The Truth About the Miami Marlins, Attendance, and Contention

Would having the home run sculpture go off more often mean more fans for the Miami Marlins? Sure, if those home runs are leading to wins. - Mike Ehrmann

The Miami Marlins drew disappointing numbers in its first season at the brand new Marlins Park. However, history shows that that has more to do with losing than any other marketing aspect of the stadium.

Yesterday, we discussed the Miami Marlins and the effect Marlins Park had on run scoring. We found that indeed offense was down at Marlins Park, but that the effect was not as prominent as it was made out to be. Furthermore, there is a very good chance that, over time, we will get more data to show that, while home runs are being suppressed, the offensive environment at Marlins Park is not as oppressive as that home run effect is.

But the inspiration of the piece, Fish Stripes reader miamiandy, had another main point that should be addressed: he contends that the park's dimensions and pitcher-friendliness are hurting the team's chances of drawing attendance. He states that if Marlins Park were more "fair" or even more of a bandbox offensively, fans would want to go to the games more often because said games will be more of an event.

On the surface, this point makes some sense as well. But a cursory glance at the attendance records for this season will show that attendance is more likely to be driven by winning baseball than it is by anything else. Take a look at this season's per game attendance averages across the league versus their 2012 win percentage and their run and home run park factors according to Patriot.

Team Attendance / Game Win% R PF HR PF
Philadelphia Phillies 44,021 .500 1.01 1.04
New York Yankees 43,733 .586 1.03 1.11
Texas Rangers 42,719 .574 1.07 1.09
San Francisco Giants 41,695 .580 0.96 0.91
Los Angeles Dodgers 41,040 .531 0.95 0.98
St. Louis Cardinals 40,272 .543 0.97 0.92
Los Angeles Angels 37,399 .549 0.96 0.95
Boston Red Sox 37,567 .426 1.05 0.97
Detroit Tigers 37,383 .543 1.02 1.00
Chicago Cubs 35,589 .377 1.03 1.02
Milwaukee Brewers 34,955 .512 1.00 1.06
Minnesota Twins 34,275 .407 0.99 0.94
Colorado Rockies 32,474 .395 1.13 1.14
Washington Nationals 30,010 .605 1.00 1.00
Atlanta Braves 29,878 .580 1.00 0.97
Cincinnati Reds 28,978 .599 1.02 1.11
New York Mets 28,035 .457 0.96 1.02
Miami Marlins 27,400 .426 1.00 0.92
Arizona Diamondbacks 26,884 .500 1.06 1.04
Baltimore Orioles 26,610 .574 1.03 1.09
San Diego Padres 26,218 .469 0.92 0.89
Pittsburgh Pirates 26,148 .488 0.97 0.92
Toronto Blue Jays 25,921 .451 1.01 1.04
Chicago White Sox 24,271 .525 1.05 1.13
Kansas City Royals 21,748 .444 1.01 0.93
Seattle Mariners 21,258 .463 0.94 0.92
Oakland Athletics 20,728 .580 0.98 0.94
Houston Astros 19,848 .340 0.99 1.04
Cleveland Indians 19,797 .420 0.97 0.96
Tampa Bay Rays 19,255 .556 0.96 0.96

At the top of the list of attendance are a series of teams who were at least above .500, with eight of the top ten attendance marks being .500 or better. At the bottom of that list are seven teams with a record worse than .500, with the only anomalies being the White Sox, A's, and Rays. Meanwhile, if you look at the top ten from a park factor standpoint, you will see that four of the ten parks are run-suppressing stadiums, while a couple more are fair or even parks and only two (the Red Sox and Rangers) are on the extremes for hitter-friendliness. At the bottom of this list, the parks tend to be more pitcher-friendly, with seven of the ten parks suppressing runs, including two of the worst offenders in San Diego and Seattle.

A glance at this table reveals two things that seem to drive attendance more than anything else:

- A winning record with possible contention

- An established brand and culture, one that can withstand terrible records

Almost all of the teams listed above can be explained by these two factors more than their hitter-friendly or even neutral nature can describe. Seven of the top ten teams were consistent contenders for much of the season, and the remaining three (Philadelphia, Chicaco, and Boston) have clearly established cultures that breed attendance with or without contention. Those cultures were bred for many different reasons, including fan experience and, in the case of Boston and Chicago, the historical nature of their parks. But in at least two of those cases, those cultures were also bred on a winning atmosphere, especially in recent seasons.

Likewise, at the bottom, you can see attendance being dragged down by either poor performance or low expectations. Heading into the 2012 season, only one of those bottom ten teams, the Rays, were expected to perform well this year. The White Sox were expected to be in a transition or rebuilding year, and it was quite a surprise when they were in AL Central contention for much of the season. The A's traded many of their players and somehow ended up in the playoffs thanks to some good fortune with their rookie pitching staff. Everyone else did about as well as could be expected, even with some strong runs by the Padres and Pirates during the year.

I ran a correlation between attendance and each of these factors among 28 of the 30 major league teams. I excluded Miami and Minnesota because they had their parks most recently built and may still be in stadium honeymoon mode. In each case, the simple correlations for the 2012 season were not indicative of much of a relationship. Win percentage and attendance had a coefficient of determination, or R-squared, of 0.09, meaning just nine percent of the deviation in attendance could be explained in a linear fashion by win percentage. The R-squared for run park factor was just 0.04. For home run park factor, it was just 0.03.

In other words, these three factors on their own do not help to elucidate the single, most important factor that breeds attendance. But it seems clear from the study that, while attendance may not come directly from winning, winning certainly explains it more than runs scored in a given game. Attendance is a multi-factorial result, and while it seems that more runs do draw slightly more fans, I would implore that the Marlins focus more on getting more wins, as that effect seems to be more pronounced.

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