March 4, 2013
2013 American League Attendance Projections
Attendance is a funny thing in Major League Baseball. Oftentimes, we pay so much attention to the correlation between paid-attendance numbers and on-field performance that we forget that the team’s performance during the previous season can have just as much of an impact on how many fans come to the ballpark.
Since we at Baseball Prospectus have just rolled out PECOTA’s player and standings predictions, I decided to go one step further and use this data to project teams’ attendance marks. Using historical data, the latest “Red Book,” and examining what has gone down in the offseason, here are my attendance predictions for each American League team. (Part two of this series, on the National League, will run next week.)
Baltimore Orioles – Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Last season reminded fans of what the Orioles once were: winners. The O’s 93 wins were their highest total since 1997 (98) and snapped a skid of 14 consecutive losing seasons. Prior to that skid, the O’s had finished below .500 in just 13 of their first 44 years of competition. After their loss on July 17 at Minnesota, which dropped their record to 46-44, the O’s went 47-25, with 24 of the 47 wins being decided by one (13) or two runs (11). The Birds won 38 of their last 56 games and, with that run, garnered their first postseason berth since 1997, when they lost the American League Championship Series to the Indians.
From August 1 through the end of the regular season, the Orioles had the best winning percentage in baseball (38-20, .655). That sustained run helped at the gate, as the Birds drew 2,102,240 fans, marking the 23rd time that the Orioles have crossed the two-million-fan mark and the 17th time that they have done it at Camden Yards. Along the way, the Orioles had eight home sellouts—an unheard-of accomplishment in their recent history—setting the stage for an uptick in ticket sales this offseason, which should pad their numbers in 2013.
Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park
Last season was supposed to bring improvement and a fresh start, sparked by the firing of Terry Francona and the hiring of Bobby Valentine. Oops.
The Red Sox ended 2012 with their first losing record since 1997 and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year, which hadn’t happened since 2000-03. The 2012 season was bad, as in historically bad, for the Red Sox: It marked Boston’s lowest winning percentage in 47 campaigns, since the team went 62-100 (.383) in 1965. The Red Sox had not lost 90 games in a season since 1966 (72-90, .444), which was the longest active stretch in the majors without a 90-loss season (a title that now belongs to the Cardinals, who last lost 90+ in 1990).
Injuries didn’t help. The Red Sox had 27 different players on the disabled list in 2012 for 34 separate stints, both of which were the most by a Sox team since at least 1971 and, according to STATS, the most by any team since at least 1987. All told, the team saw a total of 1,495 games and 1,729 days missed by players on the disabled list, shocking numbers that hurt the Red Sox in the standings and could dampen their attendance going forward.
On August 25, Ben Cherington pulled the trigger on a nine-player trade with the Dodgers that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and cash considerations for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster and two players to be named later (RHP Rubby De La Rosa and 1B/OF Jerry Sands). It was the fourth time the Red Sox had made a trade involving as many as nine players and matched the second-largest trade in club history. With no real star-power signings in the offseason, the Red Sox are taking a more methodical approach to rebuilding their roster, which should yield some improvement in the standings, but could hurt them at the box office. And, yet, as I wrote, attendance numbers don’t always directly reflect performance, especially at Fenway Park, with its small seating capacity and historical fan base.
The Red Sox sold out all 81 home games in 2012, finishing the season with an annual home attendance of 3,043,003. It marked the fifth time in club history that the Sox reached the three-million-fan mark, and all of those have come since 2008. That’s likely going to this season. In fact, the odds are very high that the sellout streak will end right after Opening Day. (Remember, even though attendance can be below seating capacity, clubs have subjective thresholds by which they call a game a “sellout.” The Red Sox set aside approximately 800 complimentary tickets for each game.) According to the club, season ticket sales are down about 10 percent, which, all things considered, isn’t as bad as it could be given the turmoil surrounding the club over the last two seasons. While attendance at Fenway will be down this year at Fenway, the aura of Fenway Park should cushion the blow, especially because the Red Sox can lean on their waiting list for season ticketholders. If the Red Sox fail to bounce back in 2013, though, a sharper decline at the gate could be in store next year.
