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Enough with the attendance shaming

Sep 5, 2012, 10:35 AM EDT

Braves Fans

This morning’s Chipper Jones post, in which he called out Braves fans for not showing up and/or not being loud, has brought out the usual comments we see whenever attendance comes up. “Braves fans suck!” is a pretty well-worn trope around these parts. As are the more nuanced comments which attempt to equate a team’s worthiness and quality with the fervor of its fan base.

I always scratched my head at these things. I mean, I know the Braves don’t draw people. I know that some teams always draw people. I wish my team had a rockin’ stadium every night, but it never has, likely never will and, given the Braves success over the past 20 years, it doesn’t really matter. It certainly doesn’t affect my affection for the team, so why does anyone else care?

Cee Angi of The Platoon Advantage wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. She called the phenomenon “Attendance Shaming,” and like me wonders why in the hell it’s even a thing.  After analyzing what we’re really talking about when we talk about poor attendance, using the White Sox as an example, she concludes thusly:

In the end, there’s no accounting for taste, and you can’t blame the consumer for not liking the product as much as you think they should, for whatever reason. But again, unless you’re Jerry Reindorf’s wallet (which Forbes says is flush with cash), why should we care anyway? The focus of fans should remain on Win-Loss records, not attendance records. Spinning turnstyles is not a civic duty, particularly not in a time of economic distress. Whether he does so or not is between him, his God, and Jerry Reinsdorf.

But hey, if it makes you feel better that your team draws well — if you think being “a better fan” makes you a better person — by all means, continue to care about such things.  Just, please, explain to me why in the hell it should matter to anyone else?

Oh, and finally: if you still insist on pointing to attendance as a signifier of your worth, at least use a better number than total butts in seats. Use attendance relative to stadium capacity, which Carson Cistulli looks at over at FanGraphs today.

  1. sictransitchris - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Copy and paste this post and keep it handy for when people inevitably complain about poor ratings for whatever postseason match-ups we’ve got like they’re FOX executives.

  2. 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    I was going to make a long drawn out argument (agreeing with Craig), but I’m going to post a box score without further comment and let people try to figure out for myself the point I’m making:

    • 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:44 AM

      Argh, figure out for themselves. /edit function/

    • shawndc04 - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      I assume that you’re pointing out that only 34,000 showed up at the Polo Grounds for the third game of the playoff against the Dodgers, a bitter rival. I understand, if that’s it, but would note that there was no opportunity to buy tickets pregame. In those three games tickets were available only at the ballparks, so walkup attendance was it. Your point is made, but there were different circumstances at play back then

      • 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:13 AM

        Yes, it was the Golden Age of Baseball, and people everywhere followed the Giants and Dodgers all summer. Totally different back then!

        20,000 empty seats saw the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant. And a few years later, both teams left for California.

        I don’t know why people refuse to believe that baseball attendance is stronger than it’s ever been. But it is.

    • rooney24 - Sep 5, 2012 at 4:16 PM

      You mean you were implying it was the game when Rube Walker had more hits than Willie Mays? Guess you need to be less cryptic (and smug) and just explain yourself.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2012 at 4:21 PM

        You’re right. Sorry.

  3. sanzarq - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    I went to an O’s game with my son last week. They were playing the first place Chisox. There wasn’t a whole lot of folks in attendance. When I think of paying more for 1 beer than what I can buy a 12 pack for (on sale), I understand why lots of folks rather sit on their couch & watch the game on their High-Def TV (and have a libation @ wholesale prices).

    • sanzarq - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:49 AM

      Natty Boh, BTW.

      • Max Power - Sep 5, 2012 at 12:06 PM

        I was wondering how you were getting a 12 pack for $6. Now I know.

    • psuravens19 - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:04 AM

      I hear ya, but nothing beats being in the stadium.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:09 AM

        I went to a Nats weeknight game. I live in the suburbs, but very close to the city. There was a rain delay, and I got home at about 11:30 or so. I have a white-collar job that allows me to be a little late the next morning, which I was.

