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Why the Mets Should Call Up Tim Tebow in September

As of August 21st, 2017 Tim Tebow was slashing .220/.304/.343 between the New York Mets’ High-A team, the Columbia Fireflies (South Atlantic League), and their Advanced-A squad, the St. Lucie Mets (Florida State League). In 442 minor-league plate appearances, he is the owner of a .304 wOBA, and is striking out at a 26% clip while walking in 8% of his plate appearances. For every one ball that Tebow elevates, he is hitting the ball on the ground three times over. Right off the bat (pun intended), it is evident that Tebow’s offensive game leaves something to be desired.

Let’s take a quick look at how Tebow stacks up with the average hitter, in each A-ball league, that has had a minimum of 200 plate appearances and has primarily played the same position(s) as Mr. Tebow (outfield & designated hitter):

*Data as of 8/21/2017
Tim Tebow 30 8.8% 26.5% 0.220 0.304 0.343 0.647 0.304 90
Avg. SAL OF/DH 21.5 7.7% 21.9% 0.253 0.322 0.378 0.700 0.322 104
Avg. FSL OF/DH 23 8.2% 21.4% 0.255 0.324 0.370 0.694 0.324 103

Only his walk rate appears to be on par with each respective league’s average. Additionally, Tebow has logged a .913 fielding percentage while playing (primarily) left field this year. It is widely understood that fielding percentage is a “far-from-perfect” measurement when objectifying defensive ability, but it can provide a high-level perspective on one’s aptitude as it relates to fielding the baseball. To put Tebow’s number into context, the lowest fielding percentage in the major leagues this year by an outfielder (minimum 100 innings played) is Mark Canha of the Oakland A’s, at .922.

Many words come to mind when attempting to summarize the 30-year-old’s all-around quality of play while in A-ball; ‘excellent’, ‘incredible’, or ‘promising’ would not be any of those words. However, despite the subpar statistical measuring points, the Mets should seriously consider calling up Tim Tebow to the big leagues come September.

No, that is not a typo. Yes, you read the last sentence of the above paragraph correctly. When rosters expand to include anyone on the 40-man roster on September 1st, the New York Mets should give sincere thought to adding Tim Tebow to their roster/big-league club. Now, why would the New York Mets, a team that owns a 55 – 71 win-loss record and trails the NL Wild Card race by 13.5 games and NL East Division title by 21 games, bother calling up a poorly-performing 30-year-old high-A-ball player? The answer, as it is with many things in life, is money.

Baseball clubs generate revenue in many ways: merchandise sales, concessions sales, corporate sponsorships, media deals, etc. One of the largest and most obvious ways in which income at the major-league club level is generated is through home-park ticket sales. Tim Tebow excels at putting fans in the stands:

YoY Average Home Game Attendance Figures

Year Columbia Fireflies St. Lucie Mets
2016 3,768 1,405
2017 4,783 1,996
YoY % Change 21% 30%

As you can see, both teams that Tebow has played for this year have experienced huge jumps in home attendance figures. This has occurred despite the fact that in 2016 the Columbia Fireflies were celebrating their inaugural season at a brand new stadium, and the St. Lucie Mets were 11 games over .500 in the thick of a playoff race (compared to 11 games under .500 in 2017 at the time of this publication).

As I alluded to above, a lot of circumstances can impact attendance figures: new stadium, weather, promotions, team quality, opponent, etc. However, I think that it’s pretty evident that Tim Tebow’s arrival on the Mets’ minor-league scene has driven a majority of the jump. To confirm this, let’s look at attendance figures from a different angle – specifically, 2017 home attendance numbers and how they vary for each team from when Tebow was actively rostered vs. when he was not:

*Data as of 8/19/2017
Team Tebow Rostered # of Home Games Avg. Home Game Attendance % Change
Columbia Fireflies No 20 3,757
Columbia Fireflies Yes 41 5,308 29%
St. Lucie Mets No 37 1,745
St. Lucie Mets Yes 24 2,419 28%

Again, it’s evident that Tim Tebow’s roster presence has enticed people to come to the home team’s ballpark at a clip nearly 30% greater than if he were not on the team.

So how do we translate these attendance figures into dollars and cents? Since I do not have access to either team’s ticketing database, this is where some assumptions about average per-cap and ticket value will have to come into play. Baseball America’s JJ Cooper & Josh Norris have recently written articles that similarly examine Tebow’s impact at the box office – however, their stories concentrate heavily on road attendance and overall league attendance impacts, rather than the home ballpark’s ticket sales (which are critical to driving a organization’s recognized revenue). In his article, Norris notes that most minor-league operators use a $21 per-cap estimate for fan spending. This figure is an estimate of what each fan that enters the ballpark will have paid in tickets, concessions, merchandise, and parking.

