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June 7, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

A Tale of Two Teams: The Attendance Game

by Tim Kniker

The most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark filled with people. - Bill Veeck

As the scoreboard programmer for the Trenton Thunder in their inaugural season (1994), one of my daily tasks was to enter in player averages from the compiled statistics faxed to us from the Howe News Bureau. Before I did this, there was one statistic that my fellow press-box compatriots and I craved above all us: the attendance standings. Every day, we wanted to see if we were beating the other two Eastern League franchises with new stadiums: the Portland Sea Dogs and the Bowie Baysox. The memory of these daily quests for the attendance standings recently got me thinking about the drivers of baseball attendance.

Currently, bizofbaseball.com (with assistance from Minor League Baseball) offers an attendance database that goes back to 2005. Minor league attendance data broken out by team prior to 2005 are spotty. I decided to look at the attendance figures for all AAA and AA teams to determine if there is some discernible pattern to attendance. I selected AAA and AA teams since they are usually located in mid-size cities with their own market, but far enough away from Major League cities so there is little competition for the fan's entertainment dollars.

After examining the attendance figures of this subset, two teams pop out immediately: the Sacramento River Cats and the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, the best drawing and worst drawing teams, respectively.


Team                     League       Avg. Attendance per
                                      Opening (2005-2008)
Sacramento              PCL(AAA)            10,120
West Tennessee          Southern (AA)        1,699

The Sacramento River Cats, who play at Raley Field, are held up as the model minor-league franchise. They have the highest attendance four years running and as a result Forbes has named them the minor league team with the highest net worth (around $29.8M). However, the recession may be hitting the River Cats hard as their average attendance is down 12% through their first 24 games of 2009.

On the other hand, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, who play at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tennessee, have been plagued with financial problems and low attendance for many years. They were sold in 2007 to a group of Nashville investors who are still planning to keep the team in Jackson. In 2008, they drew an average of 2,096 fans compared to the previous three years where they averaged just 1,567 fans, a 34% bump in attendance. However, there numbers are still roughly 20% of Sacramento. A discrepancy this large begs further analysis.

Modeling Minor League Attendance

The first likely driver to consider is simply population. For the 63 ballparks that were used for AAA and AA teams from 2005 to 2008 (there were two team moves, and one new stadium in this time horizon), I found their latitude and longitude from Wikipedia. With the help of Tacitician in Andover, Massachusetts, I looked at the population within concentric circles of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 miles from each stadium. The table below highlights the significant difference between Sacramento and West Tennessee:


                                         Population (000s) within
Ballpark                         5 miles   10 miles   20 miles   50 miles       
Raley Field (Sacramento)            258       760       1,674       3,603
Pringles Park (West Tennessee)       49        89         154         489

At every level, the population around Raley Field is somewhere between five to ten times as much as Pringles Park. But these are just the top and bottom teams. To further understand the relationship, I ran a linear regression with all the ballparks to determine a likely baseline attendance model. I removed the seven franchises (Trenton Thunder, Pawtucket Red Sox, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Frisco Rough Riders, Reading Phillies, Tacoma Raniers, and Bowie Baysox) whose stadiums are within 50 miles of a Major League stadium for two reasons:

  • Typically, these would have a very large population between 20 and 50 miles; and
  • Most of the fans would not necessarily be interested in attending a Minor League game since there is a Major League stadium just as close.

Running a regression, I found the following equation which gave a good, if not great fit (R2 = .399), i.e., roughly 40% in the variability of attendance figures could likely be explained by the underlying population differences.

The regression equation was:

Average Attendance per Gate Opening = .0069 X Population within 10 miles + .0017 X Population between 10 - 50 miles.

Specifically, the average attendance per opening at a ballpark was roughly 0.69% of the population within 10 miles of the ballpark and 0.17% of the population between 10-50 miles from the ballpark. In round numbers this essentially means that 7 out of 1000 people within 10 miles of the ballpark and 2 out of 1000 people between 10 - 50 miles decide to attend a game on any given night.

Plugging these numbers back into Sacramento and West Tennessee, this simple model would predict that:


Team                   Actual Avg.       Predicted 
                       Attendance        Attendance
Sacramento               10,120             10,109
West Tennessee            1,699              1,302

These results highlight the three word mantra of real estate: Location, Location, Location. We may need to update the script for The Field of Dreams to have the haunting voice say "If you build it, they will come....assuming that you put it in a geographically viable location."

Ballpark Novelty

But is population the whole story? It has been shown at the Major League level that ballpark age plays a factor in attendance (Sport Management Review, May 2005). A similar phenomenon happens in the Minor Leagues as well.

I grouped the minor league ballparks into four buckets: New (5 years old or younger), Young (6- 10 years old), Mature (11 - 20 yeas) and Old (20+ years old).


Ballpark Age Group       	Ratio of Actual Attendance
                            / Predicted Attendance
New (< 5 years)                    191%
Young (6 - 10 years)               160%	
Mature (11 - 20 years)             101%
Old (20+ years)                     88%

The data suggest that there is a honeymoon period of ten years where a franchise can expect better than predicted attendance (based on our baseline population model), Around ten years old, however, the attendance typically falls back to numbers that align with the predicted population model. It is interesting to note that Raley Field (Sacramento) is now nine years old. As it starts heading into mature status, maybe some of the 12% drop this year is not just the recession, but the fact that they are no longer the new thing in town.

At this point, an interesting question to ask is which teams are beating the predicted performance of attendance and is there a common thread between these teams that suggests another factor to consider? The tables below show the top 5 teams (based on ratio of actual attendance to predicted attendance) and the bottom 5 teams. It should be noted that the predicted attendance column considers both the population AND the age of the facility,.


