The Importance of the 30-Minute Population Radius on MLB Attendance

In 1992, the San Francisco Giants almost moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. Before the i’s could be dotted and the t’s crossed, new ownership bought the team and the Giants stayed in their Bay Area. Less than 10 years later, the Tampa Bay area received the Devil Rays.

While their results on the field have been somewhat similar since 2008 (Rays winning %: .552, Giants winning % .526), the two teams couldn’t be more different in regards to stadium experience. Since Oct 1, 2010, the Giants have sold out every game at AT&T Park, while the Rays have had 14 regular season sell-outs total since 2010. The Giants play in a beautiful new ballpark on the water, while the Rays play in a dilapidated 30-year old dome.

There is one other major difference when we look at the Giants and the Rays (besides the fact the Giants did draft Buster Posey):

Last year, of the US-based teams, the Giants had the smallest difference in weekend/weekend attendance; the Rays had the largest. By selling out every game, the Giants maintained an average Monday through Thursday attendance of 41,588 and a Friday through Sunday average of 41,589. An average of one person squeezed in to AT&T Park on the weekends.

Meanwhile, at Tropicana Field, the Rays averaged only 14,297 fans per game Monday through Thursday. This was the lowest average weekday attendance in Major League Baseball. On the weekends, however, the Rays averaged 21,692 fans per game. While still the lowest weekend average in Major League Baseball, the Rays saw a 51.7% average increase in attendance on the weekends.

There are many reasons why the Rays struggle with attendance. Many fans and residents point to the condition of the stadium, the demographics, and lack of mass transit as reason for not going. But one of the biggest and least-discussed reasons is that few people actually live near Tropicana Field. According to Maury Brown’s 2011 research on population, the Rays are dead last in population with a 30-mile radius of their ballpark.

A definite correlation exists between the population living within 30 minutes of a ballpark and the difference between weekend and weekday attendance. With only a few exceptions, teams with a 30-minute radius larger than 2 million have smaller weekend/weekday attendance differences. Teams that play in a population radius of less than 2 million, on the other hand, tend to have higher weekend/weekday differences.

Here is a breakdown of the 2014 MLB attendance:

2014 MLB attendance

Only the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals have more than 2 million people within 30 minutes of their ballpark and had an average weekend difference greater than 20%. Teams with less than 2 million people within 30 minutes of their ballpark who saw a smaller than 20% difference in average weekday to weekend attendance included the Cardinals, Twins, Rangers, and Marlins. The circumstances behind these fanbases should be studied further.

Looking at the data graphically, it is best to omit the New York teams, as the each can draw from a 30-minute population of over 8 million people, more than double any other team on the list. Removing the Mets and Yankees, we see the following:

MLB 2014 weekend weekday 30 min radius

On the left side of the chart, we see teams with smaller average weekend-to-weekday attendance difference. Notice they are all above 1.5 million and a majority are over 2 million. As we move right on the chart, the percentage gets higher and the dots trend lower, with the exception of the White Sox, who are the top-right dot. The Rays are also evident, as they are the dot in the lower-right.

Local population is important as they are the pool of fans who can most easily get to the ballpark after a day at the office. These are the fans who can also get home from a 3-hour game at a reasonable time. Having a larger local pool to draw from makes it easier for teams to pack their ballpark during fans’ valuable weekday time. It is easier to fill the average major league ballpark on weekdays when 8 million potential fans live within 30 minutes than when a majority of the area’s 3 million people have to travel over an hour each way.

Weekends, on the other hand, usually allow for more time to travel to the ballpark. Fans also don’t have to rush home to get to sleep before the next work day. Fridays and the rare Sunday night game are the odd exceptions as they have a time crunch on one side of the trip, but not the other.

While they don’t have the largest local population, the San Francisco Giants are doing a great job getting local residents to the ballpark. Fans show up, and they show up every day. (Yes, there are articles disputing exactly how many tickets are actually sold.)

The Tampa Bay Rays, on the other hand, will continue to struggle with attendance as long as they have less than 1 million fans living within 30 minutes of Tropicana Field. This is one of clearest reasons for a move to downtown Tampa, where the Tampa Bay Lightning see weekday/weekend attendance differences of approximately 5%. A move to the center of their market could vastly increase the pool of fans within 30 minutes of a Rays game. Or barring a new stadium in a new location, the Rays could build homes, apartments, and condos in an attempt to surround Tropicana Field with at least one million new neighbors.



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Michael Lortz is a business consultant in the Tampa Bay area. He writes about the business of Tampa Bay baseball on his site: TampaBayBaseballMarket.com . He can be reached at @tbbaseballmkt or his personal @JordiScrubbings .

