06 April 2006

Attendance Analysis, Part I

Update: This post just got a mention in the SFGate "A's Drumbeat" blog. Sweet!

Now that the first three games are in the books, it's time to do a comparison between the new, smaller Coliseum and last year's larger model. Having the Yankees series at the beginning of the year creates a disadvantage for the A's because Opening Day usually brings in 40,000+, so to have a Yankees game on Opening Day effectively eliminates one potentially high attendance date from the schedule. The Coliseum's stated capacity this year is 34,077 plus 1,000 or so standing room admissions. Last year the capacity was 48,219.

First, let's look at the first series this year vs. the first series last year:

  • 2006 (vs. NYY): 35,077 / 31,284 / 30,165. Total: 96,526. Average: 32,175 (94.4% of capacity)
  • 2005 (vs. TOR): 44,815 / 10,106 / 15,860. Total: 70,781. Average: 23,594 (48.9% of capacity)
The drop-off in 2005, as noted by local media at the time, was precipitous to say the least. A small dropoff has occurred this year, though it really amounts to 6-7%. That should at least get the press off the A's backs for now. The next homestand against Texas and Detroit will paint a more realistic picture. Since the first series was against the Yankees, let's look at how May 2005's Yankees series stacks up against the last three days:

  • 2006 (vs. NYY): 35,077 / 31,284 / 30,165. Total: 96,526. Average: 32,175 (94.4% of capacity)
  • 2005 (vs. NYY): 38,636 / 41,180 / 37,237. Total: 117,053. Average: 39,018 (80.9% of capacity)
This puts the A's over 8,000 ahead of last year's pace but almost 7,000 behind last season's Yankees series. Those that decried the third deck closure referred to reduced capacity as reduced revenue opportunity. However, the new pricing tier structure appears to be meant to establish two things: a greater amount of revenue per ticket sold, and a less elastic demand curve for A's tickets. The first goal will be reached by default simply through the removal of 10,000 $9 seats per game, many of which turned into $1 seats on Wednesdays. There's too small a sample size at this point to know if the second goal has been reached, but I would expect that the last year's game-over-game standard deviation, 10,511, could be cut in half with these changes.

I didn't attend Tuesday's game, but Wednesday's game showed how effective the structure has been so far. Most of the empty seats were in the furthest reaches of the Plaza and Field levels, along with hundreds of Plaza Bleacher seats. That's exactly what the team wants on a regular basis. The removal of the third deck from inventory was not about staffing or security concerns. Excess inventory was a factor in creating the perception of reduced value - not just of any A's ticket, but of all pricing tiers as well. Once pricing tiers and their value are well-established, demand should rise and that terrible standard deviation figure should drop, perhaps as much as 50%. That should, in turn, create a stable fanbase to which the A's and their sponsors can market.

Of course, this completely ignores on-field performance. That's what it's supposed to do, because records can vary from year to year. Some years teams make the playoffs. Then again, they could lose 100 games. Whatever the case, this fanbase stability is supposed to provide a built-in insulation against record fluctuations. Premium seats are often sold in 5-7 year increments with the promise of controlled price hikes. The same could be said for luxury suites. The hope is that should the A's leave the Coliseum in the next 3-4 years, much of the fanbase will be precommitted to the new ballpark, wherever it is in the Bay Area.

When looking at the model from a distance, it bears a kinship with the "Moneyball" philosophy. It's about identifying market inefficiencies and exploiting them whenever possible. If basic microeconomic ideas can be applied successfully to the running of the baseball side of a franchise, it only makes sense that they also be properly applied to the place they were developed in the first place: the business side.

Coming tomorrow: Crowd noise measurements


Georob said...

What I'm most curious to see and don't know if we'll ever get updates on is how partial season ticket plans are doing as compared to last year. My sense is that as the season progresses(provided the team does well) we'll see many more advance individual sales than game packages. We might just have to wait for next year to see an appreciable difference with season plans.

I DO think, though that for the first month or two that attendance will be down as the fans adjust from not being able to buy so many walk-ups. Hopefully, the media won't decide to "ride" that and paint a bleaker picture than what really exists.

Now, I've criticized JRBH and others for their "Oakland or nothing" stance, but I think it's quite likely that once Wolff formally announces a Fremont move, that there will be some backlash resulting in less season tickets for '07. The question will be can they make up the difference from new fans in Southern Alameda County?

One last question. We hear so much about how folks in Fremont relate to San Jose rather than Oakland. But do San Jose residents feel the same affinity toward Fremont? They certainly share that affinity with their neighbors up 101 (Sunnyvale, Palo Alto). However, it does help to be in the same county.

white rob said...

ml: your numbers for the 2005 yankess attendance do not add up correctly. not sure if the total is incorrect or a day's attendance is off.

Anonymous said...

as a sports management major and a huge a's fan i have done plenty of marketing, finance, and law projects on the oakland a's. i am glad you can evaluate the total spectrum of reasons why the third deck got closed and not just flatly state that the owners are idiots as so many journalists and tv analysts have been doing these past few months. hopefully fans and critics get a chance to read what you are doing on this website because it is thorough, smart, and non-biased. keep it up.

