Interestingly, the day I posted my first attendance prediction, Maury Brown of Forbes.com and Biz of Sports wrote a lengthy piece with his own predictions on attendance trends for each American League team.
Not concerning myself with fan behavior in other cities, I skipped to the Rays section. Here is what Brown had to say:
Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Attendance: (Avg. 17,857, ranked 30th- last)
2015 Attendance: Down
They say winning cures all ills in sports. But, that needs to be appended to “winning cures all ills except when it’s the Tampa Bay Rays.” The club that seemed to defy all odds with its stingy player payroll and exceptional front office smarts made the playoffs four times in the last 7 seasons, one of which punched them a ticket to the World Series in 2008. Yet, for all their success, the team has been abysmal at the gate ranking last or near last throughout the amazing run they’ve seen. So, how will the Rays do with significant losses this year? Worse, if that’s possible. The losses this year are more keenly felt as they come in the form of manager Joe Maddon to the Cubs and GM Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, both of whom are highly regarded. While the Rays had no free agents to lose this off-season bringing in SS Asdrubal Cabrera to a 1-year, $8M deal and INF Alexi Casilla to a minor league contract worth $900,000 isn’t going to offset what will certainly be seen as one of the worst off-seasons for the Rays in its history. In fact, it’s very possible the Rays could see attendance dip to an average below 16,000 per game this season. Ouch.
Frequent readers to this site will know we recently published a post that proved via a mathematical model that winning has little effect on Rays attendance. According to our guest writer Josh Simmons, winning only adds 1,562 fans per game since 2009. That might go a little higher if we go back to 2008, when victories were a new and novel result, but for the last five years, winning and attendance are not strongly related. Many other factors have a bigger impact.
(Although my recent month-by-month review did find a small relationship in September attendance and a postseason run.)
While Maury Brown is correct in his first statements that winning and attendance are not strongly related for the Rays, he then claims 2015 attendance will go down because of lack of winning.
If Rays attendance is not tied to winning, why even discuss the Rays on-the-field signings? That does not make sense. If Brown had mentioned Joe Maddon’s marketability or Ben Zobrist’s marketability, then I would have bought in. Even if he mentioned travel time, weekday difficulties, traffic, or 30-minute population radius (which he has talked about before), I would be more sold on his forecast. But instead he talked about free agent signings, which only effect the Rays on-the-field talent and hence their win probability.
Brown wraps up his prediction by saying the Rays could drop under 16,000 fans per game. That would put attendance at 1,296,000 for the season and would be a 10% drop from last season. The Rays haven’t drawn that bad since they were the criminally mismanaged Devil Rays in 2005.
I seriously doubt a 10% drop is possible. The Rays front office marketing people are too smart for that. At least I hope so. And for fans who do make their decisions based on on-the-field talent, the 2015 Rays are much more talented than their 2005 predecessors.
I’m not criticizing Maury Brown. It has to be difficult to write an article predicting attendance for every MLB team. That’s a tough job. But I take umbrage with his Rays prediction. Not only do I think it is wrong, I also think it is based on the wrong variables.
For those who missed my 2015 attendance prediction on Monday:
In Playoff Contention: +6% = 1,539,000
Out of Playoff Contention: +3% = 1,489,000