Last season there was a lot of discussion as to how much, if any, the Tampa Bay Lightning affect the attendance of the Tampa Bay Rays. While the Rays schedule overlaps with the Bucs, Rowdies, Storm, and Lightning, the possibly exciting conclusion of the Lightning schedule, especially when a Stanley Cup run is involved, may give a strong market advantage to the local hockey team.
Not only have I written about this phenomenon twice (once in 2014 and again in 2015), the Tampa Bay Times also had a good article on this sports market competition last year. They quoted several people, including a few USF sports marketing professors.
“It’s pretty clear that their success has hampered the attendance of the Rays,” said Michael Mondello, professor of sports marketing in the University of South Florida Muma College of Business. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
“Whenever you have a hot team, everybody’s going to follow the hot team,” said William Sutton, who also teaches in the Muma College of Business and directs the USF Sport and Entertainment Management program. “That would have an adverse effect on anybody.”
Lightning fans and locals want to keep up with the watercooler conversation, he said. The decision is not fully financial.
“It’s more a question of how they’re going to spend their time than their money,” Sutton said. And it’s not until after Memorial Day that baseball attendance really picks up, he said.
The following chart depicts all 23 dates since 2007 that the 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.
There are only six times since 2007 that the Rays attendance on hockey night exceeded their annual daily average. Of those six, two were on Rays Opening Day, three were against the Yankees, and one was during a Wil Myers bobblehead night in 2014.
In 2015, the Rays and Lightning played seven games on the same date. This was more dates than any season since before 2007. Similar to 2011, every date that had both a Lightning and Rays was a Lightning playoff game. Unlike previous years, in 2015, even Rays games against the Yankees struggled when coinciding with Lightning games. By the time the Lightning were eliminated, every Rays game that coincided with a Lightning game saw an attendance lower than average.
Although we can compare individual dates, the important thing to remember is that fans’ wallets don’t regenerate daily. Most people get paid bi-weekly. So if they are spending their paycheck on Lightning tickets, they will have to wait at least a few days to afford Rays tickets.
We also have to consider time expense. Do fans have time to go to two or more events per week, especially on the weekday? If they have the time to attend one game a week, will they choose the Lightning or the Rays?
Here is the Rays average attendance during each round of the NHL playoffs in 2015.
- Rays avg attendance prior to NHL Playoffs (3 games, Apr 6-8) : 19,506
- Rays avg attendance during NHL Playoffs Round 1 (9 games, Apr 17-26): 16,891
- Rays avg attendance during NHL Playoffs Round 2 (6 games May 7-12): 13,298
- Rays avg attendance during NHL Playoffs Round 3 (7 games May 21-27): 12,032
- Rays avg attendance during NHL Playoffs Round 4 (7 games June 9-15): 13,479
In total, the Rays played 34 home games before the Lightning season ended. During those 34 games, Rays average attendance was 14,409. In their 47 remaining home games, Rays average attendance was 16,122.
Of course, we also have to account for the routine increase in baseball attendance in the summer. Typically, while attendance increases in June and July, it decreases in August and September if the Rays are not in playoff contention, which evens out the effect. If the Rays are in playoff contention, attendance maintains its summer increase.
With the Lightning again in the playoffs, how much of an impact should we expect on Rays attendance this season?
The best answer is “it depends”. It depends how long the Lightning playoff run continues. So far in 2016, the Rays have played two home games on the same date as the Lightning.
Like in 2015 and 2011, every date in which the Lightning and Rays play will be a Lightning playoff date. This year, however, the Rays have daily promotions.
Based on the past, we know a Lightning playoff run will have an impact on Rays attendance. This effect has varied between -3% and -37% on the average attendance for the day of the week.
Some people will always choose the Rays over the Lightning, just as some people will always choose the Lightning over the Rays. Some will stay home and watch both. Some people don’t care about either. But we have to consider the Tampa Bay population as the majority of the potential attendance for both events. Hearts, minds, and dollars are trying to be won by both teams.
To paraphrase Yoda, “Begun, the attendance war has.”