I am a longtime reader of The Hardball Times. A few years ago, I wrote a piece for them on the career of Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin. They are one of the best in-depth baseball publications on the web. Highly recommended.
Yesterday, The Hardball Times posted an interesting piece on the Florida State League entitled “Blame it on the Rain“. The article, written by Chris Gigley, focused predominantly on the difference between the FSL and other leagues across the US – especially in regards to attendance.
According to Gigley,
it’s one of the truly unique minor leagues in baseball, home to lonely outposts such as Roger Dean Stadium that offer the most relaxed, laid-back fan experiences you can find in baseball. Parking is free or cheap. No crowds clog aisles and concourses. No long lines snake from concession and souvenir stands. Seat assignments are optional. Sit wherever you want. There’s always plenty of room.
This was also an interesting comment:
all but four (Fort Myers, Brevard County, Charlotte and Daytona) of the 12 FSL teams, the Cardinals and Hammerheads are owned by their parent organizations, which aren’t really worried about attendance and fan atmosphere. They’re more interested in player development,
While this might be true in many cases, I think the Clearwater Threshers are an exception. They are consistently the best drawing team in the Florida State League. They put on post-game concerts that nearly par the Rays’ concert series and their mascot won Minor League Baseball Mascot of the Year. But overall, yes, Florida State League attendance is not the main focus of these teams and facilities.
But those crowds are pretty small, even compared to the two other High-A leagues. Last year, the average game in the California League drew 2,359 fans. The Carolina League packed them in even more, with an average crowd of 3,811. The Florida State League’s big ballparks, on the other hand, welcomed an average crowd of just 1,593.
I really liked Gigley’s inference that market saturation is a problem, even if he didn’t state it directly.
That feeling is especially acute at Hammerheads home games. Despite having its parent club just a couple hours south, Jupiter is one of the lowest draws in the league, averaging fewer than 1,000 fans through its first 39 games this year. (Mike) Bauer (GM of Roger Dean Stadium) said part of it has to do with two teams diluting the product.
“When we had one team, we averaged around 1,600 fans,” he said.
Gigley then tries to connect the Major League teams in Florida and their attendance issues. He quotes Bauer again, who cites other venues and demographics as a problem. Unfortunately, neither Gigley nor Bauer make the connection that maybe the Minor League teams and their Spring Training predecessors could be saturating the market and hurting the Rays and Marlins. I’ve often said on this site that the Tampa Bay area doesn’t have to economic capacity (even with tourists) to support one Major League team, four Minor League teams, and all the other sports the region hosts. South Florida could have the same problem.
Maybe Florida has too much baseball.
Economics and personal platforms aside, given his tour of the Florida State League, Gigley did a great job capturing the league’s uniqueness. Definitely worth the read.
Blame it on the Rain – The Hardball Times