Predicting Rays attendance during Tampa Bay Lightning Playoff Games

(This post is an update to last year’s post on the same subject.)

Tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of the first round of the NHL Playoffs. This is the second year in a row the Lightning have made the playoffs, and the fourth time since 2007.

The Lightning’s extended schedule means they will play at least 1 game at the same time as the Rays for the first time in 2015. Overlapping schedules is not an unusual occurrence; since 2007, Rays and Lightning have played on the same day 16 times (4 times in 2007, 3 times in 2010, 4 times in 2011, 1 time in 2013, and 4 times in 2014). Of these, 7 occurred while the Lightning were in the playoffs and 2 others occurred on the Rays home opener.

Overlapping schedules leads to an interesting dilemma for Tampa Bay area sports fans. The importance of the Lightning games and their popularity in the Tampa Bay area usually means support and interest is high. On the other hand, the Rays season is only beginning and fans have at least 70 more opportunities to see the team play at Tropicana Field.

Assuming fans are followers of both teams, they have three options:

  • Go to Amalie Arena to see the LIghtning
  • Go to Tropicana Field to see the Rays
  • Stay home or go to a sports bar and watch both games

2 of these 3 options have fans declining a trip to Tropicana Field.

The following chart depicts the days the Tampa Bay Rays have played on the same day as the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Highlighted boxes = Lightning playoff games.
D/N = Day or Night game.
Rays Avg Annual Attendance/Day” is the Rays average attendance on that day during that year (for example: 19,452 is the Friday average attendance during 2007).
% Difference” is the percentage difference between the Rays attendance during that particular game and the Rays average attendance on that day for the year.

Rays vs Lightning

Before 2014, the only times Rays games matched or drew over their daily average attendance, was on Opening Day (4/6/2007 and 4/6/2010) or against the New York Yankees (4/10/2010 and 4/24/2013). On April 5, 2014, the Rays did something they had never done before – drew above their daily average while the Lightning played on a day that was not Opening Day and against an opponent that was not the Yankees.

Why did the Rays draw over 30,000 fans to an early April game against the Rangers? The only possibility I can find is that April 5th, 2014 was Wil Myers Bobblehead Night. Bobbleheads are a popular promotion and do increase attendance. From 2009 to 2013, for example, bobbleheads increased attendance by an average of nearly 22%. So perhaps 25% is not too incredible, although it is impressive.

Fortunately for the Rays, past trends are in their favor to not see an attendance drop while the Lightning play in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The below chart shows Lightning first round game dates concurrent with Rays games.

2015 Rays Lightning

First and foremost for the Rays, these games are on Saturdays, which usually draw better attendance than weekday games. Second, they play the Yankees on 4/18, and Yankees games bring an influx of Florida-based Yankees fans who greatly aid attendance. Third, the Rays are hosting promotions on both days – an Alex Cobb gumby figure on 4/18 and a Chris Archer bobblehead on 4/25. Given these circumstances, I would estimate the Rays exceed their Saturday average on 4/18 and are within +/- 5% of the average on 4/25.

Of course, the Lightning could defeat the Red Wings and move on to Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs. If that occurs, there could be more days when the Rays and the Lightning play simultaneously. And there could be more days where the battle for the hearts, minds, and dollars of Tampa Bay sports fans is directly identifiable.

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