Taking Attendance

Maybe not.  We’re only looking at April, and April is traditionally a bad month for baseball attendance. If we like, we can blame April weather for the Yankees’ relatively poor attendance. New York received 5.35 inches of rain this April … that’s only 25% above normal, but it was enough to produce two home rainouts. But the weather for the last homestand (against the White Sox and Blue Jays) was a lot better – temperatures were above normal for each of the last 6 home games played in April – yet attendance did not improve during this period. Five of these six home games saw attendance drop below the 41,000 mark I discussed above.

The Yankees’ poor April attendance matters more than usual, because the Yanks’ 2011 schedule is “front loaded”: more home games are scheduled earlier in the year than is normal.  While the 2011 season is young, the April attendance decline has affected a relatively high percentage (about 22%) of the Yankees’ 2011 home schedule.  The Yanks had 19 games scheduled at home this year prior to May 1. Last year, there were only 7 such games scheduled.  This situation will not reverse itself for some time: the Yanks are scheduled to play 52 home games this season before the All-Star break (not counting the rainouts), and only 40 pre-break games on the road.

(The front-loading of the Yankees’ schedule will catch up to the team in a nasty way in August, when the team is scheduled to play 20 games on the road and only nine games at home.)

The front-loading of the Yankees’ schedule is only part of the reason why this schedule is bad for Yankees attendance. Biz of Baseball’s attendance guru David Simmons noticed back in February: not only is the Yankees’ schedule front-loaded, but the Yanks’ home interleague schedule is not particularly sexy (Rockies and Brewers this year, compared to Phillies and Astros last year), the Yanks have an undesirable Labor Day home game (a day many are on vacation or travelling out of town), and the Yanks are away from the Stadium on the two best holidays to be home (Father’s Day and Independence Day).

More important than the bad home schedule is an unfortunate fact about home itself: the Yankees’ new Stadium is no longer brand new. New ballparks produce attendance spikes, but when the novelty wears off, attendance declines.  It’s not a positive for the Yankees if the novelty is wearing off this quickly, in just the third year of the new Stadium’s operation.

One other thing to note: the Yankees have been winning: they’ve enjoyed a .667 winning percentage when playing at home, and they’re in first place. The mantra here and elsewhere is that the fans will turn out to the Stadium to support a winner.  But so far, the fans haven’t shown up in the same numbers as last year.

OK. No one is likely to shed any tears for the Yankees. Most teams celebrate when they can sell 40,000 tickets to a ballgame. According to Yankees President Randy Levine, the team has already sold 3.2 million tickets to their 2011 home games. Last year, only 5 other teams topped 3.2 million in home attendance.  Even with the decline, the Yankees’ 2011 average home game attendance is the third highest in baseball, behind only the Phillies and Giants.  Moreover, the Yankees 7.2% attendance decline is only half that experienced by the Mets and Dodgers.  Seattle and Tampa Bay have also experienced sharp declines in attendance, and even the Cubs’ attendance is down more than the Yankees.

So: the Yankees’ attendance woes aren’t as bad as those being experienced in some other locales. Moreover, we’re early in the season, and besides, the Yankees are still earning money much faster than anyone else in baseball.  The current attendance decline may only be temporary, or it may not get any worse. With 3.2 million tickets already sold, we know that things cannot get much worse, at least not this year.

Still, it’s worthwhile to track Yankee attendance, along with OPS+ and xFIP and your other favorite baseball statistics.  The secret to the Yankees’ success is money, and the largest share of the Yankees’ money comes from paying customers.  I’m certain that most of my readers think that the Yankees’ cash flow is unstoppable. That’s not true. No business success lasts forever.  The Mets and Dodgers are proof that money can slow to a trickle even in the biggest markets.

The Yankees return to the Stadium on May 10 to face the red hot Kansas City Royals.  Good seats are still available.

15 thoughts on “Taking Attendance

  1. Bill

    I'd like to blame the economy. However, even during the downturn in 2008/2009, the Yankees did surprisingly well in terms of attendance. I don't know if I can put a finger to it. Could it be fan disinterest? Maybe fans don't want to pay to watch Posada hit .150 . Maybe they don't want to watch the Yankee rotation of "Who's Who" from 2002 (even though they are turning out some of the best performance so far this year).

    I don't know if attendance trends towards higher attendance per game as the season stretches onwards. Maybe it goes up naturally once the summer hits and once the playoff races heat up in September.

    • BrienJackson

      2008-09 correlates with the stadium change. No real surprise people would dip into even strained entertainment budgets to see the last year at YSII/first year of YSIII.

  2. I think it's more simply explained by a colder than usual April, with lots of rain.

    But I'm closing in on old fart age, so get off my lawn.

  3. jay_robertson

    The weather sucks. It has sucked. I would rather stay home than go out to a game in this kind of weather.

    But – could be the economy. Not sure if it has any bearing in NYC – but out here in the sticks, $4+ gallon gas is killing everything. Our own fault, I know – everyone lives OUT of town – but the end result is that its costing $5 to go anywhere, and a quick run to see the nearest minor league team now costs $40 in gas – even in my hybrid.

    A few people who don't like the cold, a few folks who don't want to drive in from (wherever Yankee fans come from) – it could add up.

  4. I see the obvious solution. Move the Yankees to Charlotte, or San Antonio. That is what MLB does with teams having attendance problems. Right?

