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.