Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Exploring the Rays Forbes Valuation Data

Last week, Forbes released their annual look at the values of all 30 Major League Baseball teams. As they have been over the last few years, the Rays continue to be one of the least valuable franchises in MLB. Someone has to be last, and the Rays are it.

However, the Rays value increased 29% over 2014, from $485 to $625 million. That's a nice return on investment for Stu Sternberg and friends, who have earned 199% since 2006. Cork Gaines at Rays Index posted this chart that goes a little further back than the Forbes page.

However, how does the valuation relate to some of the other measurements Forbes gives us? This post will explore the Rays 2015 data and look at Rate of Change with past Rays data. We will look at how the Rays compare to other teams in a future post.

Let's first look at the rate of change in franchise value as compared to the rate of change in revenue used for debt payments. Maybe as revenue goes up, so does franchise value. That should make sense.

From 2007 to 2012, we see franchise value and revenue moving almost hand-in-hand. That's interesting. Then in 2012, the franchise value jumps 40% and the rate of change in revenue is only 3%. In 2014, both increase 8%. Then in 2015, franchise value sees another huge spike. Perhaps these factors are not tied together.

Let's look at some other factors for similarities and patterns.

Here is the rate of change in revenue and the rate of change in attendance from 2006 to 2014. We don't have 2015's attendance yet so we stop at 2014.

There are few similarities here. Perhaps revenue lags attendance by a year. Maybe the funds generated by attendance are not counted until the following year. I'm not an accountant, so I am not sure how that works. But there are years that stand out. In 2011, attendance dropped 18%. In 2012, revenue only dropped 2%. In 2013 and 2014, attendance decreased both years, yet revenue increased.

Perhaps these factors are not related as much as people think. There are of course, many other revenue streams, such as television, merchandise, and concessions. And the Rays also make money from the rest of Major League Baseball due to revenue sharing. So even if attendance goes down, the Rays could still make money. As a matter of fact, they could still make a lot of money. Further proof that while good for appearance, attendance really doesn't matter.

Here is another interesting chart comparing the rate of change in franchise value and the rate of change in player expense (aka payroll).

Perhaps what we see here is that the value of the franchise does not increase much when the rate of change in payroll increases more rapidly than the value of the franchise (2009-2011). In 2012, player expense was slashed 27%. Franchise value dropped a bit, but not much. Since 2013, the franchise value has gone up more than the increase in payroll.

Update: Contributor Josh Simmons pointed out a very interesting coincidence: The change in value matches the changes in player expense at the same time revenue stops matching valuation. Could this be coincidence or an effect from a change in Forbes' methodology?

Here are the two charts side-by-side. I added a line at 2012 for clarity:

Now let's look at the Rate of Change in Value versus Rate of Change in Player Expense versus Rate of Change in Revenue on the same chart.

While all three moved in unison from 2007 to 2008, rate of change in player expense decoupled from 2009 to 2012. Meanwhile, rate of change in value and rate of change in revenue moved similarly. Then in 2012, rate of change in player expense increased and decreased at a similar path as value, while revenue moved only slightly.

Could be coincidence. Could be something more.

Update 2: E-migo and reader William Juliano, lead writer at The Captain's Blog, provided some insight into the franchise value and payroll trend.



Big thanks to everyone who provided insight!

Overall, interesting stuff from Forbes.

My one major problem with the Forbes data:

According to Forbes, the Rays make $31 per fan. This is the most misleading number in the study. "Revenue Per Fan" is defined as "Local revenues divided by metro population with populations in two-team markets divided in half."

So $31 multiplied by the 2.8 million metro population is $86.8 million in local revenue. This would mean the Rays make a little over $100 million in other revenue (cable, revenue sharing, etc.). Gate receipts are $33 million. That means $53.8 million comes from local revenue not ticket sales.

But let's look again at "Revenue Per Fan". Everyone knows there is a wide array of fans in the Tampa Bay area. They do not all support the Rays. As a matter of fact, according to demographic studies, less than 60% of the Tampa Bay area are Rays fans. But for a rough estimate, let's use 60%.

Before we do that, we have to consider only 50% of Floridians are baseball fans. So to begin, we have 1.4 million baseball fans in Tampa Bay.

60% of the 1.4 million baseball fans equals 840,000 Rays fans in Tampa Bay.

Let's divide $86.8 million in local revenue by the 840,000 Rays fans. The math shows each Rays fan contributing $103.33 per season to the franchise.

That's a little more realistic.

Friday, March 27, 2015

New MLB Commissioner comments on Tampa Bay baseball market

New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visited the Rays yesterday at their Spring Training home in Port Charlotte. Besides talking to the players, Manfred also spent some time talking to the media about the Rays ballpark and attendance situations.

