Friday, April 29, 2005

Diamondbacks Attendance: Why Worry? 

There is a wee bit of concern in the D-Backs' online community about the D-Backs' attendance thus far this year. Are we at risk for Taste Loss? Oh, wait, sorry, lost focus there for a minute. No, what I meant to say is, are we at risk for declining attendance?

And my answer is, not unless we win less than 68 games.

To begin with, it's clear that home attendance has been down thus far this year. Thanks to the fine folks at Retrosheet, I compiled home attendance for April since the D-Backs' inception. Since Opening Day continues to draw 45,000+ fans every year, I omitted Opening Days from the calculation. "Blended W%" is 1/3 of the previous year's winning percentage and 2/3 of the current year's winning percentage -- I'll discuss that briefly in a moment.

Year Apr. # Season # W% Blended W%
1998 46,252 44,571 .401
1999 32,974 37,234 .617 .545
2000 34,190 36,234 .525 .556
2001 30,718 33,766 .568 .554
2002 39,413 39,515 .605 .593
2003 30,557 34,636 .519 .548
2004 32,144 31,105 .315 .383
2005 26,347

So, yes, April attendance in 2005 is clearly down from that of past years, nearly 14% from the previous low April in 2003. There are two reasons for that drop-off:

1) 51 wins
2) 111 losses

Look, people want to see a winner. So I'm not surprised season ticket sales declined a reported 20-25%. And I'm not surprised that people didn't buy advance tickets for that midweek series in April against the Rockies.

If you plot April attendance against the prior year's attendance, you get a very loose correlation between the two -- which isn't surprising. Why do you think so many people went to see the D-Backs in April 2002? It wasn't because the team was great that year (though it wasn't bad) -- it was because they won the World Series just 5 months before.

There were only two years in which April average attendance exceeded the season's average attendance -- 1998, the franchise's first year, and 2004. In every other year, average attendance was higher from May on.

If you plot the season average attendance against the blended winning percentage, you get a graph which tells one of two possible stories. I created blended winning percentage to reflect my assumption that April and May attendance is based on what a team did the previous year and the attendance for the rest of the year is based on that year's team. (I ended up also trying a blended winning percentage that weights the previous year's record by just 1/4 instead of 1/3 -- it makes the fit slightly better, but not by much.)

The more likely story is that attendance rises with blended winning percentage -- trendlines fit nicely in this respect. The less likely story, since blended winning percentages have hovered around .550 for four of the six data points used, is that blended winning percentage has absolutely nothing to do with attendance, making 2004 a disturbing outlier.

Since the idea that winning has nothing to do with attendance seems absurd (and since this is all a case of Small Sample Size anyway), I'll go with the first, more likely story.

What this does mean for the Diamondbacks is that they could win 30 more games this year and still not exceed their second-worst attendance year (which was 2001). Only if they win less than 68 games will their blended winning percentage be less than last year's, putting the team at risk of "beating" their attendance last year. But I think once school gets out and the Suns season ends (which might not be 'til mid-June), attendance will spike up, especially if the D-Backs just continue to play .500 ball.

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