Last Friday I composed an MiLB.com feature focusing on the annual Minor League attendance report written by David Kronheim (aka “The Number Tamer”).
The information contained in the feature, while copious, was a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to the statistical largesse one can find in the full report. Therefore, I asked Kronheim if he would be willing to write a guest post in which he further expostulated upon MiLB attendance trends as well as the methods behind his numerical madness. He graciously obliged, and now my only hope is that you will be so gracious as to read it.
FOLLOW-UP ON THE 2013 MINOR LEAGUE ATTENDANCE ANALYSIS ARTICLE
By David Kronheim, Numbertamer.com
Benjamin Hill provided a very good overview of my 2013 Minor League Baseball Attendance Analysis in his article on the Minor League Baseball website. He has asked me for my thoughts on the main points of the report, as well as information regarding how I compiled all of this data.
OVERALL ATTENDANCE GROWTH
Minor League Baseball is a great example of how a business that was dying in the 1950s and 1960s rebuilt itself very successfully. Its growth goes beyond ticket sales. Food and merchandise revenue has hugely increased, as have other income sources, along with the value of teams. The days of being able to buy a Minor League team by just assuming its debts are long gone.
The Minor Leagues had a big attendance boost following World War II, but then suffered a very rapid decline. Attendance went from nearly 40 million in the late 1940s to less than 10 million by the early 1960s, with most lower level leagues and teams going out of business. Run-down ballparks, home air conditioning, and easier access for many fans to Major League ballparks were among the causes of this drop in attendance. But the introduction of television was by far the biggest factor.
The Pacific Coast League was good example of this. That league had the highest caliber of Minor League players, good ballparks, and large markets. Between 1946 and 1949, the teams in this league had an average attendance of 475,006 per team, per season. Just a few years later, from 1954 through 1957, Pacific Coast League teams averaged only 212,226 per team, per season, a 55.3% decline. Major League attendance was down 16.9%, when comparing these same 4 year periods.
The PCL still had teams in the biggest markets on the West Coast before the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1958. The closest Major League teams were over a thousand miles away, in St. Louis and Kansas City, yet P.C.L. attendance plunged, mainly due to the availability of television.
Now, Major League Baseball attendance is at near-record-high levels, with teams all over the mainland United States, plus a team in Canada. Baseball and other sports are available on television and other devices every day. Yet Minor League Baseball attendance, with far fewer teams than 65 years ago, has been approaching 50 million fans a year (including the independent leagues). The basic causes of this attendance growth are simple: new ballparks and effective marketing.
Many of the newer Minor League ballparks offer the same comforts, conveniences, and amenities as a Major League park, just on a smaller scale. Re-branding of teams and gameday promotions certainly helped grow attendance. More importantly, Minor League Baseball has promoted itself as low cost, fan-friendly, family fun in a safe and pleasant environment. It works! Just look at how many kids you see at the games.
MINOR LEAGUE ATTENDANCE IN MAJOR LEAGUE MARKETS
The return of Minor League Baseball to some of the largest markets in the U.S. is one of the more striking changes in this industry.
For years it was thought that a Minor League team located near a Major League team could not survive. In 1976, only 4 Minor League teams were located with 60 miles of a Major League team. In 2013, there were 60 Minor League teams (including the independent leagues) located in the same TV market as a Major League team. Or, if they were in a different TV market, they still were within 60 miles of an MLB team.
20 years ago there were no Minor League teams in the New York TV market. In 2013 there were 10, including two (Brooklyn, Staten Island) within the borders of New York City itself. Some Minor League Baseball teams draw quite well even in this market, which has nine teams in the four major sports leagues.
