Last week, the Florida Sports Foundation published attendance figures for the 2016 Grapefruit League season. According to the report, the Grapefruit League did great again, eclipsing 1.5 million for the 14th time in 17 years.
But what they didn’t say was that total Spring Training attendance across Florida decreased 61,893 or 3.8%.
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 Clearwater’s Bright House Field where the Phillies set a single day stadium record with 11,222 fans for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Here are updated charts and graphs of Tampa Bay area Spring Training attendance from 2005-2016. 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 2016, Spring Training attendance in the Tampa Bay area decreased 2%, or an average of 157 fans per game. While not great, that’s slightly better than the overall Grapefruit League decrease of 3.8%. 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 2016 Tampa Bay area Spring Training attendance was the lowest per game average since 2009. 2016 and 2015 were also the first time attendance had dropped two years in a row. My initial guess on the 2010 increase is that 2009 was the year the Phillies and Yankees were both in the World Series. Previous year regular season success probably has a correlation with following year spring training attendance.
The following graph breaks out individual team per game attendance.
In 2016, only one team in the Tampa Bay area had an increases in per game Spring Training attendance and three teams had decreases.
- Blue Jays: +5.15%
- Yankees: -0.75%
- Pirates: -2.19%
- Phillies: -5.63%
Blue Jays spring training attendance since 2005:
In 2016, the Blue Jays gained in both total attendance and attendance per game. Their per game average was its highest in the last 11 years. If we assume previous year success is a reason, the Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Yankees spring training attendance since 2005:
In 2016, the Yankees had their lowest per game attendance in at least 11 years. Since 2011, Yankees per game attendance has dropped 7%. Of course, this hasn’t stopped local politicians and newspapers from claiming they routinely sell-out. Nor has it stopped local politicians from extending the Yankees for 20 more years at their current location.
To their defense, we don’t see the variance in attendance with the Yankees we see with other teams. This is probably because the Yankees are one of the most popular teams in Florida. Combined local, in-state, and tourist demand and the Yankees can easily fill 80% of Steinbrenner Field for every game.
Pirates spring training attendance since 2005:
The good news is the Pirates again eclipsed 100,000 total fans at McKechnie Park. The bad news is average attendance per game was down for the second year in a row. A successful young team and renovations to McKechnie Park have made Pirates Spring Training more in demand.
Phillies spring training attendance since 2005:
In 2016, the Phillies had their smallest total Spring Training attendance since 2006. They have also decreased four years in a row and decreased 27% since 2012. Since their peak in 2012, Phillies per game attendance has dropped over 2,000 fans per game. We might be able to explain this drop on team performance and the Phillies’ fall from NL East prominence.
While the Governor and other politicians are quick to praise Spring Training attendance, an exploration into the numbers shows the state and the local area’s totals decreased.
This spring’s big winner was the Blue Jays. Being the class of the AL East probably helped their Spring Training attendance. The increase in Jays Spring attendance however was not enough to offset decreases from the Yankees, Pirates, and Phillies.
Although Tampa Bay spring training attendance decreased at a slower rate of the rest of the state, the overall decline is noticeable. If we link prior season win-loss record to Spring Training attendance, then it puts the Tampa Bay region in a very awkward position. Local businesses, hotels, and restaurants should root for the Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, and Blue Jays to do well during the season, even if it means defeating the local Major League team. The better those teams do, the more highly attended their Spring Training the following year. The more highly attended Spring Training, the better the Spring Training economy. The better the Spring Training economy, the happier the governor is.