Last week, the Florida Sports Foundation published attendance figures for the 2015 Grapefruit League season. According to the report, total Spring Training attendance across Florida increased 8.1%, eclipsing 1.5 million for the 13th time in 16 years.
But how did the four teams in the Tampa Bay area do?
Since 2008, there have been four teams training in the Tampa Bay area: the Yankees (Tampa), Blue Jays (Dunedin), Phillies (Clearwater), and Pirates (Bradenton).
The current capacities for each team’s stadium are as follows:
- Steinbrenner Field (Yankees): 11,000
- Bright House Field (Phillies): 8,500
- McKechnie Field (Pirates): 8,500
- Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (Blue Jays): 5,521
The biggest news in the area was at Bradenton’s McKechnie Field. In its second year after major park improvements, and with an improved Pirates team, the Pirates set a single day stadium record with 9,018 fans for a game against the Detroit Tigers. They also set a record for day-game attendance with 8,963 fans against the Boston Red Sox.
Here are updated charts and graphs of Tampa Bay area Spring Training attendance from 2005-2015. From 2005-2008, this chart includes the Tampa Bay Rays, who trained in St. Petersburg before moving to Port Charlotte.
Tampa Bay Area Overall Spring Training Attendance:
In 2015, Spring Training attendance in the Tampa Bay area decreased 0.87%, or an average of 68 fans per game. That’s not bad at all, but it is far below the overall Grapefruit League gain of 8.1%. The following chart shows the yearly total averages and percentage increase or decrease of all spring training in the Tampa Bay area since 2005.
Total 2015 Tampa Bay area Spring Training attendance looks a lot like 2012 area Spring attendance. Overall, area attendance seems to have plateaued since 2010, varying only between 7,540 and 7,722 per game over the last six years.
The following graph breaks out individual team per game attendance.
In 2015, two teams in the Tampa Bay area had an increases in per game Spring Training attendance and two had decreases.
- Blue Jays: +1.77%
- Yankees: +0.08%
- Phillies: -1.97%
- Pirates: -6.79%
Blue Jays spring training attendance since 2005:
In 2015, the Blue Jays gained in both total attendance and attendance per game. Their per game average was its highest in the last 10 years.
Yankees spring training attendance since 2005:
In 2015, the Yankees played more Spring Training home games versus Major League opponents than at any point in 10 years (I am not counting exhibitions versus college teams.). As a result, they set a 10-year attendance high.
Phillies spring training attendance since 2005:
In 2015, the Phillies total Spring Training attendance increased, however, their per game average dropped by 161 fans per game. If we look since 2012, Phillies per game attendance has dropped over 1,400 fans per game. We might be able to explain this drop on team performance and the Phillies’ fall from NL East prominence.
Pirates spring training attendance since 2005:
Whereas the Pirates did eclipse 100,000 total fans at McKechnie Park for the first time and set a total attendance record and they did set individual game attendance records, average attendance per game was down from 2014. 2015 per game attendance was higher than all other years, however.
Given the state of their respective teams, I would not be surprised to see the Pirates spring training attendance equal or surpass the Phillies spring attendance in 2016. If one dropped 10% and the other gained 10%, it would be very close.
I also don’t expect to see any change in the Yankees spring training attendance. Yankees spring training attendance has been incredibly consistent. They have been at or over 90% capacity every year since 2005. Steinbrenner Field is built for Spring Training and with the large amount of Yankees fans in Florida, tickets to Yankees games are in high demand.
Blue Jays spring training will be interesting to watch in the next few years. We can expect to see developments soon in a possible lease extension between the Blue Jays and the City of Dunedin. As part of the agreement, the Blue Jays might want an upgrade to Auto Exchange Stadium. How much the upgrade will cost, how much they do, and if they have the room to expand the stadium will be big questions. And will the upgrades have any impact on attendance?
For now, however, although Tampa Bay spring training attendance didn’t increase at the rate of the rest of the state, drawing people to see Major Leaguers get ready for the season is still big business in Tampa Bay, and business is good.