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Tim J
Guest
Tim J

Why on earth would you omit Toronto? The area within a 15-minute walk of Rogers Centre intensified dramatically with newly-constructed condos over the past five years, leading to a major attendance rebound for the club that’s strongest in the young condo demographic. There are censuses in Canada too

Carson's Johnny
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Carson's Johnny

I wasn’t aware the US census covered Toronto?

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

This is my question, as well. Recognizing that Toronto has some crippling traffic problems, it’s also a pretty dense city compared with many of the others with teams in the MLB. In a 30 mile radius of the team’s stadium reside at least 4 million people, as a conservative estimate. According to the 2011 census, that number was actually over 6 million.

Toronto’s inability to get fans out for weekday evening games is truly astonishing.

Darrell
Guest
Darrell

20+ years of no playoffs also has something to do with it.

Jonathan Sher
Guest
Jonathan Sher

Asa New Yorker now living in Ontario, I can say that the breadth and depth of Blue Jay fans is quite small compared to other MLB teams. There are relatively few diehards. There was a surge in attendance when the Blue Jays won two world series but it did not last long. So casual fans will go on a weekend but couldn’t be bothered to do so on a weeknight.

A few other factors:

– The Rogers Centre is one of the least attractive ball parks in MLB.

– The metro/subway system in Toronto is much less developed than in major American cities. There are major stops walking distance from the Rogers Centre but the lines only cover a tiny fraction of the city.

– Toronto sports fans are ruined by the Maple Leafs, the most under-performing franchise in major sports. They suck the passion right out of them.

MLortz
Guest

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the 30-min population radius near the Rogers Centre. If I do, I will update. I am curious why the Jays see a 54% bump on the weekends.

Alex Plouffe
Guest
Alex Plouffe

Almost all giveaway days and free Jersey days all fall on the weekend .this would explain the large jump. This surely helps. Also during the summer many tourists drive into town for games.

anonymous
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anonymous

30 minutes or 30 miles?

For 30 miles, you have:

– 2.5M in Toronto
– 650K in Mississauga
– 400K in Brampton
– 150K in Oakville
– 230K in Vaughan
– 160K in Richmond Hill
– 260K in Markham
– 90K in Pickering
– 100K in Ajax

That’s about 4.75M people within 30 miles of the Rogers Centre. And that’s all probably about a 30-minute drive on the weekend. On a weekday, 30 minutes of driving in Toronto will get you about 30 feet, and there’s only one condo building that close to the Dome.

Noah2112
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Noah2112

The population of the City of Toronto is about 2.8 million which is just a little bigger than Chicago. I don’t know how you measure a 30 minute radius, the Rogers Centre is right downtown and accessible by public transit.

Carson's Johnny
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Carson's Johnny

Neil that is what the US census manages to pull off (albeit crudely)

Neil S
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Neil S

A radius would be the wrong way to measure the accessibility of the Skydome, though. Toronto’s transit doesn’t work that way: the highways and subways run north from the stadium and east-west. A 30 minute traveling radius just doesn’t exist, unless you create a “30 minute cycling radius” and then attach three spokes along the transit corridors.

Neil S
Guest
Neil S

How is it measured, exactly? I can’t imagine that an accurate measurement can be achieved except by consulting people who are experts on the cities in question. (Unless they just slap a uniform radius on each map and draw a circle. That should be easy enough to do.)

Rickey
Guest
Rickey

How long is 30-min in Canada?

Sogard's Optician
Guest
Sogard's Optician

well done!

hobbes020
Member
hobbes020

I’d love to see income of the populace as a part of this study, or even income/seat price. If a stadium is surrounded (30 miles or whatever) the rich or a ghetto, I would image that has a big input versus just population as a blank.

TKay
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TKay

What is a “30 minute radius”? How is that defined?

I live less than 5 mi from Nationals Park, but it takes me 40min-1hr to get to the gates. Just curious where the numbers come from.

Eric R
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Eric R

Traffic is so bad that you’d average 5-8 MPH around 6p. I’m not in great shape, but I think I could *run* the five miles in less than an hour. :)

How long would it take via public transit?

Spenny
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Spenny

It takes me about 20-25 minutes to get to Nats Park on Metro from about five miles away in Takoma.

TKay
Guest
TKay

That’s using public transit. It’s more like 30 min in a car, BUT, it’s not like 40k people could possibly show up to the stadium by car. Not Nats park.

Not saying it’s a bad metric, just wonder how they came up with it. If it’s only 30min or less by car, then that doesn’t apply equally to all cities/stadiums.

Carson's Johnny
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Carson's Johnny

The US census publishes commuting info.