Team                   Actual Avg.   Predicted 
                       Attendance    Attendance    Ratio     Parent Club
Midland Rock Hounds       3,991        1,862       214%      Athletics    
Portland Sea Dogs         6,344        3,071       207%      Red Sox
Iowa Cubs                 7,804        3,354       190%      Cubs
Altoona Curve             5,382        2,860       188%      Pirates
Springfield Cardinals     7,158        3,996       179%      Cardinals



Team                   Actual Avg.   Predicted 
                       Attendance    Attendance    Ratio     Parent Club
Connecticut Defenders     2,830        7,927        36%      Giants
Ottawa Lynx               2,078        4,854        43%      Phillies
Las Vegas 51s             5,041        9,897        51%      Dodgers
San Antonio Missions      4,118        8,027        51%      Padres
Portland Beavers          5,491       10,361        53%      Padres

Proximity to Parent Club

Looking at these two lists, we see a potential common link. For the top-five teams, all but one is located relatively close to the parent club (except for the Midland Rock Hounds), while the bottom five have the opposite problem. These are all teams (except for the Las Vegas 51s) whose parent club is relatively far away, and as a result the potential fans may not have as much of a desire to see the players on the minor league team, since they root for a different parent club.

As a next step, I flagged a team as being close to its parent ball club if it met one of the following criteria:

  • the parent club's ballpark was the closest major league ballpark to the minor league ballpark; or
  • the parent club's ballpark is within 300 crow-fly miles of the minor league ballpark;

Roughly half of the ballparks housed teams that were affiliated with a close parent club. For those teams where the affiliation changed between 2005 and 2008, I categorized each unique combination of minor league team and major league affiliation separately. The ratios of actual attendance to predicted attendance for the two sets of teams are in the table below:


Parent Club Proximity     Average Ratio
Close                          117%
Distant                         84%

So on average, the minor league franchises that were close to the parent club (essentially in the parent club's market) saw attendance 17% over what our model would predict, while those distant from the parent club saw their attendance 84% of what our model would predict. This suggests that for a minor league team to be close to its parent club could have a 33% swing (17% above prediction versus 16% below prediction)

Takeaways

Based on our analyses, there are four key takeaways

  • Attendance is directly linked to the population pool that surrounds the ballpark, with a key first band within 10 miles of the ballpark and a lesser band within 50 miles.
  • We created a rough formula that predicts that 0.69% of the population within 10 miles and .17% of the population between 10 and 50 miles from the ballpark will attend an average gate opening..
  • The age of the ballpark is another key factor with the first 10 years seeing attendance 60+% higher than would be expected, and an old ballpark (20+ years) beginning to repel fans, causing a 12% drop in attendance.
  • The proximity of the parent club to the minor league club has a positive appeal. The likely reason being that if a fan can go see his major league team's future stars day in and day out, he is more likely to attend than the future stars of another franchise. We estimated that the potential impact could be as much as a 33% swing in attendance.

Acknowledgements

I want to thank two sources for information that helped in this article:

  • Bizofbaseball.com for having the minor league attendance database.
  • Chris Terlizzi and Rob Reading of Tactician in Andover, MA that used their software to calculate the population data.

Tim Kniker is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Tim's other articles. You can contact Tim by clicking here

88 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

amazin_mess

Wow. Excellent work. Thumbs up here.

Jun 07, 2009 09:49 AM
rating: 2
 
braden23

The Beloit Snappers going from the Brewers farm team to the Twins is a good example of proximity to the big club hurting attendance. The ballpark's quality helps as well. Parks with aesthetic issues can drag down attendance.

Jun 07, 2009 10:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Jivas
(649)

Thumbs up.

Jun 07, 2009 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

In response to Christina's comments, I should have been more clear about the affiliations in my table (probably with an asterik).

So, as Christina said, the Ottawa Lynx ceased operation in 2007, as the rights of the IL were sold to a group who wanted to place a team in Allentown, PA, who are now the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. As a side note, there has been some hostilities/lawsuit between the owner of the Lynx and the city of Ottawa regarding the loss of the team. Also, while the Phillies were the last affilliate (2007), however the Lynx's parent club in 2005 and 2006 were the Balitmore Orioles.

As for the Las Vegas 51s, for all four years of the study, 2005 - 2008, they were the affilliate for the Dodgers (which is why I had them labeled as a Dodgers affilliate) however, that relationship ended as the Dodgers moved their affilliation back to Albuquerque. Las Vegas has only been the affilliate of the Blue Jays starting in 2009. It has been reported that the Dodgers were the main complaintant in the relationship with Las Vegas, mainly complaining about the facility in Vegas (not having a weight room, etc.)

I think this brings an interesting idea which is the affilliate shuffle, and at times who has the "power" in the relationship and how this can shift. Essentially if a city has a great facility and guarantees fans (with a great track record of attendance), the minor league team has some power to try and get a better parent club (one loaded with prospects, closer to home, etc.) I think this would be a great piece, and maybe some interesting "game-theory" dynamics here.... Matt S., are you listening?

Jun 07, 2009 11:14 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

To your last point, I think the decision that Rochester made to kick the Orioles to the curb after decades together reflects that the shuffle is a dance where either partner can lead, and this would definitely be worthy of further research.

Jun 07, 2009 11:31 AM
 
Tim Kniker

Also, to address Will's points, there were a couple of other factors that interested me, that I would focus on in phase 2:

1) Won-Loss pct of the minor league club
2) Won-Loss pct of the parent club
3) Organizational rank of the parent club (i.e., fans wanting to see the next stars)
4) Some ranking of the quality players that played at least X games on that team's roster that season (10 pts for a Top 10 Baseball American prospect, 9 pts for 11-20, etc.)
5) Rehab games of major ML stars
6) Some measure (would be difficult) of promotions, or at least take a few teams and if one can get the daily attendance, compare them to "HOT" promotions like T-shirt/hat/jersey giveaways, etc.

