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Teflon

When Does the Honeymoon End at Target Field?

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My Twins season ticket renewal package arrived today in the mail. As per usual it's a beautiful and oversized PR masterpiece "dedicated to the greatness of our season ticket holders." In an attempt to come up with a theme to convince us to once again fill the seats at Target Field, the Twins are appealing to our loyalty for 2013. "There will be ups," the packet says. "There will be downs... Yet at the end of the day, the uniform remains."

Many of us will be considering in the next few weeks whether this rather major investment is one we want to make again in 2013. The Twins are banking on us (literally) to choose to re-up, but indications are that a pair of sub-70 win seasons have quickly cooled our infatuations. But to what extent?

In looking back at the history of the enormous wave of baseball-only ballpark construction that began with new Comiskey Park in 1991 and beautiful Camden Yards in Baltimore the next year, the question is just how quickly the novelty wears off of these new ballparks and when we might start seeing attendance levels more directly tied to the on-field product. To answer this, I looked at the average attendance per game in the first season that each new park was open and used this as a baseline to index the subsequent attendances for the next 10 years of each park. If a team drew 40,000 per game the first year and 32,000 the next year, for example, that would be an index of 80.

Excluding Target Field, the average attendance index for all new ballparks opened since 1991 (20 total) goes in this sequence: 1st year - 100 (obviously), then 91, 87, 87, 88, 86, 85, 87, 81, 75. Since this includes teams that have both played well initially in their new parks like Cleveland and Atlanta as well as those that played poorly like Pittsburgh and Detroit, the effects of wins and losses are somewhat countered. I think it's safe to say that about 10-15 percent of the fan base at a new stadium will erode in the first couple of years unless the team plays great. We've seen that pattern repeated at Target Field as the Twins index based on per-game attendance has been 100 in 2010, 98 last year and 88 in the games played this year.

Looking ahead, I tried to identify the teams and ballparks opened previously that had the best similarities in their first three year attendance trends to the Twins and came up with Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, and San Diego as the most similar. While they all played slightly better baseball than the Twins, they seemed to be consisitent enough from year-to-year in wins and losses that I trust their attendances to be indicative of their fans' levels of interest as the ballpark stops being a novelty. Their trends tended to mirror the overall average for the first 4 or five years, but then dipped farther below the rest around year 6. I look for the Twins to be more like this group. 2013 and 2014 should continue to see crowds of 80% to 85% of capacity eventually dropping and leveling out another 5% to 10% lower, assuming the Twins don't do something crazy like winning 100 games.

The attendance indices for the first 10 years of each ballpark along with their number of wins is shown in the chart below. Some data for ballparks that opened in the 90s is affected by the strike of 94 and 95. I noted these figures in red.

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Updated 09-05-2012 at 01:13 AM by Teflon

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  1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    As with election years ("all politics is local"), each team-attendance situation is likely keyed to on-field performance for some given years, and each market will react differently to the perceived success of the team. I'd be afraid to use too much statistical inference in the case of so relatively few datapoints, and be more inclined to eyeball it.

    If a team in a new park keeps its winning percentage up, it seems as if the honeymoon can go on and on, i.e. higher attendance levels than in previous periods of team success in the old park. The Giants have been in their new park since 2000 and the honeymoon is still going strong; attendance dipped modestly during a period of poor on-field results but never to a level of the old park, and has since bounced back.

    By contrast, if the team on the field stinks, the honeymoon can be short. The White Sox lost their attendance mojo very quickly after the winning stopped, and attendance was back down to something like where it was in the old park after just 4 years.

    The decline in the Twins attendance in 2012 looks like on a similar trajectory to the Sox. Another losing season in '13 may have per-game numbers under 30K like before the move.

    It could be something to do with what a market is receptive to; I have the sense that going to a Giants game (ditto Fenway, Wrigley) is more like an "event" while in a lot of other cases a team has to market competitiveness on the field, which in a zero-sum game has to run out of luck for some teams each year. But Minnesota is kind of a front-runner's town and there's probably not much the front office can do to market it differently.
  2. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    Minnesota = State
    Twin Cities = Town, more or less
    I actually do remember the difference from when I lived there.
  3. Rosterman's Avatar
    You have to also look at the season ticket base, and what happens to the tickets those people don't want. This year, it has taken a while, but people are buying their single game tickets now on stubhub, not the 5,000+ the Twins still have available for every game.

    My wife and I are also reconsidering our season ticket desire. This was a tough year as jobs made us miss more games in our packet than the norm. We managed to not lose ANY money yet on our ticket resales, which is a plus, actually turning a profit on a couple.

    Next year, don't see that happening at all. Next year, we see the opportunity to, eprhaps, buy tickets for a game for as little as $5, or a buck. Who knows.

    The incentive today is the CHANCE to buy A TICKET for the All-Star game. But the strip could cost as much as your season ticket package.

    This year they are offering a 10% discount on concessions and such. Already get the free magazine and yearbook. I get free pop being a designated driver. I will save a half-buck on my hot-dog.

    It will be interesting to see how the season ticket base turns out. Like myself, weighing the games assigned for me to go to versus just being able to wak up and buy a ticket (or purchase easily on stubhub -- amazing place, folks......).

    This month, go to a weeknite game with 30,000 in attendance and roughly count the empty seats.
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