.Pete.I am a Rays fan also,love going to baseball games.

    • Robert Rothlein
      July 6, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Either do I,born and raised in Queens NY I am a Mets fan but living in St.Pete.I am a Rays fan also,love going to baseball games.

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