Jun 07, 2009 11:34 AM
rating: 1
 
Jamey
(208)

I really enjoyed this article. The phase 2 you describe here is exactly the things I'd like to see investigated. Big thumbs up from me on this one.

Jun 09, 2009 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
evo34

Intersting. One issue over which you have no control is the accuracy of reported attendance numbers. Certain minor league teams are known to call in well after game day with suspicious "corrections" to past att. numbers -- in what appears to be an attempt to rise in the league's attendance standings. I don't think this will impact your general analysis much, if at all, but for many specific teams, there are non-zero "park effects" for attendance reporting.

One more factor to add to your list for future study is the local experience level of the opening day roster. That is, how many players are familiar to the home team fans from last season or earlier, vs. how many are brand new. Maybe the metric is total number of games played on current team -- added up for all members of opening roster.

Jun 07, 2009 12:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Thanks for the comment. As for your 1st point, yes, that's a possibility, but one would still have that at the ML level as well. It's one of those things to keep in mind, but there is probably very little that can be done.

On your second point, I like the idea of number of "repeaters" on the roster or something like that. My one issue is the "fixed point" of opening day, as the roster is so fluid, especially at a minor league level. Also, my gut feeling is that kind of stability wouldn't be as big of a driver as a potential hot prospect.

As an example, it be interesting to see if Norfolk had a boost in their 2009 attendance over 2008, simply because of Wieters being there. It may not be big, but it could be a couple hundred each night.

Jun 07, 2009 13:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Mike Juntunen

This is a very good piece but leaves out something essential and likely important: duration of affiliation with one team. When I was a kid, I lived in Great Falls, MT which was a Dodgers rookie affiliate for a very long time. Being nowhere near an established team, there was a fair tradition of LA fandom in great falls; this vanished when the dodgers dropped affiliation and likely doesn't help the white sox there now

Whether its a major factor or not, omission of duration of affiliation was a major oversight in this piece: it makes enough sense to either prove its insignificance or demonstrate its impact.

Jun 07, 2009 12:59 PM
rating: -1
 
Tim Kniker

Good point on this. It was on the radar, but alas was one of those I cut.

Another point maybe duration in an area. Albuquerque had a team for awhile (the Dukes) than lost them, only to come back when they built a new stadium. I wonder if "tradition" of minor leagues in a town has something. Similarly, Trenton was supposedly a great minor league town way back when, didn't have a team for 10-15 years, and then when they started in 1994 it went GANGBUSTERS with a sell-out almost every night.

Jun 07, 2009 17:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Mike Juntunen

It would be interesting to see what happens now with Albequerque. It was the Dodgers AAA for a long time, had someone else for a while, and is LAD again; it would be interesting to see if switching back to the long-time affiliated team caused an attendance spike (and something that would help prove whether that affect is relevant).

I recall when Nate did some media-market research a year or two ago, he concluded that having a minor league affiliate in an area helped expand a major league team's effective primary market; I'd be willing to wager that the places with 20+ years with the same team become mini-major league markets and get some similar attendance bumps to those near to their parent clubs.

Jun 07, 2009 20:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Mike, I would agree with you on this. I grew up in Central Iowa which is essentially equidistant from KC, Minnesotra, St. Louis and Chicago. Mainly due to the success of KC in the 70's, it seemed to be mostly a KC type town, but when the Des Moines team changed its affiliation to the Cubs and with the success of the '84 team, it feels that central Iowa has been solidly a Cubs area since then, but before that, I never had met too many Cubs fans.

Jun 08, 2009 04:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I'd guess that WGN also had a lot to do with that. I know I became a Cubs fan because of cable coming to my little town in the early 80's.

Jun 08, 2009 06:36 AM
 
Tim Kniker

Good point, I forgot about the sudden increase in Cubs and Braves in the late 70's and early 80's due to WGN and WTBS.

Jun 08, 2009 06:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Asinwreck

You lead off with a Bill Veeck quote, and go into demographics? Not only do you have my vote, I'm wondering if you've tapped my phone.

Jun 07, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 2
 
Sky Kalkman

If I'm using the definition of "best all-around" that would exclude Barry Bonds in his last few years because he was a weak fielder, then this article is my favorite all-around article so far. Interesting and unique topic, well written, well analyzed, and leaves me wanting more, even though no more could have been packed into 1500 words.

Reminded me of Derek Zumsteg's work many years ago on major league expected revenue based on fan base as a tool to use for revenue sharing instead of actual payroll.

Jun 07, 2009 13:23 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Hunter

Absolutely fantastic work. The exact type of thing I was hoping this contest would provide. I'd love to see a part two, but this one stands on its own. Tim has become the article I want to read the most every sunday, and he delivered this week.

Jun 07, 2009 13:51 PM
rating: 0
 
CubsSchwin

This is the best article of the week hands down. You really nailed the essence of the assignment, picked a great topic (and pulled it off), and, perhaps most importantly, wrote an article that would interest readers of this site within all other parameters.

Again, great work, and congrats on a great job.

Jun 07, 2009 14:22 PM
rating: 0
 
John R

This is my only up vote this week. Really liked this one, great job.

Jun 07, 2009 14:23 PM
rating: 0
 
dcarroll

Excellent article. The statistics are sophisticated but presented in a way that everyone can appreciate (even Will). And the Veeck quote was a very nice touch. Best article of the week.

Jun 07, 2009 14:31 PM
rating: 0
 
SirVLCIV

Having just gone to an independent league game (Somerset Patriots) last night, with over 7000 in attendance, I'm not surprised that population matters.

It was also a VERY pleasant Saturday evening, and fireworks night, so that probably affects things!

Jun 07, 2009 15:33 PM
rating: 0
 
G. Guest

When I started reading this piece, I was skeptical. Technically, it fit the bill as "below the major leagues", but attendance, really?

