Pondering the Rays Google Popularity

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There has been a lot of talk about the Rays popularity lately.

A few weeks ago, ESPN’s data-driven research site, FiveThirtyEight.com, sorted MLB teams by the amount of Google searches they had from 2004-2014. The FiveThirtyEight folks ranked teams by relative popularity – meaning 1.0 is an average searched-for team, 2.0 is a team searched for twice as often, 0.5 is searched for half as often. Of course, the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodgers were the top five.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Rays rated a 0.48. They were searched 48% as often as the average team. That ranked 26th of the 30 teams, ahead of only the Marlins, Diamondbacks, Royals, and A’s.

Earlier this week, the BestTicketsBlog also put together a popularity list based on Google searches. They published a map of the most Googled athletes by state based on Google searches (h/t DRaysBay). As could be expected, no Rays player made the map. But neither did any baseball player as the map was dominated by NBA and NFL players. Which is not surprising considering those sports’ popularity compared to baseball.

However, when looking at each professional sport individually, Rays players in total do well compared to the rest of Major League Baseball. The Rays players were searched globally an average of 216,500 times per month. That was 15th in Major League Baseball, again out of 30th.

The total searches for Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, by comparison, was 226,390. Although 10,000 more than the Rays, the Bucs were 30th of 32 NFL teams. Meanwhile, the total searches for Tampa Bay Lightning players were also in the bottom in their league, 27th of 30.

So compared to other members of their sport, Rays players are more popular than the Bucs or Lightning players. Which makes sense given the current rosters. I’m sure if the Bucs still had Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, and Warren Sapp it would be a whole different story. But the reality is, right now Rays players are more popular than Bucs and Lightning players relative to the players in their league.

The fine folks at DRaysBay also drilled into the BestTicketsBlog data. They combined the player searches by team for all sports that have teams in the American League East . The Rays did fairly well comparatively. While baseball players were the least searched sports stars among Boston athletes, and the third least searched among New York athletes, Rays players were second most searched among Tampa Bay athletes, barely behind Tampa Bay Bucs players.

A few days after they published their MLB Google popularity stats, FiveThirtyEight expounded their reporting to show Google popularity for NFL, NBA, and NHL teams. Among the other local teams, the Bucs rated a 0.49, meaning searches for the Buccaneers were 49% less popular than the average NFL team. The Lightning rated at 0.40.

Overall, whether by team name or by individual player searches, Google data show the Buccaneers are the most popular sports team in the Tampa Bay area by a slim margin over the Rays. By FiveThirtyEight’s results, the Bucs team is 3% more popular (0.49 divided by the Rays 0.48), and by BestTicketsBlog Bucs players are 4.4% more popular (216,500 divided by 226,390).

But again, these are global search results.

What if we look at only Florida? How are the Rays doing via Florida-only Google searches?

Here is the Florida-only Google trend graph for the term “Tampa Bay Rays” from 2004-2014:

Apr 2014 Rays google search

The big spike is fall 2008 when the Rays made the World Series. The valleys are of course the offseason. But what is most interesting here is 2014. Let’s zoom in:

Apr 2014 Rays google search2

At 44% of the highest ever total (Oct 2008), April 2014 is already 4th highest month of searches for “Tampa Bay Rays” since 2004. Per the red dots:

  • Oct 2008 – 100
  • Sept 2008 – 50
  • Sept 2011 – 47
  • Aug 2013 – 44
  • April 2014 – 44

Granted, there are more people with smart phones and more abilities to Google search at any time than there were in 2008, but on the other hand, there are more apps on phones now and less reasons to search Google. But people are still doing it.

The fact that more people in Florida are searching Google for “Tampa Bay Rays” this April than any other April is a very good sign. April 2013, for example, was only 27% of the Oct 2008 high.

Compared to the rest of the US, Tampa Bay web users search for “Tampa Bay Rays” much more often. While the April 2014 searches were 44% of the Oct 2008 among Florida Google searches, the term was only 27% of national Goggle searches compared to October 2008 nationally. This month has been the 7th best month nationally for “Tampa Bay Rays” searches, compared to the 4th best locally.

Apr 2014 Rays google search3

I would doubt if is any correlation between Google searches and attendance. But there may be a correlation between Google searches and ticket sales or online merchandise sales. That would be a very good thing, especially if the Rays-related Google searches keep increasing.

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