As always, Josh Vitale of SunCoast Sports has the transcript of Manfred's comments.
On Rays stadium situation:
“I talk to (Rays owner Stuart Sternberg) regularly. As a matter of fact, I talked to Stu yesterday. I think the good news for fans in Tampa and St. Petersburg is that Stuart remains committed to the idea that the Rays should be here. That’s a great undertaking, a great mindset for him. From our perspective, it’s very difficult to get a new stadium done without cooperation, help, assistance from local government. And we’re hoping that Stuart gets that kind of help so they can get a facility that will keep the Rays here and keep the competitive in the long term.”

Nothing new here. Sternberg has been adamant that he wants to stay in the Tampa Bay area. We can debate whether that is for legit financial reasons, good PR, he is seeing the success of Jeff Vinik and wants a piece of that pie, or he has a favorite restaurant here he likes citing as a "business expense". But hearing Manfred echo the Sternberg sentiments is a good thing.
On concern about Rays’ low attendance:
“It’s always a concern when we have a franchise that doesn’t have the support in terms of the attendance, sponsorship, all the revenue streams that are necessary to keep a team competitive. We want all 30 teams to be competitive franchises, and obviously local support is the key to that. So I think it’s a big concern for us.”

I believe the first two sentences but I look at the third in regards to the first two. If that sounds confusing, let me explain. It is not a concern for Major League Baseball that the Rays attendance isn't at an "acceptable" level, whatever that might be. They don't care how many butts are in the seats. It is only a concern that the Rays don't receive as much ticket revenue from fans and corporate sales as other teams. But if I wanted to buy every ticket to every Rays game and be the only one in Tropicana Field, MLB would not care. As long as the Rays make their money.
On whether a new stadium is key to increasing attendance:
“You have to conclude that the stadium issue is the key issue, because the Rays have put a great product on the field consistently for a really long period of time. It’s not a situation where you can blame a lack of support on the fact that you don’t have a good product. Matt, Stu, the whole Rays team has done a fantastic job, under really difficult circumstances, to put a competitive product on the field.”

While I agree that the stadium location is a major factor in low attendance, I shake my head at Manfred using the "winning = attendance" theory. As we have proven on this website, there is a weak link between winning and attendance in Tampa Bay. Attending games (especially during the week, when the Rays really have problems) has to be convenient to a significant portion of the population. There are behavioral norms that fans tend to adhere to. Small percentages drive over an hour to a game Monday through Thursday. For the majority, the stadium has to be convenient.

There is a lot of other good points in Manfred's comments. Definitely worth checking out and again, big thanks to Josh Vitale for transcribing.

However, I do question the Rays reporters for not thinking regionally. Where are the questions on the status of Spring Training in the Tampa Bay area? Where are the questions on Minor League Baseball in Tampa Bay? Where are Manfred's opinions on whether these goods have any affect on the Rays? What about pointing out to him that Tampa Bay has more baseball than any other market? Manfred has shown to be smart on the marketing side, why not see what he says?

Reporters don't get many opportunities to talk to the top person in Major League Baseball. But if they are myopic, and focus only on one element of the overall market, they miss opportunities to make their readers smarter.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why retire Don Zimmer's number on Opening Day?

As reported by many outlets, the Rays will be retiring longtime baseball advisor Don Zimmer's number on Opening Day 2015. The Rays will honor the late baseball lifer with a ceremony before the game where they will hoist his number 66 to the rafters alongside the numbers of Wade Boggs and Jackie Robinson.

While there is no doubt Zimmer should have his number retired and be recognized for his contribution not only to the Rays, but to Major League Baseball, I'm not sure Opening Day is the right day to do it. Opening Day is such a busy day for baseball, I'm afraid the acknowledgement of one of the most colorful characters in baseball history could be minimized.

The Rays play the Red Sox, Rangers, Mets, and Yankees at home this year. Don Zimmer either played for, coached, or managed each of these teams. If the Rays wanted to give Don Zimmer his own day, a better opportunity might be while the Rays play one of those teams, the first opportunity of which is Friday, 4/26 versus the Yankees.

Or the Rays could wait until near the 1-year anniversary of Zim's passing. While they are on the road on the exact day (June 4th), they do play the Red Sox a few weeks later. The Rays could acknowledge Zim's history with Boston on Friday 6/26. Or they could wait until August and celebrate Don Zimmer's time with the 1962 expansion Mets when the National League New Yorkers visit Tropicana Field from Friday 8/7 to Sunday 8/9.

Another out-of-the box idea would be to host the ceremony on July 2 versus the Indians. July 2, 1954 was Don Zimmer's debut. Retiring his number on the day he started his Major League career would definitely be a nice touch.

