Friday, February 10, 2012

In Which I Talk About Seattle Attendance, Part 2 (Mariners)

Last time I took a look at the Sonic's stats before the move to OKC, but that post was originally meant to be part of this larger conversation about the Mariners. Both posts simply got much longer than I ever intended them to be.

So what about the Mariners? Well, it's still a simple answer, but it's more fascinating to look into, so like the proud Seattlite I am, I'm going to attempt to take a page from Jeff Sullivan and break down some NUMBERS.

(WARNING: The following dozen-or-so paragraphs are long, in-depth, occasionally boring overviews of a decade of Mariners futility and the effect that futility had in the stands. I'll sum it up nicely down below, with a paragraph in red. Continue past the jump to read more.)

Overview of the Mariners' last ten seasons, and their effect on the fanbase:

But first, a trip back in time, to the start of the millennium. The Mariners were fresh off of a ground-breaking ceremony at Safeco Field and the only three playoff appearances of their existence. The record-breaking 2001 season saw the Mariners at the top of the league in attendance, turning the stiles over 43,000 times a game 81 games a year. This continued the following year, despite failure to make the playoffs in 2002, and only dropped to second in the league (Yankees, with three World Series appearances in four years) in 2003, without playoffs again.

2004 was the beginning of some really hard times for the M's. (Whether or not they were worse than the first two decades is something you can be the judge of). They switched their win-loss column around in a single year, going from 93-69 in '03 to 63-99 in '04. That record was good for only fourth in a four-team AL West, and naturally 100 losses comes with a drop at the box office. But it wasn't as steep as one would expct; Seattle dropped to 10th in the league, still drawing more than 36,000 per game and beating out a trio of playoff teams. All that with the third-worst record in the league.

Things only got worse in 2005, as the team lost another 90+ and all the stars from Seattle's great run were either gone or leaving. Edgar, Olerud, Boone, Cameron, Garcia, Sasaki, Rhodes, Nelson and even Sweet Lou would all be gone after being all-stars just a few short years prior. Ichiro was the only star left from the best team to walk the earth. Another 3,000 fans were gone from the average, but four years from the playoffs and two from a winning record, and the Mariners were still doing okay for themselves. The fans were still coming.

They seemingly hit rock bottom in 2006. While their record was only three games off of 500, it was another last-place finish, resulting an a 30,000 fan average. Also contributing to the slide was the Super Bowl berth of the Seahawks the previous winter, giving the Mariners their first real competition since the NBA Finals Sonics of 1996.

All it took was a winning season to send things back on the uptick. 2007, of course being the six year anniversary of the 2001 season (itself the six year anniversary of 1995's refuse to lose... WHAT! IT'S A PATTERN! M's WILL BE GREAT in 2013!!!) brought Mariners fans a trinity of good news; A 88 win season, a second place finish (6 games behind the Angels), and an uptick of 3,000 fans a game.

Remember back when I said 2006 SEEMED to be rock bottom? That's because 2008 was the real rock bottom. Or upper mantle, or something. The Mariners traded much of their young talent away for Erik Bedard, Richie Sexson got old, and the Mariners became the first team to spend one million dollars on each of their 101 losses.The only good news? They turned this season into Dustin Ackley in the draft. That embarrassment of a season dropped the Mariners to just under 29,000 fans a game, and the team began to set records for low attendances every week in April. This team had no past, no present, and no future. A playoff drought of seven years.


It's at this point that I'd like to put some of the numbers in context. The Mariners were drawing nearly 30,000 fans a game. 
Teams below them in average attendance:

  • 21st: Minnesota Twins. Finished second in their division only a year removed from a playoff berth, 28,425
  • 22nd: Cleveland Indians. Struggled in 08, but had gone to the ALCS the year before, losing out to the champion Red Sox. 27,122.
  • 25: Texas Rangers. Their low attendance was even more deserved than the Mariners, having not sniffed playoff baseball since 1999. That said, why were they only 10th in the league despite back-to-back World Series appearances in 2011?
  • 26: Tampa Bay. They went to the World Series and still didn't draw what the M's do now. Despite wild success, their attendance has actually DROPPED to 18k.
  • 27 Oakland Athletics. Here despite a ALCS appearance two years before. 
And now a look at some of the sides that placed higher than the Mariners.
  • 19: Washington Nationals. New team playing in a brand new stadium couldn't barely top 7 years of futility. 
  • 17: San Diego Padres. Two playoff appearances two years earlier resulted in barely 1,000 more fans per game than our Mariners
  • 16: Chicago White Sox. World Series Champions? What World Series Champions? Can you imagine Safeco Field three years removed from a World Series? It wouldn't read "30,000 fans". 
Every other remaining team on the list had made a playoff appearance in the previous two years.The top ten included both New York Teams, both LA teams, the Cubs, Red Sox, and Cardinals. The others in the top ten included Detroit (reigning ALCS champs), Milwaukee (NLCS that year) Philadelphia (World Series Champs). 
The numbers actually become more favorable in 2009 and 2010 for the Ms, placing 18th and 19th overall. 

In other words, for the amount of losing that the Mariners had done, the fanbase was REMARKABLY RESILIENT. 
Not convincing enough? That's fine, because I'm about to take things a step further.


My theory is that, in general, you can rank a fan's resiliency by taking into account how many fans go to the game for every win that team achieves. By this rubric, Yankees attendance would be comparable to Blue Jays attendance (though the Yankees number would still be higher). So teams with fewer wins but with a comparable number of fans would have a higher number than a team with more wins but fewer fans. It's a simple formula that doesn't account for a number of factors, and doesn't truly count as statistical analysis, but I still believe that the following numbers tell a story, much the same way an On Base Percentage does. 

I made a spreadsheet featuring 10 of the most putrid teams over the last ten years. Unsurprisingly, the Mariners were not the worst. The Royals, Orioles and Pirates took those honors, each reaching fewer than 700 wins. All ten of the teams selected lost at least 100 games in a single sometime in the decade. The Diamondbacks also managed this feat, but they also won a world series in 2001, so the two sort of off-set in my book. 

(A note about the results; I found the average instead of the total for attendance, but you should be able to find the number of fans per win by multiplying the final total on the spreadsheet.)

After spreadsheeting the win totals and average attendances, I divided the attendance by the number of wins. Even without including 2001, The Seattle Mariners ended up with the most loyal fans in this calculation. Their score came out to a 42, while Houston had a 41 and Milwaukee came out with a 40. Both of these teams enjoyed playoff success since the last time the Mariners found the post-season. 

The worst, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Tampa Bay. Despite great win totals in the last few years, few have gone to their games. 

My one regret in this chart is that it doesn't capture a longer range of time. Pittsburgh hasn't had a winning team in far longer than this sample size can project. Then again, they did get the new stadium bump in this time frame, so perhaps that's a wash. 

In conclusion, don't let attendance numbers for either the Mariners (nor Sonics) persuade you from the fact that Seattle fans support their teams. Even without a single world series venture to their name, the Mariners have better support than most teams could ever hope for. 

Also, I'm hardly an expert on statistics, so if anyone more knowledgeable would like to make any suggestions, I'm all ears. 

(I'd also like to thank the commentors on Lookout Landing, who helped me put some of my numbers in perspective.)

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