Really. This was fantastic, I hope that you get to write a follow up piece or three. Great work. One of the easiest thumbs up of the competition.

Jun 07, 2009 16:07 PM
rating: 2
 
JayhawkBill

Tim, thumbs up, and a great article.

A caution: the transition between the opening paragraph's style and the rest of the article almost lost me. The opening was good, and the body of the article was great, but I felt that the two did not fit together.

Jun 07, 2009 16:57 PM
rating: -1
 
Tim Kniker

Thanks for the caution. That's one of those writing style quirks that I have that sometimes works and sometimes falls flat. I like to have an interesting opening that kind of sets up why we do this, something personal that makes a connection with the reader. Problem with this is that it's too easy to have a choppy transition. I didn't think this one was too bad when I handed it in, but as you point it out, I can see this being a little rough. Also, I'm not happy with my 2nd paragraph as it doesn't flow and is a little choppy.

Interesting thing is that I had actually written two articles this week and basically didn't decide which to hand in until late Thursday night. The other was essentially a more fun/entertaining piece about my summer with the Thunder. It was really focused on the "So you've always wanted to work in baseball crowd." I actually think it's a good piece, but it didn't feel quite BP-like, and was definitely quite different than what I normally write. In some ways it was kind of similar to what Brian C. wrote this week. Who knows, based on what the remaining themes are, you may still see it ;-)

Jun 07, 2009 17:20 PM
rating: 2
 
Sam Rothstein

Tim, enjoyed the article, but really like the fact that you are responding to comments with thoughtful responses. Keep it up!

Jun 07, 2009 17:28 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Thanks for your comment. In defense of some of the other contestants, I will say it is easier to give thoughtful responses when 90+% of the comments are positive and are just a minor quibble point. I know for me it would be a lot harder to respond if I was getting beat down a lot more.

But thanks. As pointed out by other commenters, I do think the active dialogue between author and commenters can be just as valuable as the piece itself.

Jun 08, 2009 05:55 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

As a writer here and there (short stories, training materials, etc) I prefer negative feedback to no feedback. If people aren't even interested enough to bother flaming me, then I know I have a problem with what I wrote. And yes, managing a lot of negative feedback can be daunting.

On the flipside, it seems some good has come out of it. Many people have left comments about how one finalist or another have improved since their Initial Entry. Even if they don't win the competition, they can take that knowledge with them.

This is a rare kind of venue, after all. As this kind of thing goes on, it seems some finalists already had published some work and that other readers are familiar with them. The opportunity to submit your work to a new audience for review, however flaming our comments might be at times, can be useful to keep writers on their toes.

Maybe this isn't a fair comparison, but I got into sabremetrics via Rob Neyer and his ESPN.com articles. Since you're from KC, I imagine you also got interested in baseball research via Rob and Rany (and the defunct on the Royals discussions) Yet when Neyer switched to blogging for ESPN, it wasn't nearly as enjoyable for me. I look at other columnists around the net and wonder if they have an opportunity to write and be published solely based on name recognition or have "inherited" the job and not on their current talent or insight. As an aside, just judging by some of the Unfiltered posts and other article comments since this competition's started, it seems us readers are also "demanding" more from the established BP authors. I daresay some might've even adapted since I saw Christina put a chart in one of her transaction analysis ;)

In any event, there have been a lot of negative comments so far and some of them have been personal... but perhaps some good has come out of it.

Jun 08, 2009 08:09 AM
rating: -1
 
mkapellas

Great job. I attended my second doubleheader of the season today at Pringles Park (or at least my second first half of a doubleheader) and was talking to one of the ushers about how few people were in attendance both times. There may have been 500 people there, if you counted the pregnant women as two people. This was on a beautiful, breezy, 83-degree day when, like every Sunday, you can get in free simply by bringing a church bulletin to the box office.
I was quick to blame the locals for not taking advantage of quality baseball being played right in their backyards. In a way I'm glad to know that the issues is actually that there just aren't enough locals. Thanks for setting me straight.

Jun 07, 2009 17:36 PM
rating: 0
 
kjgilber

I liked the article and gave it a thumbs up as I definitely want to see Tim stick around but I am suprised that Win% was not considered for this first pass. I imagine that it has less correlation in the minors as it does in the majors, but would love to see the data.

Jun 07, 2009 19:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Morris Greenberg

I would further be interested in knowing if the location is closer to the major league affiliate does the attendance go up? I am a Giants fan in Boston and I love going to their AA team in Connecticut but never see many people there.

Jun 07, 2009 19:25 PM
rating: 0
 
molnar
(170)

I wish I knew what was going on there. I used to go a lot when they were the Yankees' affiliate, moved away, came back, and twice I've been able to buy front-row seats for *fireworks night* just a couple of days before the game. They did pass the 10-year mark while I was away, and the economy sucks, but a minor league baseball game is still a bargain, and that is a nice stadium. It doesn't add up.

Jun 07, 2009 20:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

With Connecticut, based on the model (including proximity), the Defenders should be around 6,000 and are drawing half of that.

As I'm thinking back on this one assumption that I made was a linear relationship with population, however, I can see a tailing affect in that as population increases the percentage goes down a bit. The logic being that as population goes up entertainment diversity increases. Let me explain:

As population increases, my assumption was that the entertainment options go up linearly, i.e., number of movie theater screens, pubs, restaurants, bowling alleys, etc.

However, as population increases, then, there's an economy of scale such that ADDITIONAL entertainment options increase. For example, let's take Sacramento. It becomes big enough such that for a few months, the River Cats may actually have to compete with the Kings. Also, as population increases, things like concerts occuring, symphony, casinos, theme parks become more likley. A place like Jackson, TN may only have a symphony concert/traveling broadway show happen a few times a year, but in a place like Sacramento, some type of cultural event like this may happen many times a week. I bet if I looked at this again and looked a little more closely that the affect of population isn't quite linear but starts decreasing slightly -- a little more log-like.