Peter R
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Peter R

Takes me about an hour but I am out in Northern Virginia at the current end of the Silver line.

diegosanchez
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diegosanchez

SO glad I moved out of DC

STH
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STH

The problem with the analysis is that you are using reported attendance, not turnstile (which MLB won’t let the teams release). The Cubs have more than half of their capacity pre-sold to season ticket holders, dampening the weekday/weekend differential. Cubs have 2-3x more season tickets sold than do the White Sox, drawing in roughly the same market. Since you can’t adjust for no-shows to measure turnstile, at least back out season seats to look at percentage of available capacity sold.

Walter
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Walter

The Giants have the same issue. What this points to is that if teams like the Giants can’t satisfy demand for some games, like opening day, division rivals, holiday weekends and playoffs. So, people have to buy season ticket packages to get priority in picking those key days (without paying big mark ups on stub hub anyway), resulting in people filling out their season ticket packages with games that have no hope to actually sell out.

All this really shows is that teams with larger fan bases near by have more demand. There isn’t actually any more willingness for the average fan to go to a weekday game. Its just how this rather odd market over a limited supply evolves.

Gregory
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Gregory

Walter, is willingness for the average fan to go to a weekday game not an embodiment of demand?

Walter
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Walter

It would be, but this doesn’t necessary show that. More people will lead to more people on weekday games. And the ratio of weekday games to weekend games is limited by 100% capacity and skewed by season ticket holders just filling out packages.

Think of it like this, in lower demand situations, its easier to get tickets to weekend games, so that’s what people do. Or another way, where is the chicken and the egg?

witesoxfan
Guest
witesoxfan

But if season ticket holders pay for a ticket and then don’t attend the game, the ticket has still been purchased and the proceeds go the team. They don’t increase revenue any further (by purchasing a $9 dollar Coke, a $10 hot dog, or a $40 souvenir bat) but the ticket has still been purchased.

witesoxfan
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witesoxfan

Assuming it’s safe to say that the 30-mile population surrounding both the Mets and Yankees will be higher, it’s crazy to think that the White Sox have the 3rd largest population in the immediate area and still don’t draw well. There are a zillion different reasons as to why, but it’d still present an interesting sociological case study as to how so many people can live near a team and still not want to go to the games.

Erik K
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Erik K

I would be curious to see the methods behind 30 minutes because I would think they do not account for something like Chicago weekday traffic which would drastically shrink the radius. Personally, I am a huge Sox fan but the weekend ride from the NW suburbs is little over a half an hour whereas you could be looking at 2 hours on a weekday after work. Also, public transit is fine going to the game but on a weekday you don’t want to take it home because you’d get back close to midnight.

Carson's Johnny
Guest
Carson's Johnny

Its generally base don commuting data, so it covers traffic.

Julien Assouline
Member

Great article! It’s really interesting that the White Sox don’t draw more fans to the ballpark. Maybe they don’t do a good job of branding themselves but I don’t know. Great research.

james wilson
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james wilson

Baseball fans have an aversion to that area.

Jeff
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Jeff

honestly, those who attend White Sox games ARE baseball fans

the ballclub draws the fans, not the neighborhood

Steven Conley
Guest

I think the brutal early season weather has to be taken into account also in places such as Chicago, Cleveland , Detroit etc ..

Michael
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Michael

Someone explain to me the big difference in population between the cubs and white sox???

Gregory
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Gregory

The ballparks are 10 miles (20 minutes according to google) apart, so I would assume the suburbs south of Chicago are more dense than the suburbs north of Chicago (and there may be less of Lake Michigan within the white sox radius)

Otter
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Otter

Yup. Wrigley is closer to the lake. Also Lake Michigan runs on a northwest/southeast slope, so the further south you go, the further east the lake is (and vice versa going north). I would imagine a decent chunk of NW Indiana is in the Sox radius because of this.

Not sure if this mattered, but traffic is usually not as bad on the Ryan and Stevenson (more likely to be taken to Comiskey) than it is on the Edens and Kennedy (more likely to be taken by Cub fans to Wrigley).

Max G
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Max G

The author states, “A definite correlation exists between the population living within 30 minutes of a ballpark and the difference between weekend and weekday attendance.”

What was the correlation coefficient? Is r≥ 0.8? If not, it would be incorrect to postulate that these two things have a “definite correlation.”

When discussing correlation, we have to be careful about making assumptions.

MLortz
Guest

Totally understandable. Could have used “a definite relationship” instead. I appreciate the feedback!

Walter
Guest
Walter

The other thing I notice is that trend is pretty flat. Is that slope significantly different from zero, given the data?

