Nationals Baseball: A Diminishing Strasburg effect?

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Diminishing Strasburg effect?

Just something to chew on as the Nats head into the weekend

Yesterday's game versus the Royals had an attendance of 31,913. While that's a ton of fannys in the seats for a mid-week day game, it wasn't anywhere near a sellout. Is the DC market already losing interest in the phenom? Is that even a problem?

Strasburgs first two home games were virtually sellouts (40,315 and 40,325) and doubled the probably attendance from around 20K apiece. Well probably. The first game was certainly at least double what they would have gotten from a regular Pirates game. The next day the Nats drew 18,876. The White Sox game leaves a bit more to interpretation. As a Friday night game the previous Friday night attendance (June 4th) was 33,774 against the Reds. Of course that is ALSO a Strasburg effect game since the team let fools buy up tickets for this game believing it would be the debut. The Friday game before that (May 21st) drew 27,378 but that was the Orioles, another game you'd expect a higher draw. The Friday game before THAT (May 7th) was a Marlins snoozer bringing in 20,161. That might be more "typical" but is a Friday in early May really equivalent to one in mid-June? Against a AL team of more interest? Still, I think it's fair to say he still doubled it though - I mean what more can he do than sell it out?

The last midweek baseball game though drew 21,767 for a Thursday game vs the Pirates. That's not a game you expect to draw that well. Strasburg "only" pulled in 10K or so more casual fans then would have been there anyway. To me the number is heartening and telling. It's heartening because those fans are there. That's 10K more people that can move from being casual fans to hardcore fans that wouldn't have been there before. Ten thousand people moved to go to Nats park in the midday heat when they were playing the Royals to see this kid pitch. It's great for the Nats. At the same time it's telling for the Nats management if they were thinking that Strasburg alone would keep the attendance up as the season went along, even for his own games. Don't think they weren't hoping for this. They basically threw a park at the fans, filled it with a horrible team and acted shocked that no one came. While coming up with the hard solution (building a good team) they've been trying easy solutions.

The next Strasburg game won't tell us much. It'll likely be a Sunday game vs the Mets and I'd be shocked if that didn't sell out. After that though is a Saturday game vs the Giants. Usually Saturday games will sell well and it's the last Saturday game before the All-Star break. So I'd hope to see a sellout.

Don't take this to be anything more than some random thoughts. There is no surprise here. Fans will come to see Strasburg but will slowly fade away, even for his games, unless the team wins. I'm just curious on how slowly that will be. (or if the team will start winning, of course)

Commenter Bowdenball called me out on a couple things which led me to find a bigger error - June 10th wasn't a day game. The Nats actally haven't played a mid-week home day game since the 22nd of April and frankly I don't think that's comparable. So scratch any day game comparisons.

I think the heat and humidity does matter but it also tells you there is a limit to how bad the casual fan wants to see Strasburg. Granted they were given possibly the worst conditions for a ballgame to come out to : super hot, midday weekday, vs Royals, the Nats offense playing like it has - and they still came out to see Strasburg, but more could have and didn't. For the first two games sellouts helped hide this fact, that there is a limit. I'd be surprised if Strasburg didn't sell out the next two games (Mets and Giants, though Saturday and Friday not Sunday and Saturday as I said. Forgot they were just skipping the 5th rotation spot) but I still think the bonus crowds will slowly diminish. Maybe I'm wrong, though. If the guy is still sporting an ERA under 2.00 come mid August...


Carl said...

At the game on Thursday, a friend said he had heard the Nats were planning to jack up ticket prices next year. First I'd heard that rumor, and given that I read at least a half-dozen Nats blogs you'd think that would have made the rounds already. But I don't see it. Yeah, Strasburg sells tickets, but he only pitches every fifth day. They are in no position to start gouging the fans (any more than the already do).

Bryan said...

Carl - that sounds like typical unfounded conspiracy stuff to me. For all the reasons you mention - this team isn't nearly good enough and Stras pitches once every 5 days. Will tickets go up? Probably. Will they "jack" them. No.

Harper - I think you have to calculate in the fact that the weather was awful. It was hot and humid and that likely kept at least some away.

bdrube said...

Good essay. I have to say that having sat through SS's last two starts and also Saturday against the WSox and watching the team put up ONE run in 29 innings, if I were not a season ticket holder I would not be inspired to go to too many additional games.

Like with the new park, if management thinks SS alone will change their rapidly downward trajectory in attendance allowing them to continue putting crappy teams on the field they have another thhing coming.

Bowdenball said...

Random thoughts or not ... seriously, man? Not worth more than a passing mention that it was 97 with ridiculous humidity?

Also not worth mentioning that the game you used for comparison, the June 10 Pirates game, was during the six-game homestand that universally considered to be when Strasburg would debut, and was widely reported to be the date of his second start when the June 4 debut was first suggested?

June 10 was not a normal game, as you say but don't explain. You'd expect attendance for a game to be closer to 16K. So Strasburg sold an extra 5K that day just because it was rumored to be his second start, and an extra 15K on Wednesday on an afternoon when the National Weather Service actually issued a warning for the heat in the area.

Pretty sure you could have thought this one through a little better.

Also, the Nats are saying Strasburg starts Saturday afternoon vs. the Mets and Friday night vs. the Giants.

Jim said...

Tickets are drying up quickly for the July 3rd game. There are only a few sections with 4 together, so I think the Wed attendance was more a function of the goofy start time (why don't they have more 12:30 games-- the 4:30 start times are just weird), and the fact that it was 100 degrees....

Harper said...

Bowdenball - All that and you miss the big error I made. June 10th wasn't a day game! (I misread "time of game" for game start) In fact they've only played 2 midweek home days games and none since April 22nd. I'm not sure that's comparable at all.

Bowdenball said...

Uh, right. Good point. You'd think I would have remembered since I was there for that Pirates game.

Thanks for listening. I've been impressed with the Nats crowds at the Strasburg games this year, which is why I got a little defensive. I think you're right that the crowds for his starts will eventually diminish, but I'm not sure that is indicative of any larger trend or problem.

Fitzgerald said...

Man the Nationals have been on the decline with attendance ever since they choose the location of the park - I think a better location even with a crappy team would sell more tickets.