From strictly a business perspective, the Rays also miss out on the added promotion by retiring Zimmer's number on Opening Day. Fans are already coming to the ballpark, and the Rays have no problem selling out Opening Day. The ceremony now becomes a bonus for them, similar in time (but opposite in meaning) to a pennant raising. By hosting a Don Zimmer Day on another day, the Rays can promote the event individually and draw fans who attend for the sole purpose of seeing the ceremony. They could turn a regular season game into an event.

I'm sure the Rays will do right by their longtime adviser. Don Zimmer meant a lot to the team, to the players, and to Major League Baseball. I just think that by retiring Zim's number on Opening Day, the Rays may be inadvertently reducing the impact his recognition should have.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interviewed by the Extra Point Sports Show

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Tom Chang of SportsTalkFlorida on his podcast, the Extra Point Sports Show. Tom and I talked about several topics in the 15 minutes he had me on, including:
  • The scope of this website
  • How I define the Tampa Bay Baseball market
  • Comparing Tampa Bay spring training to Phoenix area spring training
  • The impact of the Florida State League on Tampa Bay baseball
  • Rays corporate ticket sales
  • Thoughts on the Rays marketing efforts
  • The Rays and Marlins disadvantage in Florida demographics
  • Would the Rays have been better off in the NL East?
  • The knowledge level of Rays fans
  • Thoughts on Kevin Cash

Skip to the 11:30 point to hear my interview. Check it out!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Stu Sternberg comments on Tampa Bay baseball market

Last Thursday, Rays owner Stu Sternberg answered questions to the media in what SunCoast Sports Now called a "State of the Stunion" address. Sternberg discussed the many front-office and on-the-field changes the Rays made this offseason, as well as fan expectations, payroll, speeding up the game, the St. Pete City Council stadium vote, and most importantly for this website, attendance, ticket sales, and his thoughts on the Tampa Bay market.

According to the Tampa Bay Times,
On the market, Sternberg was quite positive.

"I've been very adamant and clear that I want to find the pinpoint perfect spot in the Tampa Bay region,'' he said. "I still believe in the area, more so than the people in baseball, more so certainly than national media. I believe in it and I want to make it work. But it's got to be in the right spot. Those who follow the game and follow the way attendance goes at sporting events, we more than any other market need to be pinpoint perfect in where our next facility is going to be, whenever that happens to be.'' (bold emphasis mine)

Check out the bold statement. Maybe, just maybe, Sternberg or someone else in the front office is reading this site. Maybe they read my work on other sites. That would be great.

But besides the humblebrag, Sternberg is exactly correct. As a small market without mass transit, stadium location is essential in order to guarantee the Rays' success in the Tampa Bay area. My eventual goal is to determine that location, so stay tuned.

Sternberg also considers the stadium situation a problem in winning fans. According to him, the drama hanging over the stadium has prevented fans from going all-in and throwing their hearts and minds to the Rays.

Again, via the Tampa Bay Times,
"At some point or another we're going to get this right. And I want it to happen sooner for the benefit of the citizens of St. Petersburg, for the benefit of our fans throughout the region, for the benefit of Major League Baseball, and really so we can take the focus off for my organization so we can do 100 percent of what we need to do which is build a fan base, not have to answer these questions, build a fan base and not have to have people scared and worried, build a fan base and know we're going to be here for 50-60 years.''

These are interesting comments. Do the Rays not think they have built an adequate fanbase? Do they think there is room to grow in the market? What area of the market do they think they are not reaching to their expectations? Do they believe the Rays would be more popular in the area with a new stadium? If that is the case, the stadium has a role in marketing, which is interesting.

Speaking of marketing, Sternberg also commented that there might be a problem with his corporate sales department. We have known for years that the Rays corporate tickets sales were low. Now they are even lower.

Via SunCoast Sports Now,
Sponsorships there have been a couple of issues with a couple of companies for whatever reason have chosen not to. … At the end of the day our success really does fall on the growth and support we get from local business. It’s so much lower than any other major league team. Season tickets sales are lower, but in line with some others. Individual game sales are lower, but not that far off. Corporate sponsorships and the suite and season-ticket level are really where the dramatic issue is.

Corporate sales should not vary as much as individual ticket sales. Individual sales vary from everything from opponent to whether it is raining outside or not. Corporate sponsorships should be stable throughout the season. Perhaps this will change with a new TV contract, but Cork Gaines is right, this is not good. However, I disagree with Cork that lack of corporate sales will cause a drop in attendance.

We have to think Stu Sternberg has turned to Darcy Raymond, the Rays VP of Marketing and Entertainment and Brian Richeson, VP of Sales and Services, and asked three questions. The first would be "why?". The second would be which sponsors dropped and for how much. The third question would be what companies have they targeted for new sponsorships.

