Over at RaysIndex.com, friend of the site Cork Gaines posted a very interesting and colorful graph comparing the Tampa Bay Rays attendance compared to their payroll. Cork looks to see whether or not there is any correlation between attendance increases and decreases and payroll increases and decreases. It is a really neat chart, check it out.
In summary, Cork concludes there is no correlation.
However, I wanted to add a few comments and thoughts on the Rays Index chart.
First, while attendance may not be sensitive to payroll increases, attendance in the Tampa Bay area may be sensitive to large payroll decreases. Especially when the Rays lose key players, as they did after the 2010 season when all-stars Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano signed with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively. The Rays lost star power to rivals and attendance dropped 18% to the 1.5 million level, a level it has stayed at for the past three seasons.
The Rays did retain their star power this season by signing David Price to a one year extension. Price will be paid $14 million this season and as I showed in the post on attendance for starting pitchers, more fans than average have consistently come out to see the all-star left-hander (11.95% more in 2013 and 6.38% more since his debut).
On the other hand, the Rays are unlikely to add star power via large payroll increases. The team chooses to develop quality talent and retain them instead of signing free agents to large contracts. While they did sign closer Grant Balfour this offseason, it is highly doubtful the Balfour signing will increase attendance to a significant degree, as fans do not come out to see closers pitch (with the rare exception of Mariano Rivera). So the payroll increase in that case should not be expected to affect attendance.
The Rays Index chart definitely proves prognosticators should not expect fans to flood the gates just because the Rays spent more money. Who they spent it on, their star power, and other factors are much more important.