Near Philadelphia, the Reading Fightin’ Phils were drawing under 85,000 per season as recently as the mid-1980’s. Now they have topped 420,000 for 16 years in a row, despite playing in an older ballpark and being just 60 miles from Citizen’s Bank Park (home of the Philadelphia Phillies). Plus, there are now Minor League teams in much newer ballparks, in nearby cities such as Trenton, Allentown, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. They all draw well, and even more competition in Reading comes from a modern indoor arena that is home to a minor league hockey team. Yet none of this has hurt the Fightin’ Phils at the gate.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, there are the Dayton Dragons. This Midwest League club, located 60 miles from Cincinnati, have had 983 playing dates in their 14 year history and have officially sold out every single one of them!
MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ATTENDANCE GROWTH COMPARED TO GROWTH IN OTHER LEAGUES
My research found that, over the past four decades, Minor League Baseball attendance has increased at a much faster pace than almost all other leagues. Comparing 2013 to 1999, the only U.S. pro sports league that has grown faster than Minor League Baseball is Major League Soccer.
I looked at total and average attendance per team for 2013 vs. 1999, 1989, 1979, and 1969, and compared the growth rates in those categories for Minor League Baseball (affiliated leagues only) and for MLB and other sports.
The 2013 vs. 1999 comparison covered MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, and Minor League Hockey. Minor League Baseball average attendance per team (up 18.1%) increased by at least double the pace of any of these leagues except for Major League Soccer, which was up 38.3%.
For 1989, 1979, and 1969, the comparisons were made with MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. In 2013, the Minor League Baseball average attendance per team was 67.6% higher than in 1989. The NHL, up 21.6%, had the next best growth.
Comparing the 2013 vs. 1979 growth rate shows that Minor League Baseball’s average per team attendance rose 119.6%, more than double the pace of any other sport. The 2013 vs. 1969 increase was 250% for the Minors. The next best increase was 191.5% for the combined NBA and the old American Basketball Association. (If you look at NBA teams only, their average per team rose 129.2%.)
HOW THIS DATA IS COMPILED
I also compile and write a report covering Major League Baseball attendance. Both analyses can be found on the ‘Baseball Reports’ page of numbertamer.com.
I have no inside information, and I’ve never been employed by any sports league or team. I began to keep track of sports attendance when I was a radio sportscaster in college, because I knew that teams often made personnel decisions based, in part, on attendance. I also worked on sports-related accounts in my advertising career, so I had to keep up with the business side of sports. These reports are part marketing analysis and part journalism. Most of the news regarding Minor League attendance is positive. But I also make sure to report on those teams that don’t draw well.
All of my data comes from sources that are available to the public and to the media. The charts and tables in both reports were all originally done by me; often, quite a few calculations were needed to create them. But the raw data I used can be found by anyone.
In addition to what you see in my reports, I have created huge databases of both Major and Minor League Baseball attendance information. For example, I have listings of each current Minor League city’s yearly attendance going back to at least 1947. My Major League data goes back to 1900 and has each team’s yearly total attendance, their yearly average attendance per date, and much more.
It would be far too cumbersome to publish all of this data, but I’m always willing to share it for free. All I ask is that you list my name or numbertamer.com as the source of this information if you use it.
My major sources for Minor League data have been the Sporting News Baseball Guides (no longer published), the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff), independent league websites, and the office of Minor League Baseball (with special thanks to Steve Densa, their Executive Director of Communications.)
For the Major League report, my main sources of information for recent years are the Major League Baseball Information System which reports all Major League statistics, and the team media guides. Much historic data is from Total Baseball and from the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, both edited by Pete Palmer (among others). Retrosheet.org is a very valuable source, especially when it comes to determining how many home dates each Major League team played every year. I have many other sources of information, and they are listed near the front of the Major League Analysis.
If you are a baseball fan who cares about attendance records and statistics, I hope you find my reports interesting. After all, attendance is the only sports statistic created by the fans.
Thanks to David Kronheim for taking the time to compile these reports every season, they are an invaluable source of information for fans and the industry alike. At least one more post will appear on this blog before the week is out, and all I can tell you is that it will contain considerably less information than this one. That’s a guarantee.