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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!! Fans like to be entertained...

This Ft. Worth Star-Telegram story indicates that runs, not wins, attract more fans in professional Baseball. Using the last five years of payroll, attendance, and performance data, the reporters seem to have used either some form of regression analysis or difference-in-means tests to determine the relationship between wins and runs and attendance, but also the relationship between attendance and price and payroll. For a popular press piece, it is rather well done. The authors seem somewhat surprised that fans seem more attracted to runs than to wins, but this is rather easily explained: runs are entertaining (regardless of whether the team wins because of them) but are correlated with fielding a competitive team.

The authors also seem surprised that higher ticket prices correlate with greater season attendance for some teams. I don't blame the authors for not recognizing the simultaneity issue involved, but they are really confusing causation and correlation. Most likely teams with greater attendance (greater demand) have higher ticket prices, not the other way around.

This portion of the story caught my eye:
Texas appears to have a smaller base of loyal fans than some franchises, which can overcome losing seasons, according to a baseball expert at Baylor University.

"The Rangers did so well after the new ballpark opened that it set fans' expectations high," said Kirk Wakefield, director of Baylor's marketing department and a lecturer on sports issues.

"When a team is winning, you pick up the fair-weather fans," he said. "When they aren't doing well, you lose those fans. I think that's what is happening with the Rangers now."

In the late 1990's, I wrote a copule of papers investigating fan loyalty in Major League Baseball and in the National Football League using stochastic frontier analysis (somebody please cite them!).
I defined fan loyalty as the strength of demand when the team loses more than expected, what might be called "bad weather fans," the opposite of "fair weather fans." My estimations from 1990-1997 put the Rangers with the sixth strongest average fan loyalty amongst U.S. baseball teams during the 1990-1997 period (Colorado, St. Louis and Chicago were the top three). Granted, this was before the Rangers dropped over the cliff of mediocrity, so the relative rankings might have changed a little, but it is unlikely that Rangers fans are tremendously worse than they were in the early to mid 1990s, after all the team has only been good a few years since moving here in 1972.

Interestingly, fan loyalty in professional baseball was not strongly correlated with city size, nor were teams in the same city of similar fan loyalty (the Yankees have better fans than the Mets, and the Cubs have better fans than the White Sox). However, fan loyalty was strongly correlated with the positive outcomes of popular referenda on stadium subsidies. Seeing as Arlingtonians decided to build the Ballpark in Arlington in 1990 (with $120+ million in subsidies), it is not surprising that the Rangers would have strong fans.

Contrary to the authors' opinion, given the quality of the Rangers over the past few years, I'd say the Rangers have actually fared pretty well. What other team could average 27,000 fans per game in the process of falling 30 games out of first place?

As far as popular-press statistics go, the Star-Telegram reporters did a reasonable job all said and done. Kudos.

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