        I love baseball, but I don’t understand how so many people are able to attend weeknight games. I don’t fault people for not going.

  4. aaronmsmith - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    Agreed. I was watching Reds vs. Phillies and the Philadelphia twitter page tweeted that the Reds fans should be ashamed of themselves because 17,800 showed up. Why? It’s a week night, school has started, and it’s a small market to begin with. I guess when your team is nearly 20 games worse than the Reds, you gotta find something with which to quibble.

  5. beefytrout - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    I mean, I know Michael Young doesn’t hit. I know that some teams have DH’s that hit very well. I wish Michael Young was productive every night, but he usually never is, likely never will be, and given the Rangers success over the past 3 years, it doesn’t really matter. It certainly doesn’t affect my affection for the team, so why does anyone else care?

    • Alex K - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      You may know that, but Evan Grant doesn’t. That is the whole issue with Young. The dude stinks and gets MVP votes!

    • philsphilsphils - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      Terrific work. You can substitute Michael Young for Francoeur and it will give the same effect.

  6. boredfriday - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Historically speaking, I imagine Tuesday after Labor Day is always a drain on attendance. So if you want to promote attendance shaming, what better time to bring it up? Trying to make this an issue today is brazenly opportunistic. It’s the sportswriter equivalent of waiting for a blizzard to decry the “myth of global warming.”

  7. kkolchak - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    I commented in the other thread about the Nats’ poor attendance last night. As a passionate fan who has been attending games in DC since baseball returned it does bother me that the team could still see such a poor showing in September of such an historic season. During the down years we used to chide Nats ownership by saying that if they put a winner on the field the fans would come. Well, last night wasn’t a good indicator, and it will be worse if several years from now they use the attendance as a excuse to let players like Strasburg and Harper walk away when they hit free agency.

  8. indaburg - Sep 5, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Amen, Brother Craig! You are preachin’ to the choir down in Tampa Bay, hallelujah.

  9. temporarilyexiled - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    A couple of things:

    In the case of the Braves, you have a team that’s been awesome for a very long time. It’s a model organization. Sadly, it’s smack dab in the Deep South, which just doesn’t care about MLB nearly as much as other sports. Texas does support its baseball teams – at least when they’re good – but Georgia and Florida just aren’t going to. And it’s a shame.

    Then you’ve got the obnoxious tomahawk chop, and all of the other lame attempts to liven up the ballpark. The contrast between the class of the team and the lack of it at the ballpark is hard to ignore.

    Yes, there are other teams with attendance problems, though it’s amazing how relatively few they are, considering it costs a freakin’ fortune for a family to properly take in a game. It’s just that the Braves are the more obvious example of a team not getting the local attention it deserves.

    And Craig, you’ve got to admit, that the fact you’re a Braves fan no doubt motivates us to mess with you a little bit. It’s not like you’ve never thrown a few barbs our way. And don’t stop doing it. We all have to remember not to take ourselves too seriously.

    • indaburg - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:15 AM

      There are a lot of baseball fans in Florida, especially the farther south you go in Florida. Florida is like the inverse of the rest of the USA: the farther south you go, the farther “north” you go, at least in mentality. The problem is that many of them are transplants from the northeast and maintain their alliances to their old hometown team. Some of us, like OG and myself, traded in our allegiance for our new hometowns, absurd as our new hometowns may be. Or perhaps it is because they are absurd. Anyhow, I have many friends from NY and Boston who will only go to a game when their respective teams are in town. I can’t tell you how many “NY” and “B” stickers I see on cars in the Tampa area. Then there is my good friend fom Boston who is raising his Tampa born sons to be Red Sox fans. I tell him it’s child abuse, but he won’t listen.

      • temporarilyexiled - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:23 AM

        Nice post. Thanks for the info. You’re right about the child abuse (especially these days). My question to you is: If the Rays didn’t play in an eyesore, and the Marlins even hinted at knowing what they’re doing, would the Florida teams then draw well?