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      Mark, we've got a contract with NYC, we can't move. But maybe we could talk to NYC and have you guys take over our rent payments. Or maybe we get the A's to move to the Bronx, then the Rays and Yanks could move to Charlotte and we set up a sort of old school NY Giants v. Brooklyn Dodgers kind of rivalry. I love it when my readers think outside the box. ; ^ )

  5. Matt

    Come on guys. Really? You reeeeeally don't know why attendance is down? While some like to toss around the word "economy" to imply people are having a more difficult time affording games because of a tighter wallet, its more the "economics" of attending a game at the new stadium vs the old. I used to attend games by the bucket load at the old stadium, but with parking now $35 (as much a the cost of a game ticket at many stadiums), food and drink obscenely priced, its just SO much easier to stay home and watch the game on an HD flat screen while trekking to the fridge for well-priced fare.

    This Yankee team is the same one they have been rolling out since '96. People all of a sudden haven't lost interest. They are literally being priced out. Wake up please and stop pointing to other explanations.

    • Anthony F.

      I have to agree with Matt. I didn't go to the old Stadium a lot, but I would catch at least 2-3 games a year. I hadn't been to the new Stadium AT ALL until this season, when a friend had free tickets and a free parking pass. And I still dropped some major coin that night. With 2 kids and an out-of-work-at-the-moment wife, I can't waste money like that. (And from everyone I talk to, most people are in a similar boat.)

  6. jay_robertson

    Ouch – $35 to park? I guess in that scenario, a few bucks extra for gas is immaterial. Sry – my parochialism was showing. I thought $12 to park for a Vikings game was bad enough; but since there are only so many home games, it isn't that big a deal. To pony up that much 80 times a year, yeah – I probably would only catch a couple of games a year, even if I lived there. And you could be sure they'd be games against a "cool" team, when the weather was nice. ;)

    My "small" projector throws a 7' pic; my "good" one has a 12' screen. Its hard to enjoy a football game in person after that; I'd imagine a baseball game in the cheap seats would be much the same.

  7. getdownmoses

    I'm sure attendance will pick up when the weather improves, unless the team really starts to tank, but personally I stopped going to games on a regular basis when the new stadium opened. It has everything to do with the economy, or more specifically ticket prices. The design of the stadium (cutting off field level seats for folks that would move down when they were empty) was a major turn off as well, now the place looks empty on TV sometimes and the working class fans never get a peek at the great views the corporate class enjoy.

  8. Liza

    I have a partial season ticket plan and have sat through 2 games in the cold mist, one game that was just cold,windy and overcast, and one rainout that was called at 7 after I had already gone out to the stadium (you know because I needed to go out to the Bronx to split a cheesesteak and turn around ). I think some of it is weather and some of it is still the economy. The parking is ridiculous. On weeknights I just take the subway from my office in the city and the bus back to NJ. On the weekends I actually drive to Manhattan, park , and take the subway which is still cheaper and less of a pain to get home.

  9. LarryAtIIATMS

    A lot of good comments on the expense of going to the Stadium. Have to say personally, was looking to make a trip this summer to NY (I live under the jurisdiction of Frank McCourt at present), and I was surprised by the cost on StubHub of what I thought would be reasonably priced seats.

    But the Stadium is no more expensive this year than it was last year, or the year before, yet fewer people are showing up. The whole point of building a $1.3 billion dollar stadium was to create a venue so compelling that fans would willingly give up their HD home viewing experience and shell out big bucks to attend games. We can argue whether the new Stadium experience was truly meant to appeal to the average fan, or whether the primary goal was to get Fortune 500 companies to buy 3 million tickets every year. But the general reaction here is interesting: fans devoted enough to read through to the end of one of my columns (hee hee) do not appear to be thrilled by the new Yankee Stadium experience. THAT is ominous.

    We'll have a month or two to see if the situation changes as the weather gets warmer, school lets out, etc.

  10. Scott Asher

    I simply can't believe how expensive it is to go to the ballgame these days. It's a shame. I know I go several times a year less because of it.

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      My attitude about ballgames is to go as cheaply as I can, so I can go more often. Yankee fans have the option of public transportation instead of $35 parking. To save money, you can skip the food and $10 beers, You cannot bring a cooler, bottle or can into the Stadium, but there's no prohibition against whatever food you can carry in a pocket or handbag, and one web site recommends packing juice boxes. For $20 bucks a ticket, you can score 2 seats for tomorrow night's game on StubHub in row 4 of Section 229. Those look like very nice seats to me.

  11. bjules7

    Bottom Line is that the Yankees don't really care about fan loyalty….then claim to have built the New Stadium for "the Fans"…but they really mean…for the Fans with really big bucks $$$. Been a season (partial) ticket holder since 1977..a fan since 61…supported the team all thru the 80's when 20000 fans was a big crowd…my reward for 35 years of loyalty at the NEW STADIUM ?? Lost opening day tickets, lost playoff ticket options…restricted access all over the new stadium…Ex.Jim Beam Lounge..I refuse to buy anything inside the new stadium…let the Corporate Bucks support them now…I did my part for 45 years…and it got me treated like garbage..I root for the team…love my Yankees…despise Yankee Corporate Mentality…which basically says …if you don't like it …move over… there are millions who are right behind you

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