With the Tampa Bay economy getting better, it's not as if companies are losing money and hence have to pull back sponsorships. Perhaps they are not receiving the right return on investment. That's not good. The Rays front office and sales office need to find out why sponsors left and possibly change their process to ensure they don't lose any other sponsors. Perhaps they need to allot more people to maintaining their corporate relationships or perhaps more people to seeking new corporate relationships.

As important as it is that local businesses support baseball, it should be a mutual relationship. The Rays always need to ask themselves what they can do better. Why are they behind other teams? Are sponsors or corporate season ticket buyers not getting adequate bang for buck? Do the Rays need to offer more benefits than other teams to get the same amount of sponsorship?

Another question is are there corporations who are hedging their bets and spreading their sponsorships across other sports teams in the area? The Rays shouldn't expect to be the sole recipient of all sponsorships, but if a corporation would rather sponsor the Bucs, Lightning, and even the Minor League teams, the Rays need to know why.

The Rays want us to look at corporate sponsors as not doing enough. Perhaps we need to focus on the other side of the relationship.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Attendance Review: 2013 Clearwater Threshers

Welcome to our eighth attendance review of the Clearwater Threshers. This post continues our series of looking back at trends in Tampa Bay area fan behavior since 2007. Today we look at the home attendance of the 2013 Clearwater Threshers.

Overview: The Clearwater Threshers began play in the Florida State League in 1985. The Threshers moved to Bright House Field in 2004. Bright House Field is also the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2013, the population of Clearwater was 109,703.

Clearwater Threshers 2013:

Home Games: 68

Total attendance: 172,151 (down 2.9% from 2012: 177,297)

Per Game Average: 2,608 (up 1.48% from 2012: 2,570)

Highest attended game: 7,227 on Saturday, August 31st vs Dunedin

Lowest attended game: 1,143 on Sunday, July 14th vs Charlotte

Double headers: 2 (June 9th, June 27th)

Cancellations: 2

Notable rehab assignments: None

Other notable appearances: Carlos Zambrano

(red highlight = below annual average of 2,608)


By Month:

The following graph depicts the average attendance by month.

By Day of the Week:

Threshers attendance increased nearly 29% on the weekends compared to their average Monday through Thursday attendance.
  • Mon-Thurs average attendance: 2,229
  • Fri-Sun average attendance: 3,124
  • Increase: 28.65%

The following graph depicts the average attendance by day.

The following chart shows how often each day outdrew the game prior.

By Opponent:

By Starting Pitcher:

This chart depicts how attendance reacted from one starter to the next. If a pitcher is a great draw, the percentage between he and the prior starter should be higher.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thoughts on the Rays 2015 Marketing Plan

On Wednesday, both the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported on the Rays new marketing and advertizing plan. This is an annual event the team does to get the media in on the direction of the team's campaigns.

According to both articles, the keystone of the Rays campaign is the extension of the "Rays Up" slogan. In October, just after Joe Maddon left, I wrote,
"The slogan for 2015 is quite possibly the most important slogan in franchise history. It needs to convey optimism. It needs to ring in the ears of the fans and reassure them the franchise is on the right track, not only on the field, but in the community."

The Rays are hoping the familiarity of "Rays Up" gives off that optimism. That might be a good idea. Instead of changing it, keeping something familiar in the midst of an offseason full of change could work.

Other key points in the marketing plan include the continuance of the Flex Pack, which according to the TBBJ, gained 10,000 new accounts last year. Last season, we estimated the Rays sold 30,000 Flex Packs in 2014. That means 33% of them were new. That's not bad for a new concept.

This year, the Flex Pack comes with an additional bonus: half-price parking at Tropicana Field. Since parking last year ranged from $15-$30, that's not bad. Not exactly the "free parking" they offered in 2007, but $7.50 for parking is not bad, especially considering most of the area private lots are $5-$10.

According to both media outlets, community involvement will continue to be highly emphasized. The Rays like to say that as future generations grow up with the Rays, the kids of today will be the ticket buyers of tomorrow. Getting players and employees involved in charities and youth efforts play a big role in that effort. These initiatives might not pay off today or this season, but over time, they are leaving positive impressions of the Rays brand.

Of course, getting the Rays name out there is important in an area that has a restaurant owned by a Cubs manager, a high school named after a former Yankees owner, a city park named after a White Sox Hall of Famer, and a museum named after a Red Sox great. Oh, and four minor league teams trying to sell tickets to their own games.

One part of the marketing campaign that is already making waves is this video, narrated by Evan Longoria, the Rays' "Derek Jeter", according to Darcy Raymond, the Rays marketing vice president.

