On July 28th the Toronto Blue Jays were in fourth place in the American League East with a 50-51 record, eight games behind the New York Yankees. According to FanGraphs their odds of making the playoffs were 35.9 percent (37.3 at Baseball Prospectus). Good, but not great.
All told it looked like another season of promise was heading down the same track that Jays fans have seen season-in and season-out for years. Attendance numbers demonstrated fans reluctance to buy into the 2015 version. To that point the Jays were averaging 28,938 (20th in baseball) fans per game at home, down from their 2014 and 2013 averages. Then, the Troy Tulowitzki trade was announced and three days later, on Trade Deadline day, the David Price and Ben Revere moves were made.
The addition of the new players made the Jays first playoff berth in 22 years seem possible. Playoff simulations agreed, as the combination of a refined roster and three wins (between the 28th and 31st) increased the Jays playoff odds by 18.9 percent. Since then they have gone 33-14, outscoring their opponents by 109 runs, and pushing their playoff odds to 100 percent. That 45.2 increase in playoff odds is the fourth highest increase over that time-frame (July 31 to September 23), trailing only the Rangers, Mets, and Cubs.
With the increased likelihood of postseason play happening in Toronto came an increase in attendance. For instance, the games in the Jays' series with the Yankees this week the Rogers Centre hosted 47,648, 47,992, and 48,056 fans.
On Tuesday night the large group of folks at the game got to see Jose Bautista show off the cannon that is attached to his right shoulder. The relation be team performance and attendance might be fairly obvious to you. Winning/playoff-bound teams tend to put more bums in seats than losing/golf-course-bound teams. The Blue Jays have been winning a lot, and are playoff bound, so we should expect to see an increase in attendance. If not, we would really need to examine how deep the 'hockey-first' mentality runs in Toronto. With that said, the increase in attendance is one thing, but it is the extent of the increase for these 2015 Jays that is most interesting.
Using Retrosheet databases and the incredible Baseball-Reference Play Index I looked into attendance numbers dating back to 1990; coincidentally around the last time the Blue Jays were playing meaningful baseball in October. For each season, I split teams' home game attendance by month. For the purposes here I only included games in April through September; the few games in March and/or October are not included. Accordingly, I had to exclude the 1994 season, as there were no games after August 10th. Sorry, Expos fans (and Jonah Keri weeps). As far as I am concerned you won it all that year. Finally, while the 2015 season is not yet complete, we are almost there (only ~10 games remain for each team) and for that reason I doubt any team's last few home games will dramatically skew the observed results, although this can be kept in mind.
For each of the 730 team-seasons I calculated the average attendance for home games between the start of April and the end of July, and the average attendance for games between the start of August and the end of September. These periods roughly correspond to pre- and post-trade-deadline and as such are relevant to the discussion of the Blue Jays this year. I then calculated the difference between these averages, and have expressed the difference as a percentage of the pre-deadline average attendance to account for differences in starting point.
In the table below you can see the ten largest increases:
|Num||Team||Year||Att. Pre TD||Att. Post TD||Diff.||Percent Diff.|
Pre TD = April through July (pre-trade-deadline); Post TD = August and September (post-trade-deadline)
This year's Blue Jays have the largest raw difference and largest percent difference ---- and the competition is really not all that close. The Jays played .510 ball through the end of July, and since have played at a .702 clip. This enormous difference has certainly contributed to the rise in attendance. However, in general the correlation between change in win percentage over the two time periods and change in attendance for the entire sample is very small (r = .102). This makes sense as most teams do not show the stark difference in winning percentage over the final two months that the Jays have this season. The average change in winning percentage pre- to post-deadline for this sample was basically zero (SD = 0.085). The better correlate of attendance increase post deadline is season-long winning percentage (r = 0.310). It does not explain a lot of the variance, but basically the relation is such that better teams get more fans to the ballpark in the final two months of the season.
Some back-of-the-envelope math shows that the increased attendance at Jays games has generated $10 million (USD) more (26 home games x 15, 355 extra fans x $25.14 [average ticket price at Rogers Centre]), than would have been generated if the April through July average attendance mark held. That is through ticket revenue alone. This obviously does not factor in all of the merchandise or $10 Bud Lights that Jays fans have been buying up, nor does it include the money that will be generated in this year's postseason. One wonders if all this extra revenue will allow for a larger payroll in 2016 (and beyond), maybe keeping the likes of David Price in a blue uniform for a few more years.
Regardless of how the extra money will impact the organization going forward, the Blue Jays have experienced an historic shift in support since the end of July. The shift has pushed their season average attendance to 33,828, which is the highest it has been since 1995 when the team averaged 39,256 folks per game at SkyDome.
On some level all of the attention being paid to the Blue Jays represents a revitalization of interest in baseball in Canada. Yes, that is likely overstating things, but as a baseball fan in Canada—even one of the non-Blue Jays variety—it is really nice to see.
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