Last Friday, I delved a bit into why owner Jeffrey Loria is one of the many reasons, but not the only one, for the problems with attendance for the Marlins. The Marlins brass thinks one of the ways they can solve all of the attendance problems is with a simple change in stadiums. It is as if Terrence Mann himself was telling Loria that “people will come.”
But is this true? Does a stadium guarantee increased attendance? When you compare the as-of-yet unnamed new stadium with Sun Life Stadium, you can see why fans may decide to attend Marlins games after the move. Sun Life Stadium was an awful baseball stadium, to no one’s surprise. It was initially designed for football and as a result was enormous in seating compared to other stadiums, which only made the Marlins’ tepid attendance marks look worse upon observation. Beyond that, the view from the stadium wasn’t particularly great according to most folks; a recent crowdsourcing study organized by Nate Silver has Sun Life Stadium ranked as the fourth worst stadium in baseball.
In addition to the aesthetics of the stadium, some of the logistics of the stadium and its interaction with South Florida were not very strong. In summer months, South Florida can get pretty hot, and fans may not be nearly as interested in attending Sunday afternoon tilts in 90-plus degree weather. This problem is compounded by the fact that those games may end up taking hours to finish due to rain delays. While the Marlins have only had 10 rainouts during the past decade, not ranking very highly (in comparison, Boston leads all teams with 31 rainouts), numerous games are delayed due to inclement weather and rain during the summer season, interfering with the players’ games and the fans’ enjoyment.
So yes, the stadium is going to bring some relief, and it may even look nicer than Sun Life Stadium did as a baseball stadium (though the whole “bagel slicer” or “computer printer” bit probably does not bode well for it). And that should buy the team some extra fans. But how long do these “new stadium spikes” last, and can the attendance spike be sustainable. I did a quick-and-dirty study to see how well teams did when building new stadiums.
I looked at all stadiums built since 2000 and looked at their respective teams’ attendance records four years before and after their stadiums were built. In order to do some controlling, I used the fourth year before the stadium’s open as a reference year and compared their subsequent attendances compared to that season’s attendance, using 100 as attendance equal to that of the reference year. I did the same comparison for MLB attendance as a whole and then did a ratio between the team attendance changes and the MLB attendance changes. For example:
When the San Francisco Giants opened AT&T Park in 2000, they had 2.35 times more people (235.46 ratio in my calculations) come in than they did in their reference year of 1996. At the same time, MLB attendance was up to 1.2 times more in 2000 than it was in 1996 (120.97). When compared to each other, the Giants grew 1.9 times more (194.65) in attendance from 1996 than the league did.
I did these numbers for nine different new stadiums, from AT&T Park and Comerica Park in San Francisco and Detroit in 2000 to New Busch Stadium in St. Louis in 2006.
The results can be seen in this spreadsheet. In the “Year” column, the negative numbers indicate the season that number of years before the new stadium opened. The fourth year before the new stadium opened was the reference year, so all of those values were 100. The positive numbers in the year column are years in the new stadium, with “1” being the first year of the new stadium. A value below 100 indicates that a team grew in attendance from the reference year less than the MLB growth, while a value greater than 100 indicates the opposite. Here is that data represented in chart form:
As expected, the first year of a new stadium brings in people; only one team continued to have greater growth numbers in attendance, and that was San Francisco, which had its own special circumstances (Barry Bonds, in particular). All of the other teams had their peak growth occur during that first year in the new ballpark, which was followed by dropoffs in growth compared to the reference year by each team. The team with the largest peak was Detroit, which gained twice as much attendance compared to the major league average in 2000. St. Louis was a special case in that their new stadium did not trigger additional attendance, but that does not mean they were not successful; St. Louis regularly ranks highly in attendance every year, so there simply was not enough to gain by moving to New Busch Stadium.
What do these charts and numbers mean for the Marlins? Well, we can take a look at the average growth in attendance of each of these teams and see what type of growth the Marlins can expect. On average, these nine teams saw this sort of increase in attendance from the first season of their new stadium into the fourth year of the new park.
This is the average that these nine teams saw. Consider that the Marlins’ reference season would be 2008, when they drew 1.34 million fans to the seats of Sun Life Stadium. That means we would expect the Fish to pick up 1.54 times than the average growth of MLB attendance since 2008 in the inaugural 2012 season with the new stadium. However, from there, growth will be halted but still expected to be better than MLB average growth in attendance. That would be a good thing, and the Marlins already have grown more than MLB attendance has in the past two seasons, so these signs are positive towards a good amount of growth when the new stadium opens up.
At the same time, this study incorporates stadiums and teams with completely different circumstances. The Giants opened their new stadium and had its first few years coincide with the hoopla surrounding Barry Bonds’s best years. The Philadelphia Phillies had their opening seasons correspond to the beginning of their dominant run as NL East champions. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Pirates were unable to do much with the stadium change, getting a big boost in 2001 before quickly returning to growing at a below average rate. Which team are the Marlins more like, teams like the Phillies and Giants or teams like the Pirates, San Diego Padres, and Cincinnati Reds which saw little growth after the initial boost?