There is a lot to like about this video. First of all, the great shots of the Tampa Bay area. As a Tampa resident, the shot of Bayshore Blvd at the end is awesome. Second, although it features Longoria's voice and show clips of his Game 162 home run, the video focuses as much on the organization than any one particular player. For every player working out, there is a shot of a front office person with a computer. Part of being a Rays fan is understanding how important computers and statistics are to this organization. They are part of the team. Kudos to the video for showing that.

The video's emphasis on "change" is also interesting. As a small-market team, the Rays almost have to market like a college sports team. At the college level, players only stay for four years, sometimes less. Change is constant. The Rays operate similarly, constantly looking at who might depart and who to plug in to what hole. Florida State, University of Florida, University of Miami, USF, and UCF all operate on the concept of change. While that is unfamiliar in most of Major League Baseball, for the Rays, it is a way of life.

The Tampa Bay Times and Tampa Bay Business Journal articles also go into depth on the Rays use of color this season and an increased emphasis on the Rays starburst logo. Perhaps the Rays can get Tampa's SunTrust Building to showcase the team's colors on their ziggurat dome.

How better to show unity between St Pete and Tampa than for both Tropicana Field and the SunTrust building to be lit after Rays victories?

Despite what other Rays bloggers might joke about, attendance at the ballpark is only a small result of a marketing campaign. It is also measured by influence in the market and the selling of an idea and a fandom. And the Tampa Bay baseball market is incredibly competitive. Just as the team on the field has to battle to win in 2015, so too does the marketing team behind the scenes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Maury Brown predicts Rays attendance decrease in 2015

Interestingly, the day I posted my first attendance prediction, Maury Brown of Forbes.com and Biz of Sports wrote a lengthy piece with his own predictions on attendance trends for each American League team.

Not concerning myself with fan behavior in other cities, I skipped to the Rays section. Here is what Brown had to say:
Tampa Bay Rays

2014 Attendance: (Avg. 17,857, ranked 30th- last)

2015 Attendance: Down

They say winning cures all ills in sports. But, that needs to be appended to “winning cures all ills except when it’s the Tampa Bay Rays.” The club that seemed to defy all odds with its stingy player payroll and exceptional front office smarts made the playoffs four times in the last 7 seasons, one of which punched them a ticket to the World Series in 2008. Yet, for all their success, the team has been abysmal at the gate ranking last or near last throughout the amazing run they’ve seen. So, how will the Rays do with significant losses this year? Worse, if that’s possible. The losses this year are more keenly felt as they come in the form of manager Joe Maddon to the Cubs and GM Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, both of whom are highly regarded. While the Rays had no free agents to lose this off-season bringing in SS Asdrubal Cabrera to a 1-year, $8M deal and INF Alexi Casilla to a minor league contract worth $900,000 isn’t going to offset what will certainly be seen as one of the worst off-seasons for the Rays in its history. In fact, it’s very possible the Rays could see attendance dip to an average below 16,000 per game this season. Ouch.

Frequent readers to this site will know we recently published a post that proved via a mathematical model that winning has little effect on Rays attendance. According to our guest writer Josh Simmons, winning only adds 1,562 fans per game since 2009. That might go a little higher if we go back to 2008, when victories were a new and novel result, but for the last five years, winning and attendance are not strongly related. Many other factors have a bigger impact.

(Although my recent month-by-month review did find a small relationship in September attendance and a postseason run.)

While Maury Brown is correct in his first statements that winning and attendance are not strongly related for the Rays, he then claims 2015 attendance will go down because of lack of winning.

And Wookies do not live on Kashyyyk.

If Rays attendance is not tied to winning, why even discuss the Rays on-the-field signings? That does not make sense. If Brown had mentioned Joe Maddon's marketability or Ben Zobrist's marketability, then I would have bought in. Even if he mentioned travel time, weekday difficulties, traffic, or 30-minute population radius (which he has talked about before), I would be more sold on his forecast. But instead he talked about free agent signings, which only effect the Rays on-the-field talent and hence their win probability.

Brown wraps up his prediction by saying the Rays could drop under 16,000 fans per game. That would put attendance at 1,296,000 for the season and would be a 10% drop from last season. The Rays haven't drawn that bad since they were the criminally mismanaged Devil Rays in 2005.

I seriously doubt a 10% drop is possible. The Rays front office marketing people are too smart for that. At least I hope so. And for fans who do make their decisions based on on-the-field talent, the 2015 Rays are much more talented than their 2005 predecessors.

I'm not criticizing Maury Brown. It has to be difficult to write an article predicting attendance for every MLB team. That's a tough job. But I take umbrage with his Rays prediction. Not only do I think it is wrong, I also think it is based on the wrong variables.

