There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The Diamondbacks attendance was bad last year. After all the pre-season hopes led to a significant surge in season ticket sales, hopes were high. But the problems began almost as soon as the season started. Despite a home series against the Cubs, April attendance per game was almost 300 down on 2015, and things only got worse from there. Things reached their worst with a franchise-worst ever crowd on July 5, when just 14,110 people showed up for a game against San Diego. It took a (suspicious?) late surge, with over 106,000 showing up to the final three games, against those same Padres, for the team to squeak past two million attendance, getting there on the 80th of 81 games at Chase.
Of course, things could be worse. The Padres this year, for example, became the first team to lose attendance the season they hosted the All-Star Game. Despite the lure of tickets there, overall Petco crowds dropped by over 1,300. And attendance across all of baseball was down about 450,000. The D-backs change on 2015, an overall drop of 542 per game, was in the middle of the pack, ranking them 17th. However, I really would not want to work in the season ticket renewal department at Chase this winter. There may be harder sells out there, but short of getting Madonna to subscribe to your Republican President of the Month club, not sure I can think of them...
But if we break down the overall figure a little further, we see some interesting and perhaps surprising trends.
Let’s start by looking at opponents. There’s an important caveat here, in that outside of the other teams in the West, we only tend to have three games against other e.g. NL East, NL Central and AL teams. If a team goes from a weekend series to a weekday one, that’s going to have a significant dampening effect. There are also changes in the schedule to consider: we didn’t play the same AL teams in 2016, that we did in 2015. Still, bearing that in mind, let’s compare attendance across teams. The chart below shows the average per game for all the opponents, who are listed in alphabetical order. [Staggered somewhat, for ease of reading due to the different opposition]
2016 D-backs attendance per team
I don’t think we can claim a massive upsurge in interest for the Marlins. They would be a good case of what was mentioned above, going from a weekday series to one that included Native American Recognition Day and a D-backs Tribal Cap giveaway. Conversely, the side which saw the biggest drop were the Astros, who who went in the other direction, replacing fireworks night and Hispanic Heritage Day with a Monday and Tuesday in late May. Similarly, the Mets exchanged a weekend series with a Tony La Russa bobblehead in 2015, for a Monday through Wednesday set in mid-August 2016. All the other opponents were within 20% of their figure the previous season.
However, I do note that the numbers against the rest of the West proved robust. We’re talking 38 games in total, so the day of the week thing is likely to be close to evening out. But in total, attendance against those four sides was up 39,000, about a thousand per game. However, this was countered by a drop of about the same size per game when the other NL divisions came to town (33 games). And the crowds for the ten interleague games is where the damage was really done. AL attendance took a real beating, down by exactly five thousand per game compared to 2015.
If you drill down into that, one interleague series was the real problem. The other three AL teams drew somewhat similar numbers to their counterparts from 2015. That would be the Astros and Rangers, Blue Jays and Angels, and perhaps surprisingly, the Yankees and A’s - though the last was another weekday vs. weekend comparison. But the Rays this year drew 43,599 less over their three games than the Astros in the 2015 interleague series, mentioned two paragraphs up. That’s basically the entirety of the season’s drop, which came in at 43,929. Over the other 78 home games, attendance was almost exactly the same in 2016 as 2015.
By day of week
I also thought I’d take a look at the pattern of attendance by day. Obviously, we all know weekend games draw better than weekday ones. But by how much? And how has that changed from 2015 to 2016? The chart below breaks down attendance based entirely on the day of the week.
2016 D-backs attendance by day of the week
|Grand Total||25,138||Grand Total||25,681||97.89%|
That’s a surprise. Crowds were consistently UP this season compared to 2015, from Monday through Thursday. And not just a few dozen, we’re talking anywhere between 700 and 2,300 per game. But the reverse was true at the weekend, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday all showing significant drops: close to 10% or 3,500 people, on Saturday. Now, there may be some other factors at work here too. As noted above, the Yankees played here on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, pulling over 95,000 for that set, which may explain some of the difference. But the increase on Yankee-free Thursday was almost the same percentage as Mon-Wed.
As a result, the gap between the busiest day (Saturday both year) and the quietest (Wednesday in 2016, Tuesday in 2015) shrunk appreciably from 16,826 to 12,635. This may be something the team wants to see: a few years back, ticket pricing was adjusted to make “premium” games more expensive, and weekends included a lot of those contests. [Did that differential increase this year, triggering a move by some to weekday games?] It would probably be in the D-backs’ best interests to spread out attendance evenly across all games, rather than having sell-outs and cemeteries.
It’s possible the team may fall short of the two million mark in 2017. If not necessarily particularly significant in terms of team finances (according to Forbes, gate receipts represent less than one-fifth of Arizona’s revenue, and that percentage is likely to drop as the TV deal escalates its contribution), it would be a PR hit, As mentioned above, it’s not going be an easy job, selling tickets at Chase Field this season. After pre-season promise turns into a fifth consecutive season without a winning record, people’s reactions will, understandably, be “Fool me once...” when they hear a sales pitch for the coming campaign.
The particularly wretched early home record - the team won just five of their first 21 contests at Chase last year - helped lead to a perpetually depressing atmosphere of “Oh, no - not again”, which fed into itself. Put bluntly, the ballpark was not a fun place to be in 2016. I’m pretty sure the season-ticket base as well as more casual sales, will both take a significant hit, until results on the field show the new management has indeed turned the corner.