Chicago White Sox – U.S. Cellular Field
The 2012 season had to be disappointing for the White Sox, as they were in first place for the first 117 days, including every day from July 24 through September 25, but ultimately finished three games behind the Tigers. First-year manager Robin Ventura’s team led the division by as many as 3.5 games (three times) and was a season-high 16 games over .500 (71-55) on August 26. But by October 1, the White Sox were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
The White Sox sold out three games during the season (Opening Day against the Tigers, plus July 23 and 24), and they wound up with the ninth-best total in the American League. But, while the stands may have looked full at times, there were reasons for that beyond paid attendance. According to the club, the White Sox donated over 62,000 tickets, valued at more than $1.05 million, to 337 nonprofit and social-service organizations.
Looking ahead to 2013, attendance could lean slightly one way or the other, and that’s why I’m predicting that it will remain relatively unchanged. Little happened in Chicago this winter that would suggest a significant rise or fall in the numbers, though the improvements made by the Indians and Royals are one possible concern. PECOTA’s projected standings have the White Sox tumbling behind the Tribe into third place, and although the games aren’t played on paper, that sort of slip certainly wouldn’t help at the gates.
Cleveland Indians – Progressive Field
Let’s start with the bad and end with the good for the Indians. In 2012, the Tribe was a season-high eight games above the .500-mark on May 24 (26-18), but crashed to a season-low 28 games below the .500 mark on two occasions: September 22 (62-90) and September 24 (63-91). The Indians suffered a season-high 11-game losing streak (July 27-August 7) that saw Manny Acta’s squad plummet seven games in the division standings and came within one defeat of the franchise record (12 straight losses, May 7-21, 1931). So, while the season started with a good deal of hope for Cleveland, the reality was, the hot start wasn’t sustainable.
By the end of the season, general manager Chris Antonetti and ownership began paving the way for an overhaul. Bench coach Sandy Alomar took over for Acta with six games left in the regular season, before giving way to Francona in the offseason. In late December, the Indians sold SportsTime Ohio to FOX Sports Media Group for a reported $235 million, and, with that deal, the club could see television rights fees jump $10 million annually to $40 million. That move allowed the Indians to be aggressive in free agency, and they spent $117 million in contracts for Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Swisher.
Bringing in Francona and investing in the roster has led to an increase in season ticket sales, which should bump the Tribe in the American League attendance rankings. If PECOTA’s projection is accurate, and the Indians stay in contention for most of the 2013 season, Cleveland could see the largest attendance boost of the 15 junior-circuit clubs.
Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park
Although the Tigers collapsed in the World Series and were swept by the Giants, they did many things to draw fans to Comerica Park. Jim Leyland’s team fared far better at home (50-31) than it did on the road (38-43). General manager Dave Dombrowski splurged on Prince Fielder in the offseason, setting the stage for a second consecutive division title, which marked the first instance of back-to-back crowns in franchise history. Miguel Cabrera delivered a .330 average and 44 home runs, en route to the Most Valuable Player award and the Triple Crown.
And, thanks in part to those notable accomplishments, the Tigers earned 33 sellouts at Comerica Park. During the offseason, the club signed Torii Hunter and brought back midseason pickup Anibal Sanchez, fortifying a roster that is now better, on paper, than the 2012 squad. Put all of that together, and the Tigers should surpass last year’s numbers, crossing the three-million mark for the second straight year.
Houston Astros – Minute Maid Park
It’s bad enough to lose 100 games in a season, but it’s even worse to do so in two consecutive seasons. And, since the Astros are projected to go into 2013 with a player payroll of around $25 million, the rebuilding process is nowhere near complete.
Meanwhile, the club is set to air its games on CSN Houston—the regional sports network in which the Astros have a majority stake, shared with the NBA’s Rockets and Comcast—but is struggling to find a way to have their games aired by providers other than Comcast.
Logic dictates that attendance will be down, and, given that the Astros would have ranked 13th in the American League last year, the stands will look disheartening in the near term. On the other hand, fans at Minute Maid Park will be treated to a number of unfamiliar foes thanks to the move to the American League West, an element that might help to cushion the blow. Assuming the new-division bump happens as expected, the Astros should be able to stay above the 1.5-million mark, comfortably ahead of the Rays, who occupied the junior-circuit cellar last year.
Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium
Unlike the Indians, who started out hot and then faded, the Royals started slowly and spent much of the season mired in that early hole. Ned Yost’s team endured a 12-game losing streak, from April 11 through April 24, the third-longest skid in the franchise’s history, which dates back to 1969. Fortunately, the acquisitions of James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana should bolster the pitching staff, and hopefully, that will produce a hike in the standings.