      • indaburg - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:54 AM

        Good question. I’m not sure. Florida is such a transient place. Meeting a native over the age of 30 is somewhat of a novelty and baseball fans tend to skew older. Older people tend to not want to change. If people don’t want to let go of their old hometown teams, how do you make them?

        Short answer: location, location, location.

        Granted, the Trop isn’t the prettiest place in the world, but believe me, it is very comfortable to watch the game in a 72 degree dome in August in Tampa Bay. As Jon Stewart said last week duing the RNC, it is hotter than the inside of a gorilla’s anus here. Now location… if the stadium were closer to Tampa, I think the Rays would do better with attendance. It is a really long drive from Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg and we don’t have a real mass transit system to bring people to the game. By our unreliable bus system, I would estimate it would take over 2 hours one way. I just did a search on PSTA’s website. From the closest point to the most southernmost bridge in Tampa (Gandy Bridge) to St Pete, it is one hour one way. Most people don’t live or work near that area in Tampa.

        The Marlins are a little different. Miami is basically North Havana and lots of Cubans are baseball fans. According to Old Gator, their stadium is not in the best area either. He would be better able to answer that part of the question. I think a good portion of it is that Cuban-Americans have not forgotten what Guillen said about Castro. I’m American of Dominican heritage, but I know Cubans, and they will NEVER forgive what he said. That definitely affected attendance.

      • raysfan1 - Sep 5, 2012 at 9:49 PM

        Definitely true what indaburg says about location. Better location, in terms of better access, better parking, more restaurants/entertainment nearby, etc, would all mean better attendance. That the stadium looks like a squashed toadstool from the outside is not as important. Cost/the central Florida economy also very important.

  10. js20011041 - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    I don’t really understand it either. In what other industry are the customers blamed for the failings of the business?

  11. rcali - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Yep Chipper. Going to a baseball game on a Tuesday night after a 10+ hour workday is always first on my list. I’ve already gone to a handful of games, find somone else to pay your overblown salary. Dude is getting paid 14 mill and won’t even get to 400 at bats this year. Not many work days for him the past 3 years.

  12. kalinedrive - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Attendance relative to stadium capacity is not a great stat, either. That just makes smaller parks look better, and doesn’t take into account the size of the surrounding metro area. In the age of sabermetrics and advanced calculations of all sorts of demographic data, there should be a way to incorporate the average cost per person vs. the average annual income per household within say a 60 mile radius of the stadium. Perhaps something like a Percentage of Net Income Spent or PNIS average. :) It’s easy for someone making 100K a year to drop $100 on a game, but the guy making 30K and spendign $150 is a true fan!

    • ceeangi - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:47 AM

      I’ve looked into doing some more advanced studies on attendance, with some of those indicators that you had in mind, plus a few more, and the problem is that the financials of baseball teams and the algorithms they use for ticket pricing are closely guarded secrets. In writing the piece I did about the White Sox that Craig mentioned above, I had to make a few assumptions and rely on data from Forbes to frame the argument. You’re exactly right there, there are some deeper issues in attendance that could be interesting to explore in depth, it’s just a matter of finding the correct inputs to make something meaningful out of that research…. but tying something to more basic things like census data might be a good jumping off point, but there are other externalities that would need to be considered when you’re looking at things like AMI. It’s something I’m planning to spend more time researching, perhaps in the off-season.

  13. mdpickles - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    LOL. Craig is butthurt because his hero, Chipper, slammed his beloved Braves fans. But at least you acknowledged this AND the story about the Phillies sellout streak ending.

  14. toreup - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    Problem is not so much “my team has better attendance than your team!” Than it is southeast teams don’t fill the stands while fans in towns like Vegas would pack it every night

  15. theawesomersfranchise - Sep 5, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Braves fans don’t show up as often as the owners would like
    Thrasher fans didn’t show up as often as the owners wanted.
    Hawk fan don’t show up as often as the owners would like
    Not sure about the Falcons

    But the ATL strip clubs are PACKED nightly.

