May 31, 2009
There are potentially dozens of variables that factor into an MLB team's average ticket price.. Winning teams can probably ask for more money than losing teams. Teams that were successful in the previous season probably can get away with charging more for tickets in the current season. Some ballparks have fewer seats than others, so basic supply and demand would dictate that ballparks with seat shortages should sell tickets for more money than ballparks with seat surpluses. Some teams are infamous for having horribly fair-weather fans and others will garner fan support no matter how awful the team is playing.
When I lived in Dallas I attended a handful of Texas Rangers games. There were plenty of fans who attended, but the games were far from sell-outs. Plus, the tickets were pretty cheap and I took advantage of a few nice promotions. One friend had a theory that I found compelling: unlike MLB teams that play in downtowns or neighborhoods of big cities, the Texas Rangers play in Arlington, a suburb wedged in-between Dallas and Fort Worth but not particularly convenient to either. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area is the fourth biggest in America, so there should have been plenty of people within driving distance of the team, but few turned out. This got me thinking, does the type of place were teams play have any impact on variables like attendance and ticket prices?
Before I go on I should disclose that this analysis is only a slice of a potentially much larger pie. It only tests the relationship between two variables and doesn't attempt to control for any of those mentioned above; and it only uses two baseball seasons of data because that's all I found easily available. Population density is a better statistic than say, total population, but it still suffers from the problem of arbitrary geographies and city sizes. Population data is from the Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey (and Statistics Canada for Toronto data). Ticket price data comes from this Boston Globe piece.
For the most part, MLB teams play in the cities they are named for. For teams named after states and aside from the Rangers, the Florida Marlins play in Miami Gardens; Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix; Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis; and Colorado Rockies in Denver. The Tampa Bay Rays play in St. Petersburg and the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim. The two Chicago teams are the only that both share the same geography. For the New York City teams, I used Bronx County data for the Yankees and Queens County data for the Mets.
Finally, the graphs:
There is a positive relationship between population density and ticket prices. The correlation coefficient is slightly higher than 0.5 for both. This obviously does not indicate a causal relationship, but it is interesting, nevertheless.
Someone could replicate this methodology using NBA or NFL data, but I think baseball is the most appropriate. NFL teams play very few games per season and suburban stadiums are common. NBA teams do play in many of the same places as MLB teams, but the basketball season is only about half as many games as baseball.