Sunday, November 13, 2016

How strong is Tampa Bay baseball fandom?

A few months ago, a New York Knicks fan posted a video on SB Nation that dove into the concept of fandom. In the video, Michael Imhoff talked to college professors and other fan psychology experts on why fans exist and why they put themselves through the torture of sports, an endeavor where out of dozens of fanbases, only one group ends the season happy.

Check it out:

The biggest takeaway in the video is Imhoff's mention of the Sports Spectator Identification Scale and its three classes of fans:
  • Lowly identified
  • Moderately identified
  • Highly identified

40% of baseball attendance in Tampa Bay is to Spring Training and Minor League Baseball. These are lowly to moderately identifying games. People do not usually get overly upset if a team loses in Spring Training. Only a few people get overly upset when a Minor League team loses. Of the Tampa Bay baseball entities, only the Rays require Moderately to Highly Identified fans.

That's not good if there is a competition for dollars.

Because there is so much baseball in Tampa Bay, we have diluted fandom. We have reduced the incentive to be highly identified fans. The reason people attached themselves to the Tampa Bay Lightning is because they are the only hockey team in town. They create a sense of community. Hockey fans leave happy or sad depending on the Lightning score.

In baseball, this is not the case. While Minor Leagues and Spring Training don't demand high identification, the Rays struggles over the last few years is also hurting identification. While the team struggles, the Rays have to rely on the experience at the stadium to attract fans, and Tropicana Field will lose to Amalie Arena, Raymond James Stadium, and often Bright House Field in regards to experience. Tropicana Field isn't a place where memories are made unless the team is winning.

After the 2015 season, Noah Pransky of Shadow of the Stadium posted a chart passed on from reader Patrice Derome. The chart, from a sports marketing text, is the
"'psychological continuum model' that ultimately affects how often fans attend games and how much of their income they're willing to spend on a team".

The psychological continuum model and the Sports Spectator Identification Scale match well. Lowly Identified would be the Awareness Stage, Moderately Identified would be the Attraction and Attachment Stage, and Highly Identified would be the Allegiance Stage.

Pransky asks if the Rays have enough people in the Allegiance Stage. I would ask if there is enough incentive in Tampa Bay for fans to be in the Allegiance Stage and Highly Identified with the Rays.

This is more than Facebook likes or Twitter follows. It is more than watching on TV or choosing the Rays in the phone call public polling survey. These are fans that live and die with every pitch. Without those kind of fans, there might only be 10 more years of pitches left in Tropicana Field.