So to go back to the Connecticut Defenders, Norwich is relatively close to Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun (Indian casinos for those not from the area). I'm wondering that as those places have increased their footprint in the last 10 years, if that has had a more significant impact on the Defenders' attendance, i.e., they are seeing stronger competition for the fan's entertainment dollar.

Jun 07, 2009 20:23 PM
rating: 1
 
Adam Hobson

I think the problem with the model is that it doesn't take the actually ballparks Into consideration. Connecticut may be projected for 6,000 attendees per game, but their stadium only seats a little over that 6,000 mark. So to hit that average they'd have to almost sell-out every game.

Of course that doesn't explain why it's only drawing half that mark, but I do wonder if having their major league affiliate reside on the other coast may have something to do with that. It's harder to get excited about future major league players when they won't even play against major league teams who are close to you all that often.

I have to think back the Trenton Thunder. They've always been relatively popular since moving to Trenton in 1994, but that popularity went to a whole new level once the Yankees took them over in 2003.

The Trenton Thunder kinda also blow away the entertainment diversity theory as well. Trenton is less than an hour away from both NYC and Philly, including their three major league clubs, all of whom have new stadiums in the past year. Trenton is 20 minutes from the largest theme park in the nation in Great Adventure, it's an hour away from the Jersey Shore, and of course Atlantic City. Plus, the Trenton Thunder have some decent competition in the baseball realm alone, with those three aforementioned major league teams less than an hour away, and the Independent Atlantic League that features both the Camden Riversharks and Newark Bears, plus some healthy high school competition and little leagues that seem to produce a Word Series contender every few years. And yet the Trenton Thunder continue to draw and are considered one of the model minor league franchises.

Jun 07, 2009 22:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Perhaps Trenton falls outside of this model because there are enough people to support three major league teams and the minor league teams there. Also, it could serve as a niche for those who can't afford expensive major league tickets/parking/etc.

It doesn't refute the idea of the model necessarily, but cases like those could be looked at... perhaps in comparison to other minor league teams in that region. Also, additional factors can be looked at too, such as the major league team's merchandising revenue (a gauge of major league popularity, and thus its affiliates), win/loss record, etc.

Geography itself as the crow files could use some refinement too... it's much easier for me to drive to Fort Collins (which is 40 miles away) than to drive to the south side of Denver (which is 20 miles away). Maybe instead of population bands, traffic statistics can be used to see how easy/hard it is to get to a baseball park.

Tim would need more than a week to do that though ;)

Jun 07, 2009 23:08 PM
rating: -1
 
Tim Kniker

There was a reason why I removed places like Trenton, Lehigh Valley, etc. as they are kind of weird things compared to the others. One may be able to make the claim about Connecticut that even though they are more than 50 miles from an ML ballpark, they are within the "Tractor Beam" of both Boston/NYC.

And yes, ideally, I would use a driving distance, likely tempered with traffic patterns, to get an "expected driving time", but that's a whole other level of analysis. While not perfect, crow-fly distance is a great 80/20 rule on this.

Jun 08, 2009 04:37 AM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

Maybe instead of dropping these sorts of teams from your sample entirely, you should include a dummy variable in the regression for "close to MLB city" teams. Maybe also interact that dummy variable with the population variables to see if there's a different dynamic for these sorts of teams. A much more complicated regression result, maybe too complicated to present in an article like this, but could be interesting to look at.

Jun 08, 2009 06:34 AM
rating: 0
 
lynchjm

I live 15 minutes away from the Defender's stadium. You are catching population in their rings that is much more likely to go to New Britain and see the Rock Cats.

Norwich/Connecticut has never really drawn and it looks like this summer might end up being their last chance. Just driving to the stadium you'd understand why it's been such a struggle for them. Dodd Stadium couldn't be in a more bizarre location, buried in the back of an industrial park on a road that feels like it's 10 miles long. Norwich is a very poor town and while the populations of Groton/New London/Hartford are fairly large, no one actually lives anywhere near where the games are actually played.

I will give the Defenders more opportunities this summer because they will be loaded with great prospects, but even though it's a longer drive the Rock Cats have a much better game experience.



Jun 12, 2009 15:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Actually, I have been to Dodd Stadium, though I don't remember it very well. I went on probably one of their biggest draws ever! It was the Eastern League debut of Hideki Irabu (1997). Remember him? At the time he was touted as the next big thing and went on to become the first Japanese pitcher for the Yanks.

Anyways, we had to call a few days in advance and the best tickets we could get were about 10 rows up in the left field corner.

I only vaguely remember what you were talking about the industrial park and long drive. I was pretty keen on getting to the game, so I don't remember the whole atmosphere. I did think it was kind of out of the way, but it seemed to be a nice stadium. It reminded me a lot of the stadium in Frederick, MD.

Jun 12, 2009 16:37 PM
rating: 0
 
lynchjm

Dodd Stadium is pretty much standard issue for any minor league stadium built in the recent past.

There isn't anything really wrong with it while you are there, but there is certainly nothing special about it that makes you want to go back. The concessions are so poorly run that if there is more then a few thousand people in the house it's a multiple inning wait for a hot dog.

1997 was a different world in Norwich. The team still had the new car smell (I believe they began play in 96), and they still had the Yankee affiliation. I was up the road in College for the first few seasons and there was more interest in that point, there is almost none at this point.

I saw Portland the last time they came through and about 50-60% of the crowd was wearing their Red Sox gear and backing the Sea Dogs. They announced some ridiculous attendance figure that was probably inflated by a factor of 1.6 or 1.7.

