According to the most recent MLB attendance numbers, the Tampa Bay Rays drew 1,510,300 people to Tropicana Field in 2013. Over the past six years, their attendance numbers have been as follows (according to Baseball-Reference.com):
- 2013: 1,510,300 (15th of 15)
- 2012: 1,559,681 (14th of 14)
- 2011: 1,529,188 (13th of 14)
- 2010: 1,864,999 (9th of 14)
- 2009: 1,874,962 (11th of 14)
- 2008: 1,811,986 (12th of 14th)
For many pundits in and out of baseball, these numbers are unacceptable. They say the Rays don’t draw. Few even go as far as saying the Rays should be moved. When saying this, they usually cite attendance at other stadiums as comparison.
Here is the big problem with that line of thinking:
That’s the wrong comparison.
Very few fans choose to attend one Major League ballpark over another. This occurs only in metropolitan areas with more than one team (NY, LA, Chicago). So to compare attendance between teams by looking only at total attendance is a foolhardy venture.
In baseball terms, looking only at nationwide attendance numbers is like pitching wins, it only tells a small part of the story. Similar to the positive win-loss record of a pitcher whose team scores 10 runs a game, a team in a large market is usually going to outdraw a team in a smaller market, regardless of win-loss record, stadium amenities, traffic, generational loyalty to the team, or even location of the stadium in the city. It would be more shocking if the large market team was outdrawn by the small market team, just as it would be surprising the pitcher had a losing record with such great run support or a pitcher with no run support has a positive win-loss record.
Assuming out-of-town attendees are a negligible percentage of total attendance, we must assume most Major League baseball attendees originate from the local metropolitan area. Hence we have to examine the metro area as the primary source of attendance.
Let’s start with the most optimistic of scenarios. If everyone in the area went to every game, the team would obviously have nothing but sell-outs. Most people would not be able to get in as there are far less seats in any stadium than there are people living in any metro area with Major League Baseball.
So the Rays don’t need every member of the Tampa Bay area to attend every game. But what they do need is for enough people in the area to attend every game, filling every seat every game. For the Rays, that would be 2,511,000 total seats for the 2.8 million metro area population multiplied by 81 home games.
31,000 x 81 = 2,511,000 (total seats to be filled in a season)
2,800,000 x 81 = 226,800,000 (total possible local attendees)
Dividing total seats by total possible attendees, the Rays need 1.1% of the population to go to games to ensure 100% seat occupancy.
Last year, the Rays drew 1.5 million over 81 games. Divided by the total possible attendees, only .66% of the total amount of fans required actually attended games.
Continuing the analogy to more common baseball writing topics, if profit is wins (the goal of ownership) then revenue is runs scored (more is better, but you need to overcome the opposite stat – expenses/runs allowed) , and attendance would be the equivalent of a batter’s strikeout percentage. It is possible for a batter to be successful with a high percentage of strikeouts, but until a batter has a K% with an “acceptable” range as deemed by the public, pundits and fans will have theories abound on how the batter can make better contact.
Likewise, every fan, pundit, and media member has a favorite theory on why the percentage of fans attending Rays games is so low.
Pick your favorite:
• Tropicana Field stinks
• The location of Tropicana Field stinks
• Traffic in St. Petersburg stinks
• Traffic in Tampa stinks
• The high cost going stinks
• The economy stinks
• There are other things to do that don’t stink
By the end of 2014, this site will explore as many of these theories as possible. It will also look at the three Minor League teams in the area from the same perspective. While the Clearwater Threshers are among the top leaders in Florida State League attendance, the Dunedin Blue Jays and Tampa Yankees are not, and Dunedin usually ranks close to the bottom.
We’ll look at all that. It will be fun.