In my previous post on Tampa Bay’s attendance woes, I established that the Rays attendance has not responded to the team’s on field success as well as we would expect. Most teams see large attendance bumps when they win a lot of games and reach the postseason, but this has not been true for the Rays. Potential explanations for the attendance discrepancy vary widely. Many point to the stadium’s poor location and the newness of the franchise, others blame Florida’s snowbird population for keeping their [old] hometown allegiances, some cite the economy and low median income in the area, while others claim Tampa Bay is just not a baseball town. All of these and more could be factors, but we can simplify the attendance problem by lumping all potential explanations into one of two categories: (1) the location/ambiance of Tropicana Field and (2) the size of the fan base.
If the biggest problem is the stadium, it is fixable. Getting a stadium built is certainly not an easy or cheap process, but most teams — even the Marlins — manage to get it done through some combination of public and private financing. If the problem is the lack of fans though, the team could be facing years of low attendance, low television ratings, and as a result, low payrolls even if they get a new stadium.
How can we know if a new stadium would solve the Rays’ attendance problem? Ideally (warning: entering social scientist mode), we’d randomly assign half the Rays’ home games to a new, centrally located stadium, while playing the other half at Tropicana Field. We could compare attendance across the two venues and be able to make accurate causal inference. A controlled experiment such as this would allow us to parse out the “true” effect of Tropicana Field on the Rays’ attendance. Unfortunately, my proposed experiment would likely cost in excess of $500 million dollars and is entirely unfeasible.
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