Unfortunately, the Tigers are at least as strong as they were last year and the Indians have improved, so there is a legitimate chance that the Royals will once again land in third place, or perhaps even drop a peg to fourth. For all the work that general manager Dayton Moore did this winter, another season with fewer than two million fans in the stands seems virtually certain.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Angel Stadium
For the first time since 1999-2001, the Angels failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Their third-place finish certainly wasn’t expected—not after owner Arte Moreno opened the purse strings for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. But the team struggled to jell, and after recovering from an 8-15 start, the Halos stumbled to an 18-24 record after the All-Star break.
On the bright side, Mike Trout produced an incredible rookie campaign, becoming the youngest player to deliver a 30-homer, 30-steal season in league history. And, during the winter, Moreno allowed general manager Jerry DiPoto to acquire Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson, and Sean Burnett.
The feeling is that the Angels underachieved in 2012, and these additions have, according to PECOTA, made them the American League West favorites for 2013. If the on-paper projections hold true this time around, the Angels should see an uptick in attendance after two consecutive seasons of modest decline.
Minnesota Twins – Target Field
The Twins haven’t exactly lit up the standings since stepping into Target Field, and they barely evaded the 100-loss mark last year, leading to a drop down the attendance rankings in the ballpark’s third season. Even though Minnesota sold out eight dates, the club dropped to 12th in the majors in attendance for 2012, and the new-stadium glow has officially worn off.
Worse still, the offseason didn’t offer much in the way of short-term improvements, leaving fans with little hope for the coming year. Barring a surprisingly torrid start, it’s entirely possible that the team’s aggregate attendance will sag below the 2.4 million threshold for the first time since 2009, its last year at the Metrodome.
New York Yankees – Yankee Stadium
The Yankees have employed a plethora of geriatric players in each of the last three seasons, and yet, somehow, they’ve made the postseason every time. New York has captured the American League East 13 times in the last 17 seasons, and it has made the playoffs 17 times in the last 18 years, with 2008 representing the lone exception.
From an attendance standpoint, though, things haven’t been quite so rosy. Since the move to the new Yankee Stadium, gate figures have dropped steadily from 3,765,807 in 2010 to 3,653,680 in 2011 to 3,542,406 in 2012. Of course, it’s all relative: The Yankees have led the American League in attendance in each of the last 10 seasons, and they produced 10 sellouts last year, despite the yard’s enormous capacity.
Injuries to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, plus the team’s desire to stay below the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season have cast doubts on the 2013 roster, but even those concerns should not put a significant dent into ticket sales. A 3-4 percent dip is about the biggest decrease that I think we can expect, and that means the Yankees will almost certainly tack an 11th year onto their aforementioned top-attendance streak. If PECOTA’s projection of another division title is accurate, even that modest decline is not inevitable.
Oakland Athletics – O.co Coliseum
The A’s returned to postseason play for the first time since 2006, winning the American League West, and reviving chants about the magic of Billy Beane. Still, drawing fans to the insert-the-current-name Coliseum continues to be a drag. While it seems that Commissioner Selig is developing a roadmap for the A’s to relocate to San Jose, there’s no telling whether they have enough gas (read: revenues) to make the trip south without running out.
Back to last year’s paid attendance: That 1,679,013 was the third-lowest total in the American League and the fourth-lowest in the majors. On the right side, it marked the third straight year of increased attendance and represented the team’s best total since 2007. Factor in seven sellouts (with the upper deck covered by tarps) and the 202,222 increase over 2011, and the Cinderella run to the playoffs should produce a nice boost for 2013.
Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field
It’s hard to imagine now, but at one point, the Mariners enjoyed the best attendance in baseball. Of course, that was in 2001, when Seattle won 116 games before falling in the ALCS. Since then, the M’s have gone downhill—in the standings and in the stands—missing an opportunity to gain fans when the NBA’s Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. And with the skid, ticket sales have shriveled up like skin during a wet Pacific Northwest winter.
Trading Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees did not help the Mariners from a marketing standpoint, but it was a logical baseball move, and signing Felix Hernandez to an extension this offseason should have restored the team’s reputation in the eyes of its fans. In addition to those moves, the Mariners have moved in the Safeco Field walls and added a few bats; with the Astros joining the American League West, that should at least be enough to get them out of the cellar. The flipside, though, is that the gap separating the division’s top three teams from the Mariners only seems to be growing.