For those who missed my 2015 attendance prediction on Monday:

In Playoff Contention: +6% = 1,539,000

Out of Playoff Contention: +3% = 1,489,000

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tampa Bay Rays Attendance Analysis: By Month 2007-2014 and 2015 Attendance Prediction

Welcome to our latest examination of the Rays attendance by month from 2007 to 2014. This post is an update to the 2007-2013 post we did last year.

First, a look at the Rays average annual attendance from 2007-2014.

Now, let's look at the per game attendance from 2007-2014. From 2007-2014, the Rays average annual attendance was 1,616,668. This includes only games at Tropicana Field. The Rays played 3 games at Disney's Wide World of Sports in both 2007 and 2008. The Rays per game average in the 642 games at Tropicana Field from 2007 to 2014 was 20,145.

This chart shows the annual attendance ranking by month each year spanning from 2007 to 2014 as well as the month's average finish. (ex: 1 = month with best avg attendance, 6 = month with worst avg attendance.)

(Yellow highlights = Best month/ Red highlights = Worst month)

This chart must drive the Rays front office crazy. There is no consistency. July is the best month overall, but has the highest monthly attendance only twice in the last 8 years. August has been the best month for attendance the last two years, but was the worst month the two years before that. As to be expected, good attendance in September matches playoff years (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013).

Below is a month-by-month breakdown as well as brief prediction for month in 2015.

April average attendance from 2007 to 2014. April average: 20,960.

This chart depicts the Rays attendance in April from 2007 to 2014 and the difference from the average April.

Most interesting here is that the three years the Rays April attendance was below 20,000 are the same three years the Tampa Bay Lightning made the NHL playoffs (2007, 2011, and 2014).

Common assumption is attendance in April increases in the years following playoff appearances. For the Rays that would be April 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014. However, because of the Tampa Bay Lightning, only half of the Rays post-playoff Aprils are above average (2009, 2012), and the other two (2011, 2014) are below.

Here is my research on how severely Lightning playoff appearances affect Rays attendance.

This graph depicts the Rays April attendance from 2007 to 2014.

What to expect in April 2015: Below 20,000 per game. While the Rays revamped their roster after their worst season since 2007, the Tampa Bay Lightning continue to be one of the better teams in the NHL. The Lightning will make the playoffs again and their games will probably sell out and local TV ratings will be high. Meanwhile, the Rays will attempt to get fans excited about their new manager and new faces. That will take time.

May average attendance from 2007 to 2014. May average: 18,174.

This chart depicts the Rays attendance in May from 2007 to 2014 and the difference from the average May.

May is traditionally the Rays' worst month for attendance. May has the lowest average finish of the months since 2007. Perhaps this is schedule-based, as the Rays predominantly play non-division opponents. Kids are also in school, limiting family outings to the weekend.

Oddly, in 2011, while the Lightning playoff schedule extended to May, the Rays attendance was above average.

This graph depicts the Rays' May attendance from 2007 to 2014.

What to expect in May 2015: Average (~18,000 per game). In three of the last four years attendance has been within 1,000 of the May average. There is no reason to expect otherwise.

June average attendance from 2007 to  2014. June average: 19,108

This chart depicts the Rays attendance in June from 2007 to 2014 and the difference from the average June.

Average attendance in June has dropped 33% since 2012. That's not good. From 2009 to 2012, June attendance ranged from 19,500 to nearly 22,000. Since 2012, it has spiraled downward.

This graph depicts the Rays' June attendance from 2007 to 2014.

What to expect in 2015: Below average, but above 2014. Average would be great. The Rays have to stop the bleeding in June. Getting back to 19,000 in June would mean an increase of 5,000 fans per game. I'm not sure that is possible. Especially when the Rays play 16 home games in June, including 10 weekday games.

June might be when fans warm up to the team and get a good idea whether the team is worth their entertainment dollar. Last season the Rays struggled in June, starting the month with a 10-game losing streak. Of course fans found something else to do.

July average attendance from 2007-2014. July average: 22,494

This chart depicts the Rays attendance in July from 2007 to 2014 and the difference from the average July.

July is by far the Rays best month. However, it has not been for the last two years. July was 4th in 2012 and 3rd in 2014. The Rays are at a disadvantage as they do not get the July 4th fireworks boost other teams get.

This graph depicts the Rays July attendance from 2007 to 2014.

What to expect in 2015: Below average. 20,000 would be nice, but I don't think it will happen. The Rays play only 11 games in July in 2015. They play 5 weekday games  (versus the Tigers and Indians) and 6 weekend games (versus the Orioles and Astros). Unless David Price makes another return appearance, none of the visiting teams have significant drawing power. And of course, the dome-dwelling Rays are on the road on July 4th, so another team will capitalize on the fireworks attendance boost.