Monday-Thursday they don't average 1,000 actual bodies in the building. The fact that they are actively trying to sell the team so they could move to Virginia isn't helping, but the team pretty much stopped drawing years ago and Lou DiBella stepping in has done nothing to help.

Jun 13, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Bingo! (there's a pun in there) You just addressed my biggest quibble with this article. It screamed out to me that you missed the non-linear relation to population. Under-performers Sacramento, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Portland (Oregon) are four of the largest metropolitan areas without MLB baseball teams - if not the four largest! The cities beating your population/age-of-stadium formula are more in the "boonies" - I'd bet well into the lower half of populations you looked at. Ottawa is Canada's capital and is known for its museums and a large population of people from all over the world. Besides that, hockey is the number one sport for the native Canadians. Las Vegas and, as you noted here in the comments, eastern Connecticut have casinos and other such entertainment to compete with. Besides, those Nutmegers aren't far beyond the 50 mile stake from Boston and New York City.

Despite all those strikes against Ottawa, it does seem weird the Blue Jays would opt against a city in the same province only a five hour drive away - and go to a city in a different country that is about a five hour flight away and has such a lousy facility it caused the much closer Dodgers to flee.

I'm further wondering if anyone is considering giving Montreal a minor league team again.

Jun 08, 2009 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
psugator01

best article this week. not another article even comes close. tim is really separating himself IMO.

Jun 07, 2009 19:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Greg Ioannou

My favourite piece in the contest to date. Original, careful research, interesting presentation, beautiful writing. You hit it out of the park.

Jun 07, 2009 20:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Charles

This was my favorite piece of the week. Great work.

Jun 07, 2009 21:28 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ok, I'm back from Salt Lake City. Ironically enough, the SLC Bees were playing the Sacramento River Cats and the announced attendance was 10,000... because there was a fireworks show. I started a conversation with some season ticket holders next to me and found out that the park had been around for about 14 years.

Oh, yeah the article. I thought it was well written and a great drill-down. The pacing was great in that I didn't feel things skipped ahead too quickly with the stats or the methodology and I like that you cited your sources. I guess my minor nitpick would be to distinctly separate AA and AAA teams into different buckets, or include some kind of statement where the level of the team does not seem to affect attendance (if that is the case).

Another easy thumbs up.

My main two questions for future research is how well population within 100 miles affects population since many AAA teams are within 100 miles (aka driving range) from their major league stadium, such as Sacramento, Colorado Springs, etc.

My second question would be whether certain areas of the country are less affected by local population because of major airports, frequent New York to Florida travel, etc.

Great job!

Jun 07, 2009 21:42 PM
rating: -2
 
jtrichey

Tim is starting to pull away as my favorite as well.

It is a mark of great writing to take a topic I really have no interest in and make me become interested in it. That's what happened here. I don't know what I could possibly do with this information, but it was fun getting there anyway.

Definite thumbs up!

Jun 07, 2009 21:52 PM
rating: 1
 
boards

I was composing what turned into a rather lengthy comment but was "timed out" before I posted. Must type faster...

Loved the article. Definite thumbs up. The one thing I really wanted to ask about the data was this: I am not surprised San Antonio is toward the bottom but was stadium capacity ever a variable in any of the studies? Your predicted attendance is a tad over 8000 but The Wolff only has permanent seating for 6200. (The outfield berm is almost always empty - at least when I am there).

Jun 07, 2009 21:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Yes, that should be a refinement. I do have capacity data, but I noticed that for all but a few places, capacity is not an issue. I had only a few teams who were drawing such that attendance was over 95% capacity, but on some of the numbers, I should use a MAX of predicted attendance and some level like 95% of capacity

Jun 08, 2009 04:33 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Interestingly, I thought Tim pulled away from the pack after his first entry which was easily the best that week coupled with his qualifying submission that was certainly one of the top three (including Ken's and Brian C's), if not the best by my rankings. Last week I would have to rate Tim's entry a more distant runner-up to Matt's. I haven't read Matt's yet this week, but have read the rest and felt Ken's blew the rest away. That was thoroughly entertaining. This was merely a well writen mathematical exercise that missed a crucial point - the non-linear nature of the relation of attendence to population.

Jun 08, 2009 09:16 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

For their intiial entries, I had Ken at #1, Tim at #3 and Matt at #4 if I remember correctly. All three of them are in my personal top tier and are constantly putting out good stuff.

Jun 08, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 1
 
Tim Lowell

Another aspect of the Missions poor attendance is the location of the stadium relative to the rest of the city. I hate to say it, but it's in a terrible neighborhood, far removed from the tourist areas of the Riverwalk and Fiesta Texas/Sea World (it's closer to Sea World than anything, but there isn't much overlap in those two crowds). It would have been much smarter to locate this stadium either near downtown (within walking distance of the Riverwalk, preferably), or on the north side, where most of the rich and middle class folks live.

I love minor league ball, but it's a real pain to drive from the northeast side where I live through the maze of freeways downtown to the west side where the park is, in a rundown area with no restaurants or much of anything else nearby.

Jun 10, 2009 08:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

This highlights another great point that in a two-week study one would want to get into and that may be more demographics.

Something that isn't going to be available if one uses straight Census data, but can exploit using the Tactician system would be to determine "# of famillies who make more than $X" within certain distances.

Possibly there is other data that addresses more your point which is some measure of immediate neighborhood and some quality of the area. I'm just trying to think of the right data to get.

On the flip side the Trenton stadium wasn't in a great place (though wasn't necessarily bad), but it did help revitalize the area a bit.

Jun 10, 2009 08:51 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

... and the Brooklyn Cyclones are located along the boardwalk in Coney Island, in part, because the NYC gov't wanted to use the attraction of baseball to help revitalize that classic neighborhood from its downward spiral. Not sure that it succeeded, but the attendance at games has beaten all expectations - they had to add rightfield bleachers to add capacity before they even played their first game.