IHateJoeBuck
Member
IHateJoeBuck

Wouldn’t weekday getaway games be deflating the attendance numbers for Mon-Thu? Regardless of the commute, most working fans cannot attend whether they are 5 minutes or 2 hours away.

sammy
Guest
sammy

More than a few times I’ve left Westwood at 5 pm for 7:10 Dodger games and gotten to my seat in the third inning. 30 minute radius doesn’t seem to mean anything.

MPH
Guest
MPH

This is really sweet but I don’t think miles and minutes should necessarily be interchangeable. Living in Los Angeles, traffic being what it is, it basically takes 60 min to go anywhere 3-7pm and weekends. And, as a former Seattle native, you faced the choice of traffic + parking for $$$ or parking and walking 30 min, or taking the bus and turning my 10 min commute to the stadium into a 1 hr, transfer bus affair. It would be really cool to take a look at the difference between M-Th and F-Sun in terms of team success vs transportation infrastructure. Doing that over a multi-year window would also correct for winning and losing records.

William
Guest

I think you need to factor in other variables, such as team success, longevity in a city, and opponent. For example, the Rays played the Red Sox and Yankees 20 times, but only five times on a weekday. The discrepancy between weekday/weekend for these games was only 18%, but was weighted more heavily toward weekend. As a result, the home attendance on weekends was inflated more than on weekdays. Removing these games from the equation yields a 48.8% discrepancy, which, despite still being significant, illustrates how considering other factors can mitigate the gap and weaken the correlation.

Timofey
Guest
Timofey

I think you just proved how blown out of proportion the theory that the Sox/Yanks bolster Rays attendance is.

The key is Weekend vs Weekday.

William
Guest

How do you reach that conclusion. On weekdays, the Rays average 13,461 in non-NY/BOS games, vs. 20,481 for games with NY/BOS, or 52% more. On weekends, it’s 20,034 vs. 24,344, or 22% more. Both are significant increases.

Roger
Guest
Roger

I’m curious how the Braves’ move to the north suburbs will affect their numbers. Much of the past analysis of the move has focused on where their current ticket buyers reside and where the wealth in the city is, but I haven’t seen anything about population density.

Topper Gunn
Guest

Once again we see some failure try to pin the Rays attendance woes on ANYTHING other than the fact that this team has some of the worst fans in the history of baseball. Just show up. Stop making excuses. They have an exciting team to watch and yet nobody goes. I just don’t get it. We don’t even need a trip to St. Louis to figure it out. Step 1: buy a ticket. Step 2: go to the game. Step 3: Stop being thought of as the worst fanbase in professional sports. Good luck.

HollywoodMcMoon
Member
HollywoodMcMoon

I spent thirty minutes typing a response to this to explain the layout of the Tampa Bay area and the traffic problems that make it very difficult to attend Rays games. I then deleted it because I realized you are a troll and I had just lost thirty minutes of my Sunday. I can only hope that your Monday commute is particularly miserable so that you are late for work and the universe balances everything out.

Brooks Dawkins
Guest
Brooks Dawkins

It’s not that easy. The trop is in a terrible location with almost no public transportation to help fans get to the game, not only is the Trop out of the way but the Tampa Bay area has some of the worst traffic in the country. you know why the rays have good TV numbers but not attendance? BECAUSE NOBODY CAN GET TO THE DAMN STADIUM. If they played in a more central location in the region they’d actually have good attendance. Do you think people here don’t like baseball? Florida is a huge baseball state, like easily one of the biggest in the nation. it’s not a lack of interest it’s the fact the team is so far out of the way it’s ridiculous.

Buck Farmer
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Buck Farmer

Good post. Curious as to how 30 minute radius is defined and why the year 2000 census is being used.

bisonaudit
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bisonaudit

I’m going to go with because that’s what came loaded in MapPoint or similar application which tries to draw drive time polygons over demographic data.

Timofey
Guest
Timofey

The Rays tv numbers are outstanding.
They have more fans watching on tv than the Braves for example.
A bunch of other larger markets too.

The problem is that the population center of the area is in a giant body of water.
Putting a stadium in downtown Tampa might help a little bit, but not much.

The other current issue is that Rays ownership doesn’t want to increase attendance.
The Rays report actual turnstile attendance instead of tickets sold like most teams.
The offer no dollar dog nights or cheap weekday tickets or any other promos done to bolster attendance other than “giveaways” usually to kids only and almost all of those they are done on a Sunday.

Dave
Guest
Dave

You realize you threw out 1/15th of your data because it was inconvenient.

