It has been a while since my last post. The delay was caused partly by my busy work schedule, partly by the boredom of early spring training baseball, and partly by my desire to finish Toby Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim’s incredible book Scorecasting.
I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical when the publisher was pitching the book as The Freakonomics of Sports. It didn’t just live up to that moniker, it fundamentally changed the way I understand sports, and, for that matter, basic human psychology.
I couldn’t do the book justice with a short review, so, I thought I would take two of the chapters and tie them back to the Rays. Today, attendance and curses.
In the final chapter of the book, Moskowitz and Wertheim offer a compelling argument that the Chicago Cubs aren’t cursed, they simply have no business justification to try and win. Generally, they conclude, teams see an increase in attendance in direct proportion to their on-field success. So, teams try to win because wins mean more paying customers. But, if people are coming (0r, gulp, not coming) regardless of the on-field outcome, then the team doesn’t have a lot of reason to try and win.
So, Cubs aside, that begs the question that every major media outlet beat to death last fall: Why weren’t we hanging from the rafters in the Trop? Was it because we don’t care about the on-field outcome? Are we the anti-Cubs?
Everyone has offered a guess for 2010′s blue seat brigade. Carl Crawford and Matt Garza seem to think we, as fans, are apathetic. Talking heads think that this “isn’t a baseball town” (even though it has stocked the Major Leagues for generations). I, and other good-looking smart people like me, blamed the attendance problems on the economy.
I asked Toby and Jon about the economy and they responded that they hadn’t specifically looked at economic conditions nor had they done a lot to control for it, aside from looking at the Cubs and White Sox who share a city and, therefore, are presumably equally impacted by the local economy.
So, I went back and, courtesy of Baseball Reference, tracked the Rays 2010 attendance based on wins. Check it out:
The good news is, based on this crude graph (but come on, I made a graph, you have no idea how monumental that is, my 8th grade math teacher’s head just exploded) the Rays fit the general pattern. When they win, they see an increase in attendance. When they lose, they see a decrease in attendance. Each time there is a spike in attendance (light blue), there is a corresponding increase in wins (dark blue). Each time there is a dip in attendance, there is no corresponding increase in wins (this chart only has wins so, a flat portion of the win line means the Rays didn’t win). That means, the Rays didn’t lose attendance after a win. I think that is good. Right?
If Steve Duemig read stuff, he’d likely respond “who cares about blue graphs, I saw blue seats during a pennant run” (actually, he wouldn’t be that witty, he would say ‘harumph, harumph, harumph, golf, hockey, golf, hockey, Gruden’). Exactly, Steve. Exactly.
The increases in attendance following wins shows that Rays fans are just like fans in every baseball market (except the north side of Chicago). That means the failure to sell out games has to come from some external factor unrelated to actual enjoyment of baseball, like, say, the economy. (The Rays incredible TV ratings also confirm this).
There are a ton of other factors that might be contributing to the lack of sellouts in addition to, or instead of, the local economy. I am just satisfied to learn that we like baseball in Tampa Bay just like I thought we did so, I will leave the identification of the external factor limiting attendance to people that are, you know, qualified. Toby, Jon, I am looking forward to Scorecasting 2: Live from Tampa Bay.
[Come on back tomorrow - or maybe the next day - for the second half of my Scorecasting review]