Mirror-mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest weather fan base of them all? And who has the most loyal fans in baseball? Those are the questions we set out to answer, using a statistical approach. To be clear, our definition of loyalty in this case is not whether fans of a team stay fans from year to year, but whether they continue to support their team by attending games even through bad seasons. There are a variety of ways to have a bad season. Sometimes a fan base knows their team will be bad before the first pitch of the season is thrown, sometimes a team stinks more than expected, and sometimes a team gets off to a good start and then blows it down the stretch.
We were interested in looking at how fans respond to bad play from their teams. We used total regular season losses as our measure of a team’s relative “lousiness” and season-long average home game attendance as our measure of fan support. We pulled data from the last 10 seasons for each MLB team (2006-2015, baseball-reference.com). Using a program called R, we conducted a regression analysis and generated figures that look like this:
You can clearly see from this figure that average attendance at Baltimore Orioles home games drops in seasons where the Orioles are losing more. By looking at the relative slope of that line compared to the lines for other teams, we can determine which fan bases abandon their teams the most when times get tough (steep dropping line), and which ones stick it out through bad seasons (flatter line). An upward sloping line would indicate a masochistic fan base that loves losing, or something else… as we see below. We ran this analysis for each team and separated them into general categories based on what the stats told us. Last week we looked at the National League. This week we present the American League teams:
THE LOYALISTS and the PERENNIALLY PACKED
The Detroit Tigers rated as the most loyal fan base, showing fairly consistent attendance at Comerica Park despite the record of Los Tigres. It should be noted that most of the Tigers’ seasons during this stretch were pretty good, with the worst season totaling only 88 loses. That certainly makes it easier for fans to keep the faith.
The Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners are next in this group, with each seeing only a slight dip in attendance during bad seasons. It’s interesting to see Seattle in this top group, particularly since Seattle Seahawks fans are often criticized for jumping on the band wagon as their team got good.
The Boston Red Sox are an interesting case and would have ranked second except for the fact that this data are unique compared to that of other teams. Fenway Park was literally at capacity 99.9% of the time during the span of time we looked at (according to ESPN). So we need to treat it a little differently. We can’t tell if the Red Sox lose fans in bad seasons (of which they have had a few recently) because that effect might be masked by other fans that could not previously get tickets filling in behind them. It’s possible this is more of a hot ticket than a loyal fan base, though we certainly won’t rule out the latter.
THE FANS THAT FADE
The next group includes fan bases that show wavering attendance in bad seasons. It’s not a mad dash for the exit, but it’s a noticeable drop for these clubs. The Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays came out, in that order, as the next most loyal fans. Tampa Bay is an interesting case because the fan base (or lack thereof) in West Florida is often spoken of disparagingly by the rest of the country for not appreciating the Rays, who were a really good team for many of the years included in this analysis. And Tampa Bay did in fact have the lowest average attendance compared to all other teams. But the reason they showed up in the dead middle of the pack in this analysis is that the attendance, while low to begin with, doesn’t drop off in bad seasons as much as it does for many other teams. We were not interested in measuring how many fans a particular team has (that data is easily available); we wanted to see how those fans react to losing. In Tampa Bay’s case, attendance is low when they are good and not too different when they are bad.
THE FAIREST OF THE FAIR-WEATHER FANS
Now we come to the fairest of fair weather fan bases. The Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros were next on the list for the AL. We can forgive the Astros fans. A few of the seasons in the last decade have been just turrible (as Sir Charles would say). That might make the revival that the ‘Stros are now experiencing all the more sweet for their fans.
The World Champion Kansas City Royals own the lowest spot on our list for fan loyalty. But, there’s a twist here. In the case of the Royals, the effect was not really fans abandoning the team in bad seasons, so much as flocking to the team in droves during good seasons, particularly 2015. An attendance spike in a season with few losses has the same effect in our analysis as a season with a lot of losses and poor attendance. It’s still fair weather fandom (the attendance in 2015 was 61% higher than the average for the other years we looked at), but it’s different than fans that won’t show up to watch a bad team.
THE SHINY NEW STADIUM EFFECT
If you were paying close attention, you may have by now asked “But what about the Twinkies!?”. The Minnesota Twins got booted out of the analysis by a big confounding factor named Target Field. The Twins moved from the giant urban marshmallow known as the Metrodome into Target Field in 2010, which was right in the middle of the period of time we looked at. Even though they have had some bad seasons since the move, the average attendance has been protected, and maybe even improved a bit, by the lure of a shiny new outdoor stadium. So it’s hard to make conclusions about the Twins fan base.
Of course this analysis doesn’t mean any individual person is a bad fan and doesn’t support their team (as always, you are welcome to profess your fandom and loyalty in the comments section), but the data are what they are. Some teams’ fans keep coming to the ballpark through tough times (crazy promotions might help). Some don’t. In case you missed it last week, you can check out the results from the NL here!