    • temporarilyexiled - Sep 5, 2012 at 12:46 PM

      “Another sellout for the Peachtree Polecats…”

    • bravojawja - Sep 5, 2012 at 11:34 PM

      The strip clubs are packed with conventioneers. The Thrashers left because the ownership sucked and didn’t deserve our money.

  16. sportsdrenched - Sep 5, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    But hey, if it makes you feel better that your team draws well — if you think being “a better fan” makes you a better person — by all means, continue to care about such things. Just, please, explain to me why in the hell it should matter to anyone else?

    And to take it a step further. Have your self worth attached to the on feild performance of your team. This is more common in college sports where the identity with your team is a little more personal. But still, at the end of the day…your teams is still entertainment…not real life.

  17. rockthered1286 - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Craig, you’re the man for posting this one. I’ve been arguing this point about O’s support to actual O’s fans. Some feel like you’re a disgrace if you don’t go to games all year long. 2 things wrong with that:

    1- I’m married with 2 small kids. Can’t say leaving my job at 5pm, headed a half hour over to the stadium, spending the entire night there until 10:30pm, then driving an hour home is in my best interest. And moreso, I’d much rather go home, eat my dinner that cost me $20 less, drink a beer for a 10th of the price, and watch it on my tv for free. Well price of cable bill but erroneous.

    2- Baltimore city is not what it used to be. I’d say of the scarce fanbase attending games, the majority live in Baltimore county, Harford County, Carroll county, AA County, etc. Not many people want to take the extra 30min- 1hr drive into the city on a weekday to park in a shady neighborhood where you watch the shadows, pay $20 just to park, then make your way back to your car in the same environment. The city has gone downhill, there’s no denying that. I’ll surely pass.

    That being said, day games and weekends are a different story. I’ve gone to 3 day games and 1 weekend. Much better crowds, more of a day long event since, as I noted, most folks live nowhere near Camden Yards, but have the nearby Harbor, bars, restaurants, etc to enjoy. And despite my apparent lack of “team pride” because I don’t get to many games, I still watch everyone at home, listen on the radio when en route, and wear my O’s gear constantly. Only difference? About a grand more in my pocket and I actually make it home in the evenings before midnight everyday.

    • temporarilyexiled - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:18 PM

      Nice post. This year, your team is back to being special. I hope it continues.

  18. crankyfrankie - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    I think for someone who has been a Phillies fan for 40 plus years through lots, and lots, of bad years it is just puzzling how a team as good as the Braves have been doesn’t draw more people. Frontrunners who only go when a team is dong well should be there in addition to the regular fans. So as fans ,a number of us, are just perplexed that more people aren’t going out to the park like we enjoy doing.

  19. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    The same people who say “You are bandwagon fans for only coming out to see your team when they are doing well” will then turn around and say “Why aren’t you coming out to see your team, especially when they are doing so well!!!”

    I guess you just can’t please everybody.

  20. biasedhomer - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    Atlanta is notorious for its weak fan base. And its not like the city is a small market.

  21. hojo20 - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    A 7pm NBA/NHL game will end by 9:30. A 7pm baseball game may end at 9:30 or as late as 10:30. Throw in the walk to the car and the ride home on a work/school night, and that’s asking a lot to attend a game when you don’t know might end at a reasonable hour.

  22. greymares - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    The Birmingham Braves has a good ring to it.

  23. kvanhorn87 - Sep 5, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    After checking your link and the rankings, as a Phillies fan thank you for throwing us a bone. I won’t take the bait though but very nicely played.

  24. schmedley69 - Sep 5, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    Good points, Craig. Why should Phillies fans care if Braves fans choose to stay home? By the same token, why should you care if Phillies fans choose to attend games and boo certain players if they feel like they aren’t giving their all? I think it’s time for a peace offering: if you agree to stop shaming us for the booing, we will agree to stop shaming you for poor attendance. Deal?

    In the meantime, I think we had better start keeping track of your rules so that we are all on the same page.

    Calcaterra’s Baseball Commandments:

    1. Though shall not boo.
    2. Though shall not make fun of another team’s attendance.
    3. Though shall make fun of anything related to Phillies fans.

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