As the Yankees and Mets squared off in one of the biggest series of the weekend, writers throughout New York discussed the sudden rise of Mets fans and Mets hype throughout New York. Some are even asking whether or not New York has switched hats from a Yankees city to a Mets city.
The popularity of New York teams has a direct effect on the business of baseball in Florida. According to my demographic research last year, there are over 2 million New York baseball fans living in Florida. That is a little less than 10% of the total population of the state.
A majority of these fans can be divided into 4 different groups:
- Yankees fans from New York living in Florida
- Mets fans from New York living in Florida
- Yankees fans from Florida
- Mets fans from Florida
According to the Facebook/New York Times 2014 demographic survey, the Yankees are the second most popular team in the Tampa Bay area. They are the favorite team of 17% of Hillsborough County and 9% of Pinellas County.
For the Mets, their Florida popularity can usually only be measured by their spring training attendance at Port St. Lucie. This year, however, the Mets visited the Rays for the first time since 2012. Earlier in the season, I predicted the Mets would draw well at Tropicana Field. That was one of the few things I was right about in my first attempt to predict attendance.
The Mets and Rays three game series at Tropicana Field averaged 26,956 fans per game and included the Rays only non-Opening Day sellout of the season. Based on current weekend attendance, the Mets series drew an average of 8,000 more people per game than the average Rays weekend game.
With attendance at Citi Field increasing 17.6% according to the New York Times and nearly 5,000 people per game seeing the Mets, there is no doubt the New York National League team has become more popular. And Rays weekend attendance benefited.
Meanwhile, Yankees baseball in Tampa Bay has been much more interesting.
Although Yankees Spring Training set a 10-year total attendance high and per game Spring attendance increased, attendance for Yankees versus Rays games at Tropicana Field has never been worse. The following chart looks at Yankees versus Rays attendance at Tropicana Field during the Sternberg Ownership Era.
From 2014 to 2015, attendance at Tropicana Field for Yankees versus Rays games dropped 44%. That is a huge decrease and worth exploring. While Rays attendance has decreased across the board, the decrease in attendance for games versus the Yankees stands out.
We also saw a huge drop in Tampa Yankees attendance this year (-20%). While it wasn’t a good year for the Florida State League overall, the Tampa Yankees had the biggest attendance drop in the league.
Could attendance for Yankees games at Tropicana Field be tied to Yankees attendance in New York? Could Yankees fans in Florida feel the same about seeing their team as their fellow fans in New York?
According to the New York Times,
The Yankees’ paid attendance at home is averaging 39,537 a game, down 5.6 percent from the average at this time last year, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The Yankees, who trail first-place Toronto by three games in the American League East, have never averaged below 40,000 fans a game since moving to the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.
And Yankees TV ratings are also down.
But the Yankees, who averaged 454,000 viewers a game in 2007, are drawing only 256,000 this season, a 10 percent decrease from 2014 after a comparable number of games.
Could Yankees fans lack of enthusiasm be a national phenomenon? Finding out this answer would require a lot of research, from exploring ratings for Yankees national broadcasts to looking at road attendance for Yankees games in every stadium and calculating percentage above or below average attendance per day.
Far beyond the purview of this site.
But if Rays fans are attending games 10-15% less in 2015 than they did in 2014 and the same amount of opposing fans attended, attendance versus the visiting Yankees should have still been over 20,000 per game.
Without polling every fan in attendance, we will never know how many fans for each team attended each game. But if looking at Yankees attendance and ratings in New York is any indication, we can safely make the assumption Yankees fans are not as interested in seeing the Yankees as they were last year, especially in Tropicana Field.
The Yankees presence in Tampa will continue to loom large as long as the City of Tampa considers the Yankees a “hometown” team and as long as the Tampa Sports Authority is personally invested in the success of Steinbrenner Field. But perhaps this momentary lack of interest in the Yankees could allow the Rays to penetrate the market of Florida-born fans looking for a team to root for.