detroit & tampa baseball fans: a tale of two cities.

Comerica Park, Detroit.

Comerica Park, Detroit.

Baseball is my favorite sport for several reasons. The numbers and math of the game fascinate me, for one. That extends beyond the typical batting averages and WARs and WHIPs to the stands. Last season, for example, the average total attendance for an American League team was 2,384,555. In fact, for 23 of the past 25 years, the season average has been more than 2 million fans per AL team.

When my favorite team—the Detroit Tigers—take the field tomorrow against the Chicago White Sox, they will surpass the 3 million mark in attendance this season (providing at least 124 fans show up). For the Tigers, it will be their fourth season of drawing 3 million or more fans to Comerica Park. Shockingly, the Tigers never hit the 3 million plateau at the much larger Tiger Stadium, where they played until the end of the 1999 season.

It’s no surprise to me the Tigers have drawn more than the league average since 2006. They have been one of the most consistent, successful baseball franchises over the past seven seasons:
* Four playoff appearances (including this season)
* Three AL Central Division Championships (well…soon)
* Two American League Pennants

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Ostensibly, Tiger fans are loyal to this team, from top to bottom. Contrast that with another potential playoff team, the Tampa Bay Rays. With four home games remaining at Tropicana Field, the Rays are sitting dead last in attendance in Major League Baseball with less than 1.5 million fans turning out this season. It’s a bit jarring when you consider the Rays are not some flukey team, backing their way into a wild card berth.

Since 2008, the Rays have won:
* Two AL East Division Championships
* One Wild Card berth
* One American League Pennant

Over those seasons, Rays attendance has been woeful; never reaching 2 million fans and nowhere close to the league average. It’s no better this season (their only 2 million+ season was their inaugural one, 1998). In fact, less fans, on average, attend Rays home games this season than last season. And they’ve been a competitive team most of the season!

I’m not sure if there’s a definitive correlation between the fan bases for these two franchises, but it does indicate a sharp contrast in turnout, loyalty and market behavior. That aside, it’s worth pointing out the contrast in market sizes. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Detroit is the 14th most populous market (4.2 million) in the U.S. while Tampa-St. Petersburg is 18th (2.8 million).

If cost is a factor, you’d think it would impact hardscrabble Detroiters more than Gulf Coast Floridians, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Average ticket prices:
* Detroit: $26.36
* Tampa: $20.39

In fact, both Detroit and Tampa are below the league average ($27.73). Same goes for the obligatory “family of four” cost of going to a baseball game, where the league average is $210.46. Great source.

Market size, franchise history (both recent and long-term), team success and ticket prices all play factors in drawing people to the ballpark as much as keeping them away. So what gives here? Why are Detroit fans filling the stadium to near capacity every night while Rays fans are barely there?

I ran these numbers exercise in hopes of gleaning some new information to solve this riddle and I ran into a brick wall.

Stripping away the numbers, my best, most uneducated guess comes down to this: Florida is not a baseball state. It’s a football state (unless you have to include the Jacksonville Jaguars).

Yes, Florida is a great place for spring training. Baseball fans love to go watch their teams work out the winter kinks in sunny Florida. But the locals don’t seem to much care for the Rays nor the Miami Marlins (we don’t have enough time to dissect Marlins dysfunction).

Too bad Bud Selig and Major League Baseball are stuck with these two Sunshine State stepchildren. I’m sure they’d love to give them up for adoption, but that’s even more unlikely than fans ever showing true loyalty to the Tampa Bay Rays anytime soon.


1 Comment

Filed under analysis, baseball, detroit tigers, sports

One response to “detroit & tampa baseball fans: a tale of two cities.

  1. Mark

    Florida fans are fair weather supporters at the best of times. Its is kind of strange they cant get on a team that has been fairly successful the last 6 years

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