Large crowds can be fleeting for baseball teams in new parks
By Lou Ortiz
An attendance-poor team like the Florida Marlins could expect a bump in the number of seats it sells if a new $525 million stadium opens in 2011 — but only until the novelty wears off, studies show.
"Some evidence of a relatively large "novelty effect' on attendance exists," according to a study by the Department of Economics at the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland that looked at the effects new stadiums have on attendance.
"The novelty effect of a new facility appears to persist as long as seven or eight seasons in Major League Baseball," says the study completed in 2003.
During the first year of a new stadium's use, revenue and attendance may grow by up to 47%, according to a study by the University of Dayton, which studied baseball data between 1989 and 2001.
But the "honeymoon effect" declines in subsequent seasons, says the Dayton study, which doesn't say when the drop in attendance begins.
Three of Major League Baseball's lowest-drawing teams — Tampa Bay, Washington and Florida — are planning or building new stadiums.
The Washington Nationals averaged 24,217 fans per game last year, the Tampa Bay Rays 17,148 and the Marlins 16,919, according to Major League Baseball figures.
The Pittsburgh Pirates opened their new PNC Park in 2001, drawing more than 2.4 million fans. Attendance began to decline the following year, and except for gains in 2005 and 2006, the team has not come close to the attendance numbers it posted when the park opened.
The Pirates, still a low spender on player payroll, averaged 22,141 fans in 2007.
In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles opened Camden Yards in 1992 and more than 3.5 million fans flocked to the new stadium.
But Orioles attendance has been down five of the past seven years, totaling 2.1 million in 2007, and numbers haven't come close to the stadium's opening year.
The University of Dayton study adds another ingredient to attendance: Team performance.
"Indeed, demand for baseball depends on team performance and other factors that during a given interval might prove atypical," the study says.
Before the Miami-Dade County Commission approved the Marlins stadium deal last month, Commissioner Dennis C. Moss said he wanted a commitment by the Marlins that they would be competitive.
Like the Pirates, the Marlins have unloaded talented young stars throughout the years, although the Miami club has two World Series championships to its credit.
Major League Baseball's President and Chief Operating Officer Robert A. Dupuy told commissioners that teams are required to field competitive teams.
But Mr. Dupuy didn't delve into the dealings by the Marlins, which had a league low $30.5 million payroll in 2007 and are projecting a $23 million payroll this year.
Major League Baseball and the Marlins did not respond to requests for comment on how a new stadium in Miami-Dade would draw fans.
Marlins spokesman P.J. Loyello said one reason the team would not respond was because "We don't get a lot of love from Miami Today."
But in comments to local officials and in interviews on local sports talk radio shows, team officials have said they do not plan to increase player payroll until the Marlins are in a new stadium.