Data shows new MLB stadiums increase crowds more than championships

With the Major League Baseball (MLB) All Star break about a month away now, I’ve been more closely following my beloved Yankees and their playoff chances. Naturally, I started thinking back to their last World Series win (2009, far too long ago) and their relatively new stadium and I wondered which factor might influence crowds more…a new, fancy stadium or a recent World Series title.

Side note: While doing a little research, I learned that the Yankees are actually the only team to ever open two seasons in a new stadium and go on to win the World Series in the same year. The first time they did this was in 1923 in the original Yankee Stadium and most recently, they won the World Series during the 2009 season after moving into New Yankee Stadium. The St. Louis Cardinals also have recently completed this pretty unique feat by winning the World Series in Busch Stadium in its first season in 2006. But back to the numbers…

I started by looking at the attendance records for the last ten years of all professional MLB teams with the one exception being the Washington Nationals who did not start until 2005 after the team took the place of the floundering Montreal Expos. Here are a few highlights:

  • On average, an MLB team over the last decade has had about 2.5 million visitors throughout the course of a season.
  • The Yankees have had the highest average over the last decade (3.8M) while the Tampa Bay Rays have had the lowest average (1.5M) . This is not surprising however since they also have the smallest stadium by capacity (a little over 40,000 seats).
  • Overall, I found little movement in stadium attendance from year to year over the last decade. Most teams had flat or lower growth rates in attendance over the last decade with the average for the league being an annual attendance improvement of 0.65%.
  • The Detroit Tigers have had the best average growth rate of 6.8% despite not winning a World Series in the last decade (though they have made the playoffs in four of the last ten seasons). The Houston Astros were the worst losing 7.5% of their audience annually. More trends can be seen by exploring my Infogr.am chart below.

MLB Infogr.am 10 Year

 

After determining there was no general trend affecting the league, I broke the teams into two different categories, those who have won a World Series and those who have moved into a new stadium, both in the last ten years. There were six teams who won the World Series in the last ten years (Red Sox three times and Cardinals, two) and eight teams who moved into new stadiums. Below, you can see the teams that won a World Series and the effect on attendance for the following season.

For the most part, all teams saw a small bump in attendance in the following year after the win with the average increase in attendance being 6% following the winning year. The largest increase was after the Chicago White Sox World Series win in 2006. They saw a 26.2% increase in attendance the following season. As you see above though, the White Sox quickly lost momentum in stadium attendance in the following years. Last year’s attendance was almost 700,000 less than their 2004 attendance.

It’s important to note that the average winning season is capped off by an attendance increase (6%) markedly better than the average annual increase of 0.65%. It’s not incredible, but it is better.

World Series Win & Attendance

 

It turns out that the real boosts in attendance come in the first year following the building of a new stadium. Overall, the eight teams with new stadiums in the last decade saw a 19% increase in attendance from the last season in the old stadium to the first season in the new stadium. You can see this by spotting the spikes in the Twins’ (2010) and Marlins’ (2012) new stadium attendance series below. The Twins saw a 33% increase while the Marlins saw a 46% increase in attendance in the first year at their stadium. Furthermore, what you can’t see is the increase from the 2003 to 2004 seasons for the Phillies and Padres new stadiums in 2004. These increases were also in the 40% range as noted below in the Appendix.

My first thought with these findings was that maybe the stadiums just held more people. The findings were actually the exact opposite though. The Marlins and Twins stadiums both actually had a smaller capacity in the new stadium as compared to the old stadiums. So, too did the other six stadiums. They were not necessary smaller complexes, they just had less seats. One reason for this might be the fact that a lot of the old stadiums were multi-functional arenas that served a number of different sports. Also, these stadiums were built with less box seats and tighter leg room as well.

Interestingly enough however, the New York stadiums (both opening in 2009) saw a lower attendance record in the first year of the new stadium. These attendance drops, 13.5% for the Yankees and 21.6% for the Mets, may have been the result of higher ticket prices.

 

Attendance for New Stadiums

 

It would be interesting to see how these charts compared to the annual revenue and profit of each team. Another way to build off this would be to look at the money spent per stadium versus the following years ticket revenue. Furthermore, a caveat to this analysis is the assumption that ticket sales revenue is the main source of income for MLB teams, which it very well may not be as TV licensing deals have become more lucrative for sports teams. I’m sure all these teams already have an internal department that does these analyses for them and that information is likely to stay close to the chest.

But, based on my research, if a MLB team is looking to drive crowds, it’s better off splurging for a fancier stadium than worrying about winning a World Series. Although, that’s always nice, too.

Appendix

* All data obtained from http://www.baseball-reference.com

Raw Data

 

Capacity Raw Data

Note: Seven of the eight teams with a new stadium saw a higher percentage of capacity on average throughout the first season of the new stadium.

** – The 2006 Cardinals and the 2009 Yankees both won World Series in their new stadium in their first seasons but the Yankees actually saw a decrease in average attendance per game

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