The 2015 season was unlike any other in Padres history. There are a lot of words to say about it, many of which involve a stream of obscenities. To avoid that for now, inspired by this post by good buddy jbox over at Gaslamp Ball I thought I’d try to learn something by looking at fans’ response to the season in a general sense. How has fan turnout changed as Padres seasons progress?
That stems from some bigger questions: What determines a team that fans are willing to pay for? What makes fans want to attend game? The answer is likely that fans are looking for some combination of things, including:
- Players fans recognize and like
- An expectation of the team winning
- An enjoyable experience at the ballpark in some other way
While all these things matter to fans, what’s important is which of them matters most.
For this exercise, I’m going to tell you right now that just looking at historical attendance won’t provide enough information to find an answer. For example: the Padres won a lot of games in 2007 and attendance was high. But Petco Park was also only in its fourth season, and new ballparks often see a spike in attendance for the first few years. How much attendance is due to each thing isn’t something we’re capable of knowing.
So instead, I’ll be writing a clickbaity headline and making some wild, unsubstantiated claims. Sound good? Sweet.
Before we get started with the unsubstantiated claims, one thing you should know is that we’re not actually looking at raw attendance numbers. We could try, but doing so isn’t all that useful for spotting trends over a season:
Kind of crazy. Attendance spikes on Opening day and weekend series make trends hard to follow.
Instead of game-by-game info, I created graphs for a rolling average of attendance. The first point in the graph shows an average of that game’s attendance, plus the previous four and next four games and so on throughout the season. This makes it easier to see averages as the season goes on, though it also means the first four games and last four games get shortchanged. Here’s what that looks like for 2015, the year of the high payroll, big names, and a below average win total:
To give some context, here’s Padres attendance in 2015 combined with select losing years of the Petco Park era:
To kick-off the baseless speculation, the 2015 attendance trend doesn’t appear to bode well for the “fans want high payrolls and star players” theory. The Padres had both in 2015, and while they average more than 3,000 more fans per game than every year since 2008, it wasn’t sustained throughout the season. Attendance was high at the beginning and middle of the year, there’s a clear drop off starting in the final third of the season. The Padres’ playoff odds fell to 2.1% on July 23rd. And since they didn’t trade any of their newly acquired stars, you can’t blame the drop-off on that.
Here are the winning years:
The 2010 Padres were about as opposite to the 2015 Padres as you can get. 2010 Attendance started out dismal, as Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell were the team’s only stars. Then the team made an unexpected winning run. Attendance skyrocketed, but then fell off some later in the year. In fact, some falling off seems apparent around the same time frame during the losing years too. That might be attributed to fans losing hope of making the playoffs, but the trend is also visible in 2010, a winning year. Fans had the pleasure of keeping that hope alive awhile longer that year, only to watch the Giants clinch the division October 4th.
In any case, winning games seems to help. Also writing is easier when I make stuff up.