For the first 39 home game dates (41 games due to two doubleheaders) of their 2017 season, the Columbia Fireflies were able to showcase Tim Tebow in uniform. They attracted 207,031 fans. In the first 39 home game dates of their inaugural 2016 season, the Fireflies drew 155,132 fans. The difference between 2017 and 2016 for these first 39 home game dates is 51,899 fans. If we apply the $21 per-cap estimate referenced above, we are looking at about $1.1 million in additional revenue that can be largely attributed to Tebow being in uniform. Tebow’s last game for the Fireflies was on June 25th, his first game for the St. Lucie Mets was on June 28th. Through August 18th, Tebow has been a member of St. Lucie’s roster for 22 home game dates (24 games due to two doubleheaders) and has helped attract 53,207 fans. In 2016, the St. Lucie Mets were able to draw 21,097 during the same stretch. If we apply the $21 per-cap estimate, it will have amounted to $674,310 in additional revenue over the course of the 22 home game dates at this point in the season. Additionally, Tebow has undoubtedly drawn in an abundance of new consumers to each team’s ballparks and databases. This is information that can be leveraged for future sales and marketing initiatives. It would not be ludicrous to state that, combined, the Mets’ A-ball affiliates have increased home-park revenues by roughly $2 million due to Tim Tebow.

Let’s take a hypothetical look at these trends from the 2017 New York Mets point of view. Their current 40-man roster sits at 36 occupants – so there is no risk of having to DFA a player in order to bring on a newcomer. They are far removed from the playoffs, and already have their sights set on next year. Even by adding Tebow to the 40-man roster, they would have three additional spots to work with should they want to expose some of their MLB-ready prospects to low(er)-leverage big-league games in September. The Mets would have to pay Tebow a pro-rated MLB minimum salary, which would come to be about $65K for the final four weeks of the season, pennies compared to what he would bring back in return.

Here is a table of the historical attendance at Citi Field for the month of September since 2010:

Year Citi Field Sept. Attendance # of Games
2010 382,306 14
2011 433,251 16
2012 385,292 16
2013 340,799 15
2014 337,343 13
2015 353,005 11
2016 468,283 14
2017 ? 14

I’ve highlighted 2014 because it most closely resembles the environment that the 2017 Mets will be embarking upon, as you can see below:

*Through 122 games
Year Winning % GB – Division GB – Wild Card Weekday Home Games Weekend Home Games
2014 0.467 10.5 7.5 7 6
2017 0.443 20 12 8 6

You will notice, the 2014 and 2017 Mets were/are both clearly out of the playoff picture and had/have a similar distribution of home games throughout the month of September. Despite one more overall September game in 2017, the 2014 season should prove to be a good starting point for us; because of the extra game, let’s estimate that the Mets will bring in around 339,000 people to Citi Field in September of 2017.

Now, the fun part. How does that audience, and consequentially revenue, project to increase if Tim Tebow were added to the roster? It would be rather difficult to forecast how a marketplace like New York City would react to a move of that nature. There are infinite amounts of variables that could be considered: chilly September temperature and weather volatility, inability to purchase season packages so late in the year, the comparison of the NYC marketplace to that of Columbia, SC and St. Lucie, FL, the matter of the media, the beginning of football season, etc. the list could go on and on. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that New York’s market would react in a similar manner as that of Columbia & St. Lucie’s – home attendance gains of near 30%. That would push an additional 102,000 customers through the Citi Field turnstiles during the last four weeks of the season.

The average MLB ticket price in 2016 was $31.00, a 7% increase from the previous year. A 7% increase from the 2016 ticket price would put us just over $33.00 for 2017. This gives us a place to start with regards to estimating revenue impact. I don’t have access to the Mets’ ticketing database, so this barometer will do for the time being. My gut tells me that the $33.00 price point is low; typically season-ticket prices are used when calculating the league-wide annual average ticket price, and season tickets are sold at a discount compared to single-game ticket prices. Being that it is September, most fans that would turn out to see Tebow would be purchasing at the single-game ticket price point (or group-ticket price point, but that complicates things further) since season packages are likely no longer being sold for 2017.

Irrespectively, at this point the math becomes clear: 102,000 additional fans at $33.00/ticket would generate an estimated $3.4 million in surplus revenue. This doesn’t even include the additional revenue that would accrue via a multitude of other outlets. Concessions, merchandise, and parking – all revenue streams that the Mets split with their respective vendors – would experience huge jumps. Strategies to boost season-ticket-holder retention for 2018 (Tim Tebow meet and greet anyone?) would likely yield positive results. As stated before, entirely new ticket buyers would flood into the Mets’ ticketing database — which should boost returns in some form or fashion in future years.

Tim Tebow is not going to play baseball forever. He may choose to call it quits on his “pro-ball quest” after this year. Who’s to say he even wants to go through another year toiling away in the low minor leagues? A promising and young (albeit injury-prone) starting pitching staff should have the Mets within shouting distance of playoff contention for the next couple of years. If that is the case, they will not want to waste an NL roster spot on a subpar, 31-year-old, designated hitter. Roughly $3.5 million should allow the Mets to chase around 0.5 WAR on the open market. It could provide them additional wiggle room to take on extra salary in a deadline trade next year. It would allow the acquisition of players along the likes of Trevor Cahill, Logan Morrison, or Drew Storen…all of whom signed for under $3 million this past offseason. It could be put toward additional infrastructure, baseball analytics, or scouting staff.

Sure, there are certainly more deserving players in the Mets’ minor-league system that have ‘paid their dues’ to a greater extent than Tim Tebow — all in the hopes of getting a call-up to the Show. But baseball is a business, and at the end of the day, no one in the Mets’ system will be able to have an impact on fans the same way that Tim Tebow does/can. The Mets need to capitalize on their current situation before the former Heisman trophy winner tires of the long and uncomfortable bus rides, motel stops, and food spreads that dot the minor-league landscape. The Mets need to cash in on their investment before Tebow bids baseball adieu.