From a non-baseball standpoint, the massive new video display at Safeco Field is now the largest in the league, and it should enhance the experience for the fans that do come to the ballpark to watch what is likely to be a fourth-place team. The key for the Mariners right now is to stem the downward spiral, and after falling from 19th in the league in 2010 to 23rd in 2011 to 26th in 2012, even a “flat” year would be a positive sign.
Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field
The Rays earned their 90th win on the last day of the 2012 season, reaching that plateau for the third consecutive year and finishing above .500 for the fifth season in a row. The club sold out its first two home games, but unfortunately, gate receipts tumbled quickly from there, with four dates coming in below 10,000.
Yes, the Rays play in a sub-par baseball facility. And yes, the location of said facility is terrible. But drawing just over 13,000 fans for two of the last three home games during a playoff chase is difficult to overlook, even accounting for those two challenges.
Looking forward to 2013, the Rays have a lot to brag about. Not only did David Price win the AL Cy Young award last year, but they prolonged Evan Longoria’s team-friendly extension, likely making the third baseman a Ray for life. And still, all you can do is shrug your shoulders and wonder if anything short of a World Series title could bump the Rays’ attendance beyond the two-million mark.
Commissioner Bud Selig tried to shame the Tampa-area fans this offseason, telling them that the Rays’ attendance is “inexcusable” and “disappointing.” But it’s a futile effort: They’ll struggle to climb out of last place again in 2013, with a projected figure of around 1.5 million.
Texas Rangers – Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Over the last two years, the Dallas/Fort Worth area hasn’t been “Cowboys country”—it has been “Rangers country.” In 2012, the Rangers finished third in the majors in attendance and trailed only the Yankees in the American League, while setting a franchise record with 38 sellouts. Their late-season collapse, which culminated with a 5-1 loss to the Orioles in the wild card play-in game, is unlikely to be more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to impacting 2013 attendance.
When single-game tickets went on sale this past Saturday, the club had sold 104,530 tickets, compared to 101,672 on the first day of sales in 2012, an incredible showing that shows just how robust the market has become. It’s fair to presume that season-ticket sales have gone just as swimmingly, and if the Phillies (as expected) drop out of the top-attendance spot, the only thing standing between the Rangers and a top-two showing will be a tremendous surge from the Dodgers. That means that barring some fantastical jump in attendance by the Dodgers. Even if that happens and the Rangers rank third again, another crack at 3.5 million should satisfy both the fans and the folks upstairs.
Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre
Last, but most definitely not least—and quite possibly the most interesting attendance story for 2013—are the Blue Jays, who have finished fourth in the American League East in five consecutive years, but are poised for a considerable improvement. General manager Alex Anthopoulos found a willing blockbuster partner in the fire-saling Marlins, and reeled in Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck, before acquiring R.A. Dickey from the Mets and signing Melky Cabrera. All told, player payroll will jump from $83.7 million in 2012 to approximately $125 million for 2013, an increase of nearly 50 percent.
How will all of that impact their gate outcomes? Dramatically. Last season, the Blue Jays busted through the two-million attendance threshold for the first time since 2008, and their total represented a 15.5 percent increase from 2011, their largest hike since the SkyDome/Rogers Centre opened in 1989. Now, try this on for size: It’s very possible that the Blue Jays could see attendance break the three-million mark if they start the 2013 season off on a high note. You can mark this down right now: Toronto will see the largest attendance increase in the league this year.
Overall American League Attendance: Up
It’s a no-brainer to say that overall attendance will be up in 2013 over the 2012 mark of 33,383,773 for the American League. After all, even though the Astros’ attendance will be relatively awful, the realignment will give the junior circuit one more team from which to draw its total. But, even with the Astros pulling the average attendance down, there is enough upside with other clubs to make up for that drop.
The increases seen by the Angels, Blue Jays, and Indians should overshadow the decreases seen by other American League clubs, and thus, I project the overall impact to be a modest uptick. The only possible wild card is the weather, which represents the biggest X-factor in baseball attendance, since rainouts and delays at open-air stadiums pull the needle down hard. One shouldn’t jump to any conclusions about that because of downpours in April or early May, but by June and July, if rainouts are a lingering factor, they could throw the above prediction off-kilter. Fortunately, that’s unlikely to be a significant factor in the American League, since two of the biggest risers, the Blue Jays (who play indoors) and Angels (who play in southern California), are well protected.