For all the talk about how the state of Florida is such a bad state for sports teams, I have seen a few articles and mentions lately that attest to the opposite.
Over at The Sports Economist, Skip Sauer quotes a governor’s office press release that the average attendance at spring training games this year set a new record, with 6,640 per game. Overall, the Grapefruit League saw a total attendance of 1,427,627. Although the total number is lowest since 2003, there have been several teams, such as the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians, who have moved their spring operations to Arizona.
The next day, the blog aggregate service TampaBLAB reported that Tampa Bay Lightning ratings were up a whopping 27.7% this year and 22.2% more households watched games. Steve Lepore of the blog Puck the Media expects that number to go up even more next season.
A few weeks earlier, the Twitter account for the Lakeland Local blog mentioned that the Lakeland Flying Tigers had 744 people in attendance in a game against the Tampa Yankees. Curious, I asked if that was normal. Lakeland Local responded by saying “It’s better than normal. The Flying Tigers averaged about 380 a game last season.” That’s nearly 100% more people the 2009 average.
So we have Spring Training attendance up, more people watching Lightning games, and a whole lot more people going to see the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Can this be explained or are the people of Florida becoming more involved in following professional sports?
(Note: I do not have any numbers on the Orlando Magic this year and last year’s numbers are slightly weird. They did really well in the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but their appearance in the Finals showed a decrease from the year before – granted, however, that was the Lakers vs. Celtics and all their associated history.)
Before we scream “hallelujah” about the spring training number, a few factors have to be determined:
- Was there an increase in “snowbirds” between 2008 and 2010? How did the economy effect the amount of retirees spending their winters in Florida? Those people most definitely attend spring training games as they are in their winter homes from Thanksgiving to approximately Easter.
- Did the number of statewide tourists in the spring months increase between 2008 and 2010? Whereas snowbirds are consistent visitors, a spike in tourism could drastically alter the annual numbers. Personally, I always meet a tourist or two at every spring game I go to.
- The Strasburgh Effect – Did the Nationals see a large spike in their attendance due to the debut of 2009 #1 pick Steven Strasburg? How much of the increase was attributable to Strasburg?
Of course, the big unknown is are these rising numbers of attendance throughout Central Florida indicators that people all over are going to more events? What about the Tampa Bay Rays?
To be honest, I don’t think these few indicators will help the Rays and their attendance woes. The spring snowbirds have migrated back and Steven Strasburg has moved on. Surprisingly, the Rays didn’t do well attendance-wise or on the air in 2009 despite their 2008 World Series run.
Although there are a few small positive signs, we’ll see if those are exceptions or precursors to a growing trend.