In January of 2014, I wrote an MiLB.com article about David “The Number Tamer” Kronheim, a Queens-based “freelance advertising copywriter and marketing research analyst” who annually produces hyper-detailed (and deeply informative) baseball attendance reports. In conjunction with that article, Kronheim contributed a guest post to this blog in which he further elaborated on his methods.
Another year has come and gone, which means that it’s once again time to check in with Kronheim. In this, his most recent guest post, he elaborates on 2014’s biggest attendance gains throughout Minor League Baseball and the common factor which united them all. Unruly digits beware, the Number Tamer is on the case!
New Cities and New Ballparks Had Big Attendance Increases in the Minor Leagues in 2014
By David Kronheim – Numbertamer.com
The big attendance story in 2014 for the affiliated leagues of Minor League Baseball was the huge increases posted by three teams that moved to new cities or new ballparks.
A Mexican League team moved from Minatitlan to Tijuana. Attendance in Tijuana was 419,169 in 2014, up 298,658 from the 120,511 that this team drew in Minatitlan in 2013.
El Paso opened a great new ballpark, and a Pacific Coast League team moved there from Tucson, where it had drawn 200,077 in 2013. In 2014, the El Paso Chihuahuas attracted 560,997, an increase of 360,920.
The biggest attendance increase in 2014 for any Major League or Minor League Baseball team was by the Charlotte Knights of the International League. They moved from the suburb of Fort Mill, South Carolina to a magnificent new, mass transit-accessible ballpark in the uptown section of Charlotte.
The Knights led Minor League Baseball in total attendance in 2014, drawing 687,715. Their previous high was 403,029, in 1993. The 2014 total was the third best ever by an International League team. Average attendance per date in Charlotte was 9,686, tops among all United States Minor League teams.
In 2013, in Fort Mill, the Knights drew 254,834. Attendance at the new ballpark in 2014 was up 432,881. This was the third-highest increase in Minor League history for a team that moved from one ballpark to another in the same geographic market. Buffalo had a 650,891 increase when they moved into a new park in 1988. Memphis posted a 462,512 gain in 2000, the year they relocated from Tim McCarver Memorial Stadium. (Tim McCarver says that the ‘Memorial’ part of that stadium’s name was in memory of his throwing arm.)
Tijuana, El Paso and Charlotte had a combined 2014 attendance increase of 1,092,459. Such huge growth by teams moving to new markets and/or new ballparks has not been unusual in recent decades within the Minor Leagues.
Much of the tremendous growth in Minor League Baseball attendance since the late 1970s has been the result of so many markets opening new ballparks, either for a team they already have or to attract a new team. Here are some examples:
The first of a new era of Minor League ballparks was Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. In 1977, the Clippers moved there from Memphis, and attendance increased from 364,278 to 457,251. From 1953 through 1976 only one U.S. team, Hawaii in 1970, had drawn that well. In 1979, Columbus drew 599,544, the highest Minor League total since the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League drew 606,563 in 1948.
Columbus got a new park in 2009 and continues to be one of the best draws in the Minors. In 2014, the Clippers drew 628,980. It was the fifth time in the last six years that the Clippers topped 600,000, and the 28th time in 36 seasons that they drew above 500,000.
In 1982, a team moved from Springfield, Illinois to Louisville and began to shatter attendance records. The 1982 Louisville club drew 868,418, breaking the then-Minor League record of 670,563 by the 1946 San Francisco Seals.
Louisville’s gain of 747,881 from the 120,537 that the franchise drew in Springfield in 1981 is still the biggest year-to-year attendance increase in Minor League history. In 1983, Louisville became the first Minor League team to draw one million, averaging 16,191 per date. That year, Louisville outdrew three Major League teams (Cleveland, Minnesota and Seattle) in total attendance, and those teams plus Cincinnati and the New York Mets in average per date.
Louisville has now topped 560,000 for 15 straight seasons. The Bats have drawn better than 500,000 in 29 seasons, more often than any other team.
As noted earlier, the Buffalo Bisons had a 650,891 increase in 1988 when they moved to Pilot Field (now Coca Cola Field). The Bisons had drawn 495,760 in 1987 at War Memorial Stadium, which was quite an accomplishment. The old park had been home to the Buffalo Bills until 1973, and was where the acclaimed baseball film The Natural was shot. But this facility had seen better days.