Jun 11, 2009 07:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

Best article of the contest to date, and I don't think it's even all that close. Well done.

Jun 08, 2009 06:23 AM
rating: 0
 
jasonandrew77

Tim:

Got my vote easily because it answers the questions that I have always wondered. If I ever fufill my dream of owning a minor league team, Tim would be my first hire.

Jun 08, 2009 08:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Rereading Kevin's comments, had me thinking of something. Individual attendance draws may be high when you have a team like Peoria playing at Kane County due to the proximity of the Cubs. I focused on average attendance, but if the data is available for individual games, one could get even more precise on things like promotions (i.e., what promotions work across all parks, what promotions don't work).

But what would be cool would be the "OPTIMAL" affiliations, i.e., what if one had the omnipotent Minor League Commissioner who could redraw all agreements and what would be the best affiliation alignments that would create the overall highest minor league attendance. It would be interesting to see how close we are to that point.

Jun 08, 2009 08:35 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Distance can be a funky thing. I lived in the northwest and western suburbs of Chicago (Wheaton, Aurora, Hoffman Estates, etc). Anything south-to-southeast of Comiskey Park was "way way too far" even though the relative distance as the crow flies is the same to there as it is to Wrigley Field.

An article about an optimal minor league commissioner would be interesting (though I don't believe the minor league commissioner has any say over the affiliations). A more interesting topic might be a minor league owner proposing a new franchise, factoring things in like local competitors, population, weather, etc.

Jun 08, 2009 08:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Yes, a good exercise is what would be the location in the country that would have the highest next draw for a minor league team.

Also, one follow on is how do we use this framework for single A and rookie ball, since (I should check this out before making this statement) it seems that there are more new franchises at these levels. Problem with this is that many of these leagues are more localized since because of typically lower draws there isn't the resources for travel so they in general have to be clumped together (Midwest League, FSL, California League, SAL, etc.)

Jun 08, 2009 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
timoseppa

Awesome.

Jun 08, 2009 09:52 AM
rating: 0
 
andrewfoerster

Very good article and some great analysis in here but the only issue I have here is a common statistician's quibble. No, not the oft-quoted sample size but rather "correlation does not equal causation". It's thorny, but very reasonable to say that local population drives attendance. The bit about the stadiums' ages does bother me, though. Sure, there's likely a factor of new stadiums bringing more fans, but there's likely ALSO going to be an element of big drawing teams being able to buy a new stadium (thus the causation is reversed).

Still, a solid yea.

Jun 08, 2009 10:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Andrew, I think I see where you are driving at, but I would focus on the Minors aspect of it.

As for your first point, are you driving at that minor league attendance drives population? I think my main points are:

* Sacramento is the "model" organization, but in general, they are likely in one of the 5 best markets for minor league ball, population-wise, i.e., big population with very little MLB competition

* On a similar note, it seems like bad demographics to assume that West Tenn will ever be a 4,000+ drawing team given that the population doesn't make sense.

As for ballpark building, typically it is not the minor league team themselves but cities that drive the building of new stadiums. More often this is a city that DOESN'T have a minor league team that builds the stadium to attract a new team, i.e., Allentown in 2007. The bigger point here is that as we follow the age of the stadium, the experience of going to a minor league game is no longer "new" and soon fans may flock to other forms of entertainment.

Jun 08, 2009 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Is the causation between "new stadium" and "attendance" really just one way? Teams that make money can invest that money into new ballparks and/or strongarm their town for financial assistance, no?

Jun 08, 2009 11:23 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Hard to say, because many times the new stadium is in a completely new city.

One difference is that the Arkansas Travelers built a new stadium for the 2007 season. Granted it's in a different section of town, but there avg attendance went from 3293 in 2006 (very average for a AA team) up to 5643 in 2007 and a slight deep to 5558 in 2008.

So here is a team that is not a great drawing team (right on par with their population model which would suggest 3271), then they build a new stadium a few miles away and boom an instand 2300 bump in attendance.

Jun 08, 2009 11:45 AM
rating: 0
 
jpkand

If you're going to take a regression to data, why not do it right? How about including the team's current or previous w/l record? A measure of popularity of the big league club? Some demographic data like income growth, etc.?

That was the only issue I had with this piece. I think that could've all been explained with relative ease.

Anyway nice article I was on the fence since I like to be selective with my voting, but after a reread this is worth a thumbs up. THanks!

Jun 08, 2009 11:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

My problem with many regression analyses is that people throw a whole bunch of data at it (some of it that makes sense and some that doesn't) and say "Well, the regression model says this."

Personally, I like to build models logically step by step as opposed to throwing lots of variables and see which ones come up.

As I said before in another comment, sometimes the issue on these pieces is the three-day turnaround (and for most of us full-time jobs outside of this), a study like you outlined may be a bit more possible if I had a week or two.

Jun 08, 2009 11:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Nathan J. Miller

I opened this article expecting to be ho-hum. By the end, I was thinking of all the possibilities this kind of information opens up. This is the kind of analysis that is not only interesting, but useful. With a little more time and a little more research, this could easily be leveraged by a big league club to determine its affiliates, or an affiliate to market itself to different big league clubs. I would also wonder about the reverse: A big league club thinking about where to build its next stadium. Perhaps put it somewhere near your competition's affiliates and drive down their minor league revenue, then take their affiliate at a depressed value. So many interesting angles (some might even be plausible). I would wonder, too, if the effect would still be positive if ALL a team's affiliates were nearby. Would they start eating into each others' customer base or help augment it? Or what about the role of rivalries? Could you drive attendence by placing your minor league affiliate near the minor league affiliate of a big-league rival? Interesting stuff.