DRW
Guest
DRW

Don’t know how you can draw significant conclusions when a large amount of your data (BOS and SF being obvious examples) are corrupted by sellouts. BOS sold out almost every game for some long period of time, and SF does so regularly. Sellouts create early demand, which leads to more season ticket holders and speculators buying up seats pre-season. I am not saying that the 30 minute rule is irrelevant, just not as strong a factor as some others.

Bernie
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Bernie

Even though it’s not listed, I assume the Brewers are 1st in parking lot attendance 3 hours before game time.

chaz
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chaz

Transit time might be a better data point than just distance. The quality of public transit probably plays a big role, for instance. I’m not familiar with the Rays situation, but I know the infrastructure here in SF makes it pretty easy to get to the games. The Caltrain (commuter rail) station is right near the park, and Bart (regional rail) hooks right up the local subway. And all the subway maps in town have a big “ballpark” logo so you know right where to go.

Brooks Dawkins
Guest
Brooks Dawkins

yeah St.Pete has none of that lol. public transport is almost non-existent. you either walk, drive, or take the bus. it sucks.

pft
Guest
pft

Why are the yankees/mets omitted?

KPF
Guest
KPF

If you’re going to run an regression, you should provide the R^2 so we can see how correlated the data is.

Jeremy Shackett
Guest
Jeremy Shackett

Yes. Very much yes. Thank you.

I’m a Rays and Lightning fan, who lives a 30 minute drive north of downtown Tampa. This leaves a 50-60 minute drive to the ballpark, traffic not included.

I-275 is the only realistic route to St. Pete from Tampa, and on weeknight games it is clogged with rush hour traffic just as the ballpark traffic intensifies. I would go to a weeknight game if it didn’t mean pulling my hair out over traffic jams on 275.

That 30 minute population figure is staggeringly low. Add in the fact that much of the population close by is poor or elderly.

When the population base of PAYING customers is so far away, a trip to the ballpark feels like a pilgrimage. It’s only fitting that they attend the games once in a pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, I’ll go to the Lightning games, which, by the way, occasionally outdraw the Rays.

Psualum
Guest
Psualum

The problem isn’t where they live.. St Pete side has more ppl then Tampa. But more ppl WORK in Tampa, hence the inability to get to the game. The stadium needs to stay in pinellas but move closer to the bridge, like up by the dog track off gandy

Eric
Guest
Eric

“Last year, of the US-based teams, the Giants had the smallest difference in weekend/weekend attendance;”

So 54 people make comments and no one noticed this error? I doubt its supposed to be WEEKEND/WEEKEND attendance, more likely WEEKDAY/WEEKEND attendance…what prize do I win?

Montreal
Guest
Montreal

Hello Tampa Rays! I just wanted to let you know that the population of the island of Montreal (all of which is within a 30 minute radius of centre-ville Montreal) is 1.9 million. Our “metro area” population is almost 4 million.

Yes… we had a bit of a problem with an absurd ballpark and a terrible owner. But we LOVE baseball and have a wealthy, highly-educated population, many high-end corporations, and a gorgeous city.

Vive le Quebec libre!

Brooks Dawkins
Guest
Brooks Dawkins

Tampa Bay* the Rays don’t play in Tampa. Unless Montreal can get a new ball park they won’t get a team. And even if they do unless there is no possible way the Rays will ever get a new park of their own in the Bay area they won’t leave. so don’t get your hopes up.

VDR
Guest
VDR

Tampa Rays

Death To Flying Things
Guest
Death To Flying Things

Baseball is more population-density dependent than the NFL (with its massive TV contracts) or the NBA (with its lower operating costs). People talk about relocating baseball franchises, but there are probably only two places on the North American continent that don’t already have an MLB team but have the population base to support one: the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Metro Area and Montreal. I don’t have time to back up that statement, but I believe it to be true. The potential solutions for the Rays are very few in number.

William
Guest

This is partly true because baseball is and always has been regional-based. Although some hand wringers obsess over national TV ratings, when a sport has 162 games, the basis for support is always going to come from the local market. Having said that, MLB too has massive TV contracts when you factor in the RSN deals with the national networks, and some, including myself, think a large inventory of games plus the strength of the league’s digital arm could help it pass the NFL in terms of revenue.

Bill but not ted
Guest

i am not sure why this is garnering so many critical comments. I think this is an interesting premise and it was pursued well.

Ted Kennedy but not Bill Clinton
Guest
Ted Kennedy but not Bill Clinton

Seven score and four years ago our step-forefathers built this great website on the premise that all comments were created equal.

Scott B
Guest
Scott B

Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), I crunched the 2010 US Census numbers (w/in 30 minute drive) and posted the links (maps & table) on this blog: http://baseballgis.blogspot.com/