Marine Layer said...

Thanks for the catch, white rob. I posted the correct third game number.

FreeSanJose said...

Not that it hasn't been said, but I really think weather played a big part in the opening-series attendance. The first two games seemed to be headed toward rainouts, and the weather was far from ideal. Again, it's been said, but the next few series I think will give us a much clearer picture of the effects of the third-deck closure.

That said, I was at opening night and liked what I saw. Assuming they can average close to 30k a night, the ballpark has a much more intimate feel and the tarps just fade into the background. A huge mistake, I believe, would be to start peppering them with ads and the like. Simplicity will be key to the tarps' success.

Anonymous said...

Peppering with small, un-themed ads would be a huge mistake. Getting one or two main sponsors to sink loads of green into the a's pockets for a few tarps worth of well designed and planned out sponsorship oppurtunities could be a great advantage to the team.

gojohn10 said...

the first yankee visit to Oakland last year also benefited from being a weekend series

Marine Layer said...

Excellent point, gojohn10. The middle game was also a rare Saturday evening game in which there were no fireworks. IIRC there was a Chavez figurine giveaway or something like that.

Kevin said...

Anybody else take a look at last night's attendance figures from around the league?

REDS/Cubs 27.2K
Dbacks/ROCKIES 18.5K
BREWERS/Pirates 15.4K
ASTROS/Marlins 26.6K
Cardinals/PHILLIES 20.5K
Braves/DODGERS 35.2K
Nationals/METS 19.5
Indians/W. SOX 33.5
MARINERS/Angels 21.3K
Twins/B JAYS 18.1K
Tigers/ROYALS 11.2K
R. Sox/RANGERS 32.4K

Not exactly huge crowds. I would have expected a much larger crowd for the Mariners/Angels game.

Anonymous said...

ML: You cite Yankees-to-Yankees attendance numbers, and the per-game average, and say "This puts the A's...almost 7,000 behind last season's Yankees series." Actually, it puts them almost 21,000 tickets behind: 7,000 for each of three games.

The A's have opted to increase the per-ticket gross revenue through the scarcity model. As you note, they hope this will flatten the demand curve. I suspect net revenue won't be affected a lot either way, but they sure will cut down on the fans who can only afford low price tickets. The A's ask these fans to pay more for worse seats, not to help build a new ballpark (which might have merit), but instead to further grease the skids out of town.

It's not stupid on the owners' part...but it sure ain't fan friendly either.

Marine Layer said...

I was hoping that I had properly inferred average attendance instead of total attendance. No matter, the numbers are there in the bullet points.

Today I experienced the "ask these fans to pay for worse seats" dilemma. A co-worker is organizing a nice tailgating Saturday sometime in the next month. Normally she'd get 8-10 second or third-deck seats and we'd get going once the parking lots opened. She had never experienced the Plaza Outfield (Plaza Bleachers) before. I told her that the best and perhaps only good seats are those in the front row among the middle sections. The view behind the front row is obstructed by the height of the seats, while in the front row you can at least look down. After going back-and-forth a bit, she went with the Plaza Outfield, but someone in our group is going to have to enter the stadium early to reserve the seats.

Our group is not poor. We're 30-and-under professionals, some of whom own homes. We have disposable income. None have kids, some are married. In this group the value is more in hanging out, such is the nature of tailgating. Where we sit is secondary and "trading up" for better seats is not uncommon. We are a target audience, since the A's have to convince us to forego tailgating to spend more money in the ballpark. I'll be a convert when the time comes because I'll be expecting. The rest of the group? I'm not so sure. For them there better be a lot of buzz around the new park. If not, they're not buying.

Anonymous said...

I checked the ESPN MLB stat page on attendance. They are still using 40K+ as our attendance figure. Once that gets adjusted, I think we will stack pretty well against other markets. What you lose from some games, will improve others. Overall attendance maybe the same or a lettle less for this year. I think a winning team and a bigger demand of tickets will bring more fans to the park. It is simply supply/demand economics or if you wish, manipulating the market. I think this plan will work to the betterment of the team. More fans or at least more sitting closer together to look like a packed stadium.

Anonymous said...

I tailgate's the only time I ever pay for actual lot parking. And I always used to buy 10 cheap seats to handle the unpredictable turnout of friends, and if I ate a couple (tix not friends), no big deal. That won't happen anymore...why would I buy extra lousy tickets my pals don't want to sit in anyway?

If tailgating will in fact be a thing of the past at New Park X, that will be a sad, sad loss. And if I might, another enormous slap at the traditional Oakland Athletics fan ethic.


swirlinabc said...

I like the tarps on the upper deck and Mt. Davis, but was it just my seat location, or did anyone else have trouble reading the retired numbers once the lights came on? From my view, there was a large reflection on them making all except perhaps Eckersley's almost impossible to read. I would have put the retired numbers more towards the center of Mt. Davis and away from the lights.