Jun 08, 2009 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
jdseal

Excellent. If this BP thing doesn't work out, I have a job for you analyzing marketing data. I would have liked to see you roll it all up at the end and tell me the overall r-square of everything you looked at combined (and yes, it can be calculated, even though it wasn't one big linear regression).

Jun 08, 2009 14:13 PM
rating: 0
 
stately

I think this was the most engaging BP Idol article I've read yet. An interesting subject I've probably though about several times in passing but would never have dedicated any time to researching (and what is BP for but looking into things I don't have the time, brains, or connections for?)

As a statistician, I am reminded here that good analysis often has more to do with asking interesting questions than creating complex models. And I think you've done an excellent job of blending leisurely conjecture with analytical rigor. Pretty much anyone with a little time, curiosity, and Excel could have fun with a question like this.

P.S. Did you test the fit of non-linear regression on any of the variables?

Jun 08, 2009 15:02 PM
rating: 1
 
Tim Kniker

Unfortunately, no I didn't do the a non-linear fit on the population. I only thought of that over the last few days as I've been writing comments. One of those things that after the fact is when the REALLY good ideas start to come out.

Jun 08, 2009 16:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Hyperion

There's a good chance someone's asked this already; I haven't read all of the comments above. Just in case . . . should someone do more research on this topic, I'd also be curious to see trends vs. parent club performance and vs. parent club days on DL (or some other stat to indicate rehab starts for major leaguers).

Jun 08, 2009 19:36 PM
rating: 0
 
hhbliss

Great idea and good execution. Should this become your full-time job, I hope that you will spend more time on editing. You have some careless typos that belie the quality of your work. I also think your pieces would benefit a lot from shorter sentences.

Jun 08, 2009 21:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Thanks for the feedback. Editing was tough on this one as I had some other commitments this week that had me working on this up to the last minute more than the rest. Also, some of those issues would be handled in the standard editing process. Due to volume, however, BP is posting the articles as is.

Jun 09, 2009 05:58 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Actually volume isn't the issue. (It *is* an issue, but not *the* issue.) We wanted this to be about the best raw talent, not the best thing that CK and her team could put together. I think the qualitative difference is noticeable and could skew the results.

We'll see, after the winner starts writing their column and getting edited, plus the other behind-the-scenes benefits.

Jun 09, 2009 07:59 AM
 
John Carter

I don't know if it is fair either way. Afterall, if we are looking for a BP writer and BP writers normally get the CK & company treatment, then why shouldn't these guys? We aren't seeing them as they would be.

As judges, we have to consider how much more lenient we should be with the guy who makes his sentences and paragraphs too long and twisted?

Jun 09, 2009 19:56 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

The lack of an editor's input killed Byron (undeservedly, I thought), has hurt Brittany and has caused problems for other finalists. Besides, having an editor's input can give them some tips for future articles for those who do not end up as the BP Idol winner.

Jun 09, 2009 21:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Karl Barth

There are other editors besides those who work at BP. All of the contestants likely know someone who could review a submission for readability. So crazy-long sentences and similar obvious mistakes are poor writing, plain and simple. If the contestant can't self-edit, he should get help.

As for "tips for future articles," I think that kind of defeats the purpose of the contest. Once the person has a locked-in gig at BP, it makes sense. Until then, one of the goals of Idol is to see what is rooting around in the mind of the contestant.

Jun 11, 2009 07:53 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

When I meant editorial tips, I did not mean article ideas... I meant basic writing/structure/grammar tips, how to hook the reader in, present a theme and do a story arc etc.

Jun 11, 2009 16:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

Personally, I'm not bothered by the lack of editorial input. After the initial entry and some of the poor typos/grammatical errors in those, it should have been clear to ALL contestants that some of the voters would be taking this into account. It became the responsibility of the contestant to get some outside editorail help and to fit that within their production timeline. I agree with KBarth that at minimum, most of the contestants have a friend or two who are good writers who can talk a look at their work and at least point out any significant flaws.

I would assume that some of the contestants ask friends for help on their ideas, why not on the editorial side?

Jun 11, 2009 09:10 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Considering your writing skills, I didn't think you would be bothered Tim :) If I had gotten in the contest, I probably would've tapped my short story group for help with the editing.

It's just kind of weird. I had read Brittany's articles before she even entered the contest and there was a vast difference between what she did there and what she did in the contest. Byron's initial entry was also very well polished but his Week 1 was more problematic. Meanwhile, a lot of people have gotten a lot better as this competition went on. I kind of wonder in hindsight what someone like Byron would've done if he'd remained in the competition.

In the end though, it's the writer who does the writing, and all the help with ideas or with editing can only refine what the author had already done, not create new avenues for the author to pursue. This might be doubly true for something like BP, where authors need to have some grasp of baseball knowledge and critical thinking.

Jun 11, 2009 21:26 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Great article - made me think of one of the biggest issues I have with minor league baseball - there is only one team in the entirety of Canada (Vancouver SS-A-Athletics) - why wouldn't the Blue Jays try to stick their AAA team in Ottawa - as has been suggested, Montreal or even Hamilton?

Jun 09, 2009 05:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I think the issue is night games, with Canadians being afraid of the dark and all.

Jun 09, 2009 07:59 AM
 
JasonC23
(97)

Come on, Will, nobody LIKES the dark...

Jun 09, 2009 13:14 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

There is peace and serenity in the light. - Poltergeist

Jun 09, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Very well written article....but what's the point? Tracking attendance figures doesn't tell me anything about the players, which is what I come here to read about. Thumbs up anyway, just because it can't have been easy gathering all that info.

Jun 09, 2009 11:13 AM
rating: -3
 
jlefty

well, tracking attendance figures in the major leagues lead to some pretty awesome developments such as the nonlinear marginal values of a win. no offense, but just because you only come here to read about players doesn't make it any less a site about the entire sport of baseball.

Jun 09, 2009 13:32 PM
rating: 0
 
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