Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Attendance issues? It's the economy, stupid.
As expected, attendance last season was down. Not expected as much, maybe: It's down again this year, too. Yeah, it's early. Not a lot. But it's hard to ignore when, as John Hickey writes, "the Orioles, the Mets, the Mariners, the Indians, the Nationals and the Blue Jays have all set new single-game attendance lows at home this season."
Hickey runs through a lot of explanations, and (reasonably) discards them before getting to the heart of the thing ...
Could it be the economy? Maybe, but things are brighter economically in the U.S. (or so the economists say) this year than they were last year. The Dow Jones at the New York Stock Exchange is over 11,000; a year ago it was barely over 8,000. That's significant because corporations buy a substantial number of tickets -- one study suggests that up to two-thirds of all season tickets are purchased by corporations.
Still, the nation's jobless numbers make it clear that about one in every 10 workers is out of work. And without individuals having the wherewithal to purchase tickets, baseball is bound to suffer.
One of the teams showing the most improvement is Texas, despite the Rangers getting off to slow start in the American League West.
"The economy probably is a part of it," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told FanHouse Monday. "Our local economy is better than some. Some markets have had big [economic] bubbles, and we haven't had that quite to the same degree.
"What we are seeing are the results of general optimism based on our offseason."
Up in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Mariners' numbers are down, but only slightly.
"One thing I think everybody agrees on is that it's the economy," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said. "Other economic signs are that things are getting better. Restaurants here are doing better. I'm hoping that's a good sign for us."
Remember the Clinton campaign's internal rallying cry in 1992?
It's the economy, stupid.
My guess is that buying baseball tickets is a trailing indicator of economic recovery. If you're running a company and things are getting better, is buying season tickets for the local baseball team the first thing on your list? Rarely. The last thing? Maybe not, but it's probably close.
I'm endlessly fascinated by attendance. A team might draw a million fans one season, and the next season -- same ballpark, mostly the same players -- might draw 1.5 million or more. I'm sure there's a technical term for such variability (elasticity?) and I'm sure I should know it. I'm also sure that some bright boy has put together a pretty good model for predicting attendance, incorporating the previous year's record, recent performance, payroll and a dozen other things that bright boys like to measure.
I'm not that bright. All I can predict is that attendance is predictable if you know what to look for. Oh, and I can also predict that when people are convinced that the economy has really recovered, Major League Baseball's attendance will stop heading south and start heading north.