ESPN-New York’s Adam Rubin recently posted the Mets’ total attendance numbers from the past decade, noting that attendance dropped 8% in 2011. The Mets drew 2,352,596 paying fan this season, their lowest total since 2003, when Phillip Seymour Hoffman was still managing the team. The dark years, if you will.
Anyway, the Mets total attendance, and the percentage change, over the last ten years looks like this:
- 2002: 2,804,838 fans
- 2003: 2,140,599 fans, down 23.7%
- 2004: 2,318,951 fans, up 8.3%
- 2005: 2,829,929 fans, up 22.0%
- 2006: 3,379,535 fans, up 19.4%
- 2007: 3,853,955 fans, up 14.0%
- 2008: 4,042,045 fans, up 4.9%
- 2009: 3,168,571 fans, down 21.6%
- 2010: 2,559,738 fans, down 19.2%
- 2011: 2,352,596 fans, down 8.1%
Up in good years, down in bad ones. The Mets’ total yearly attendance is down nearly 42% this season since its peak 2008.
Anyone see the problem looking at attendance this way?
The Mets changed ballparks in 2009, moving from Shea Stadium to Citi Field. The final incarnation of Shea Stadium seated a maximum of 55,777 fans per game, which works out to a max of 4,517,937 fans per season; Citi Field, which is smaller, seats 41,800 fans per game and a max of 3,385,800 fans per season. As seen above, the Mets drew a record 4,042,045 fans to Shea Stadium in 2008. Without a significant number of clown cars, you could not fit that many people into Citi Field over an 81-game home schedule. No matter what happened in 2009, the Mets were going to draw fewer total fans than they drew in 2008.
But they were also going to make, and did make, loads more money playing in a park where 41% of the seats were designated “premium,” with an average price of $149.52 for those premium seats in 2009. That’s the idea behind building a newer, smaller stadium: You don’t have to draw as many people. You just have to get a small number of your fans (or companies, or whatever) to buy really, really expensive seats.
Comparing yearly attendance figures from Citi Field and Shea Stadium doesn’t tell us much — other than the fact that fewer total people bought tickets in 2011 than in 2005 — because the tickets fans bought in 2011 cost way, way more on average than the tickets fans bought in 2005. And as fans, we’re not really concerned with total attendance. We’re concerned with how much money our team can spend.
If you look at attendance as a percentage of available tickets bought, you get this:
- 2002: 2,804,838 fans, 62.1% of capacity
- 2003: 2,140,599 fans, 47.4% of capacity, down 23.7%
- 2004: 2,318,951 fans, 51.3% of capacity, up 8.2%
- 2005: 2,829,929 fans, 62.6% of capacity, up 22.0%
- 2006: 3,379,535 fans, 74.8% of capacity, up 19.4%
- 2007: 3,853,955 fans, 85.3% of capacity, up 14.0%
- 2008: 4,042,045 fans, 89.5% of capacity, up 4.9%
- 2009: 3,168,571 fans, 93.6% of capacity, up 4.6%
- 2010: 2,559,738 fans, 75.6% of capacity, down 19.2%
- 2011: 2,352,596 fans, 69.5% of capacity, down 8.1%
In 2009, the Mets drew about 900,000 fewer fans to Citi Field than they drew to Shea 2008, but sold a higher percentage of their available tickets and had fewer empty seats. They drew 500,000 more fans in 2005 than they drew this season, but they still sold a higher percentage of their tickets in 2011. This is why you can’t compare Citi Field attendance numbers with Shea Stadium attendance numbers. It’s like comparing apples-in-top-hats to apples-not-in-top-hats.
Actually, if we use Team Marketing Reports’ data — which comes self-reported from most teams, including the Mets — on average ticket prices and average premium ticket prices, we can come up with a rough estimate for how much money the Mets took in from ticket sales over the past five years:
- 2007: $139.2 million
- 2008: $151.7 million
- 2009: $263.4 million
- 2010: $189.2 million
- 2011: $142.7 million
Keep in mind these are rough estimates that probably have an error range of about 20%. Still, while revenue and attendance have fallen dramatically for the Mets since 2009, I feel pretty confident that they took in a similar amount of money via ticket sales this season as they did in 2007 and 2008. Poor attendance has hurt them financially — look at how much money they made in 2009, and imagine how much they could have made in 2010 and 2011 with similar attendance — but it appears the new stadium has prevented ticket revenue from falling as dramatically as it might have otherwise. People are still buying those expensive tickets. Maybe not as many, and the prices on the expensive seats have dropped dramatically, but enough fans are still buying them.
The declining attendance figures, on their own, are alarming. But once they’re adjusted for the smaller park and ticket prices, they become somewhat less alarming. The Mets’ attendance numbers are bad, but maybe not as bad as they initially look.