Pilot Field was the prototype for all the retro-minded ballparks that have been built since then. It was designed with Major League expansion in mind, and the fans in western New York certainly made the effort to convince MLB to give them a team. In 1988 the Bisons drew a Minor League record 1,146,651 fans. They went on to top the one million each season through 1993, led by 1991’s total of 1,188,972 (1,240,951 including post-season games). No team has reached a million since 1993, but, through 2014, attendance in Buffalo has been above 500,000 in a record-setting 27 straight seasons.
In 1994, Salt Lake City got a Pacific Coast League team from Portland, Oregon. Attendance rose 527,214.
Starting in the 1990s, teams from some of the lower classifications posted huge gains as a result of relocation. In the Class A Midwest League, the 1994 move of Waterloo to West Michigan (near Grand Rapids) resulted in a gain of 423,883. Also in the Midwest League, in 1996, the Lansing Lugnuts drew 498,858 above their 1995 attendance figures in Springfield, Illinois.
In 2000, five teams playing in brand-new ballparks had a combined increase of 2,486,321 over what those franchises drew in 1999. Louisville opened a new park, and their attendance rose 324,444. A new park in Memphis resulted in a gain of 462,512. Sacramento drew 861,808, a then-record high for a Pacific Coast League team, and 620,347 above what the franchise had attracted in Vancouver in 1999. Round Rock, then in the Texas League, drew a Double-A record of 660,110 (up 560,870 from what the team drew in Jackson, Mississippi in 1999).
In 2000, Dayton drew 581,853, then the highest-ever in Class A. This was a gain of 518,148 from their 1999 totals in Rockford, Illinois. The Dayton Dragons have been an incredible success story, topping 570,000 every year, and they now have the 15 highest attendance totals ever in Class A. They’ve sold out all 1,051 home dates that they’ve played, including playoffs and two league All-Star games. This is the longest sellout streak in North American pro sports history! The Boston Red Sox, whose sellout streak covered 794 regular season and 26 postseason dates, hold the Major League (in any sport) sellout streak record.
There have been more huge attendance increases posted since 2000. In the Class A South Atlantic League in 2001, Lakewood and Lexington each drew more than 420,000 above the 2000 attendance totals they had posted in Cape Fear and Kissimmee. respectively.
The top short-season team increase took place in 2001. The Brooklyn Cyclones drew 289,381, which was then the highest attendance ever by a short-season team. The gain was 250,719 above what they had attracted while playing in Queens in 2000. The Cyclones compete in a location unlike any other in pro baseball. MCU Park is right off of the famed boardwalk at Coney Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the amusement rides. Brooklyn has led all short-season teams in attendance every year, topped by a record-high 317,124 total — and 8,345 average per date — in 2002. Throughout their history, Brooklyn has achieved a higher average per date than nearly all teams below the Class AAA level.
Honors for the best gain since 2000 go to Frisco of the Texas League. In 2003, the RoughRiders drew 666,977 — 642,408 more than the team they replaced drew in Shreveport in 2002.
Tijuana, which had a big gain with a new team in 2014, also got a new team in 2004. They drew 474,573 more fans than the Dos Laredos club they had replaced. The team left Tijuana after the 2008 season.
Also in 2008, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Allentown, Pennsylvania) reached 602,033 in their inaugural season. This marked a 475,139 increase from the total of 126,894 the franchise drew in Ottawa in 2007. (This club’s name comes from the term ‘pig iron,’ which is used to make steel.) The IronPigs are the only team to top 600,000 in each of the past 7 years. Their ballpark seats 8,089, making it one of the smallest Triple-A parks. In the team’s seven seasons, attendance has exceeded the seating capacity of the ballpark 392 times in 491 dates (including the postseason). They’ve sold out all seats, lawn seating and standing room in 132 of those dates.
More new ballpark-related increases may come to Minor League Baseball in 2015. Biloxi, Mississippi gets a Southern League team, the Shuckers, who moved from Huntsville, Alabama. A short-season New York-Penn League team relocated from Jamestown, New York, to Morgantown, West Virginia, where it will share a new ballpark with West Virginia University. The Nashville Sounds open First Tennessee Park, which, just like the old park, will have a guitar-shaped scoreboard in recognition of Nashville’s role as the ‘Music City.’
You can get much more information about 2014 and historical Minor League and Major League Baseball attendance from my website – numbertamer.com. Just go to the ‘Baseball Reports’ page on the site to get your free downloads of the attendance analysis reports.
Thanks to David Kronheim for once again taking the time to share his expertise. Meanwhile, if YOU have Minor League Baseball-related expertise that you would like to share then please get in touch with me about the possibility of writing a guest post.