Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Artists Depiction (From Afar) of the Golden City

If you've followed Ghostrunner on First this offseason, you're familiar my Rushmore; the contention that a full building doesn't come part and parcel with winning or competitive team, especially in Toronto. Stopping just short of saving Latin, I examined the relationship between winning percentage and attendance; specifically percentage of seats sold. Later I tried to screw down and add some detail, looking for trends or relationships. One complaint was the year-end numbers didn't offer enough context, that meaningless wins in at the end of the year padded the attendance numbers.

Never one to shy away from blowing off work, I took it upon myself to get into that nitty gritty detail. I looked at three different Jays seasons (2006, 2008, 2009) and how the attendance reflected the team's standing. I also looked at the 2009 Colorado Rockies as something of a control - their fanbase generally has better things to do than watch a shitty baseball team. Charts ahoy! Click to enlarge as always, we'll start with the 2009 Jays.

Just so we're clear: the blue line represents attendance for Jays home games, the red line is their number of games out of the division lead on that day. The purple trendline tracks overall attendance for the season. The 2009 season went into the toilet in June yet the attendance more or less held steady as the year went on, with a late push making the September sales swoon look a little better. Interesting, let's compare 2008 and 2006 and see how they shake out.

Striking. In both seasons we see the attendance trend distinctly upward as the team slipped further and further out of contention. Other than dates hosting the Sox and Yankees, the day of the week weighs much heavier on the potential attendance than the actual performance of the team.

Other attendance thoughts? While every peanut gallery columnist crowed about the low turnout against the Twins this past Labour Day weekend, one quick glance at the 2008 chart shows a very similar dip at the same point of the season. The opponent and dates? A midweek series against the Twins on the heels of Labour Day. Could it be people in Toronto &mdash just like people in Minnesota &mdash don't give a shit about the Twins? Or perhaps the first week of school isn't an ideal time for baseball? Perhaps a very large percentage of Jays fans buy their tickets well in advance with no guarantees of seeing a competitive club?

For shits and giggles, I took a team with a historically fairweather fanbase (from this chart) and tracked a recent successful season. The 2009 Rockies roared into the National League Wildcard via an excellent second half. Did the fans respond?

Predicable and reliable. The team contended, the fans attended. That's been their MO over the years. The Jays fanbase is a little steadier, more loyal. Smaller but loyal. The contention that 2010 stands to test the faith of the Jays fanbase has truth in it, but we've proved we'll come out through thick and thin. Predictions of skinniness aside, the feeling of hope heading into 2010 and beyond should excite both the hardcores and casuals alike.

All data courtesy of Baseball Reference.


  1. Awesome read as always, and very interesting. I'm thinking the rise in attendance in 2006 and 2008 is due more to the end of the hockey season than anything else -- if casual sports fans in Toronto can't go to Leafs games anymore, they might as well hit a Jays game or two, regardless of how the team's doing at the time.

  2. I'd also think that the MLB's tendency to backload the schedule with divisional matchups over the past few years has caused that effect. The Jays seem to play a lot of games against the Red Sox and Yankees in August and September, so attendance naturally rises.

  3. I agree with both of Ty's points. Regarding the Jays loyal fanbase, it's still affordable family entertainment so no matter how far back Toronto is, those families are still going to come to the games. Great read as always.

  4. I don't know if its fair to say backload. I'll agree they tend to play a lot of divisional games early and late, but backload seems harsh. Still, a fair point.

    Maybe people just think sitting around in the sun watching a baseball game is awesome no matter who's playing? I certainly fall into that category.

  5. It's interesting to see the attendance trend upward in '06 and '08 as the season progressed, yet it dropped off last year.

    I think part of that is because people don't really get "into" baseball until the summer months. In April and May, you still have to compete with hockey and basketball. Whereas in July and August, it's all about baseball, baby.

  6. Very interesting.

    My one quibble with the equation would be defining "contention" as "games behind the AL East leader". For the Jays, their definition of contention would be "games back in the Wild Card".

    Although I suspect that the results wouldn't be radically different...but there are many years where the Yanks or Sox get out to huge leads early on.

  7. That is a fair quibble, one I'll freely cop to due to laziness on my part. The data (courtesy of baseball reference I should add) only relates to the division. A little more work should clarify slightly.

  8. What about looking at it in terms of the amount spent by each organization in relation to the number of spectators each team has at home games. For example, there's this from a comment at USS Mariner:
    "Here's one measure: last year the M's spent the 5th most in payroll to put butts in seats: $45.05in payroll per spectator . . . The Phillies spent just $32.55 per spectator; the Red Sox (even with their huge payroll and tiny stadium) $39.81."


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