August average attendance from 2007-2014. August average: 20,550

This chart depicts the Rays attendance in August from 2007 to 2014 and the difference from the average August.

Finally, some good news. As mentioned above, August has been the Rays' best drawing month for the last two years. This follows two years when attendance was not good in August (2012 and 2013). So what is the real August?

This graph depicts the Rays August attendance from 2007 to 2014.

What to expect in 2015: Average. If the Rays can maintain ~21,000 in August, that would be a good thing. Unfortunately, the Rays only play 11 games at home in 2015. That is the least amount of August games since 2007. The Rays host the Mets, Braves, Twins, and Royals in August 2015.

September average attendance from 2007-2014. September average: 20,210.

This chart depicts the Rays attendance in September from 2007 to 2014 and the difference from the average September.

As to be expected, September attendance does better when the Rays are in the playoff hunt (2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013). However, the relationship is weak and there are exceptions. September attendance was better than average in 2008 and 2010 and above 18,000 per game in 2011 and 2013. This is not a perfect match, as the Rays drew well in September in 2007 and better in 2009 (out of contention) than 2013 (playoff-bound).

This graph depicts the Rays September attendance from 2007 to 2014.

What to expect in 2015: It depends. Projections for the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays vary. Baseball Prospectus predicts 87 wins and a playoff appearance. Grantland's Jonah Keri predicts "somewhere right around .500", or approximately 81 wins. If the new talent clicks and the Rays are in the hunt, they will probably draw 18,000 or more per game in September. If they are out of the playoff hunt, September attendance will probably be closer to 16,000.

Also of note: the Rays have never made the playoffs when their home schedule ends in October (2009 and 2012). So even if they are in contention, the "Post-season Excitement Bump" may not have as big of an effect in September.

October average attendance from 2007 to 2014 (Regular season only). October average: 19,605.

This chart depicts the Rays regular season attendance in October from 2007 to 2014.

The following chart breaks out all the Rays regular season games in October.

Here we see the popularity of the Yankees and weekend games responsible for why attendance was better in 2009 than in 2012.

What to expect in 2015: Again, the Rays have never made the playoffs in years when the regular season ends in October. If they are in contention, the series versus Toronto could draw well. If the Rays are out of contention 2015 will look a lot like 2012.


If the Rays are in contention

Based only on monthly trends since 2007, looking at the amount of games the Rays play each month, and using the PECOTA 87-win projection, Rays attendance will go up 6% to approximately 1,539,000. Better than 2011 attendance, but slightly less than 2012 attendance.

If the Rays are out of contention

Based only on monthly trends since 2007, looking at the amount of games the Rays play each month, and using Jonah Keri's 81-win projection, Rays attendance will go up 3% to approximately 1,489,000. Better than 2014 attendance, but slightly less than 2013 attendance.

While on-the-field, the Rays are entering a new era, realistically we have to assume attendance matches previous trends. We've seen attendance when the Rays win 90, and we have seen it when the Rays lose 90. 2015 will somewhere in between.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring Training Economics and Other Questions

There was an absolutely great post by Shadow of the Stadium on Sunday. (Sorry so late, been having computer problems.)

In his post, "The Murky Economics of Spring Training ... and How Florida Can Do It Better", Noah Pransky details some of the difficulties pinning down the economic benefit of Spring Training in Florida. It is a highly recommended post. Go check it out if you haven't.

Noah examines the Dunedin claim of $80 million spring training impact due to the Blue Jays. What I find most dubious is the proximity of Dunedin with Clearwater. How much overlap is there between Clearwater's impact and Dunedin's? Are fans staying in Dunedin and not leaving Dunedin? Are they not attending games at Bright House Field? Could Dunedin hotels contain Phillies fans?

Let's also look at the team in the biggest market and in the biggest Spring Training stadium, the Yankees.

Last year, I wrote that although tourism in Hillsborough County went up, Yankees spring training average attendance was the lowest it had been since 2008. According to the 2009 Grapefruit League Economic Impact Report, the Yankees have the lowest amount of "out-of-state" attendees of any team training in Florida. However, they have the highest amount of "in-county attendees" of any team. By far.

So we need to look at the "substitution effect". According to Noah, studies fail to look at the
"substitution effect" of spring training gobbling up the disposable income of Floridians who may have otherwise spent the money in other areas

Noah mentions movie theaters, theme parks, restaurants, etc, but what he doesn't mention is other baseball.

A local dollar spent on the Yankees spring training is a local dollar not spent on any other local team. Tampa Bay is a small market Major League region and there is a limited amount of expendable local dollars in the Tampa Bay region. Whereas tourists inject money into the economy, local dollars are only shuffled around.

I would like to know what benefit does a local Yankee fan receive seeing the Yankees in an exhibition game versus seeing them play the Rays in Tropicana Field? The Yankees are already the biggest drawing opponent on the Rays schedule. That will not change as long as the Rays continue play in the AL East. But could the games draw more Yankees fans if those local fans didn't spend their money on exhibition games in March? Do games at Steinbrenner Field attract local Yankees fans due to proximity, cost, or convenience?

Likewise, local Rays fans spending money on spring games to see the Rays visit Bright House Field, Auto Exchange Stadium, McKechnie Field, and Steinbrenner Field could also be utilizing that money towards regular season tickets versus many of the same teams.

So not only is Spring Training shuffling local funds from one venue to the other, it is also denying the Major League team direct local revenue.

In the past, Spring Training was the only way Florida fans could see their Major League heroes. Today, with two Major League teams in the state, the perceived benefit for Tampa Bay and Miami area fans is much lower. Meanwhile, their tax dollars continue to be poured into stadiums and benefits. The conundrum of Spring Training continues.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Talking about Spring Training impact on CentroTampa.com

Spring Training has begun in Tampa Bay. I don't write much about Spring Training, as much of the attendance and economic impact is driven by out-of-state and out-of-area tourists and tourist data is tough to find. For now, I would rather focus on the regular season. There is more than enough work to do there.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a big interest in Spring Training, and that doesn't mean Spring Training isn't big business.

A few weeks ago, reporter Juan Carlos Chavez of Centro Tampa, Tampa Bay's biggest Spanish newspaper, asked me a few questions about the impact Spring Training has on the area, especially in regards to Hispanic-owned businesses. Last week, Juan's article was published.

My part:
Michael Lortz, analista deportivo y fundador del sitio electrónico TampaBayBaseballMarket.com, dijo que el entrenamiento de primavera impone un perfil único en el desarrollo de la economía local.

Lortz mencionó la ciudad de Tampa como un ejemplo categórico de este avance.

“Las empresas locales definitivamente ven un crecimiento en los negocios debido a la gran cantidad de visitantes de fuera del estado, o incluso dentro del estado, que vienen a ver los equipos que entrenan en la Bahía de Tampa,”, precisó Lortz. “Es muy bueno para ellos”.
In English:
Michael Lortz, sports analyst and founder of the website TampaBayBaseballMarket.com said spring training imposes a unique profile in the development of the local economy.

Lortz said the city of Tampa as a categorical example of this development.

"Local businesses will definitely see an increase in business due to the large number of visitors from out of state, or even within the state, who come to see the teams training in the Tampa Bay area," said Lortz. "It's very good for them."

Many thanks to Juan Carlos Chavez for reaching out and allowing me to contribute. It was great to be quoted among team front office personnel and University of South Florida Economics experts.

Check out the entire article here: Beisbol sopla a favor del mercado hispano (Centro Tampa)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Attendance Review: 2012 Clearwater Threshers

Welcome to our seventh attendance review of the Clearwater Threshers. This post continues our series of looking back at trends in Tampa Bay area fan behavior since 2007. Today we look at the home attendance of the 2012 Clearwater Threshers.

Overview: The Clearwater Threshers began play in the Florida State League in 1985. The Threshers moved to Bright House Field in 2004. Bright House Field is also the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2013, the population of Clearwater was 109,703.

Clearwater Threshers 2012:

Home Games: 70

Total attendance: 177,297 (up 0.1% from 2011: 177,117)

Per Game Average: 2,570 (up 0.12% from 2011: 2,567)

Highest attended game: 8,993 on Tuesday, July 3rd vs Brevard County

Lowest attended game: 1,174 on Sunday, May 20th vs Jupiter

Double headers: 1 (August 21st)

Cancellations: 0

Notable rehab assignments: Chase Utley, Jim Thome, Placido Polanco, Roy Halladay

Other notable appearances: None

(red shading = below annual average of 2,570)


By Month:

The following graph depicts the average attendance by month.

By Day of the Week:

Threshers attendance increased 33.6% on the weekends compared to their average Monday through Thursday attendance.
  • Mon-Thurs average attendance: 2,252
  • Fri-Sun average attendance: 3,008
  • Increase: 33.6%

The following graph depicts the average attendance by day.

The following chart shows how often each day outdrew the day prior.

By Opponent:

By Starting Pitcher:

This chart depicts how attendance reacted from one starter to the next. If a pitcher is a great draw, the percentage between he and the prior starter should be higher.