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Crunching the 2011 Minor League Baseball attendance figures

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Minor League Baseball

Now that we've published 2011 attendance figures for Minor League Baseball in several different forms, it's time to look beyond the stark figures and try to make some sense of the past year in affiliated ball.

First: the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League) led the minor leagues both in total attendance and per-game attendance. It's the second year in a row the team has led MiLB teams in per-game attendance -- a pretty impressive figure when considering the Lehigh Valley is the fourth-smallest market in Triple-A ball.

"We have said it over and over again, but there is no doubt that we have the most passionate, energetic and enthusiastic fan base in all of Minor League Baseball," said IronPigs General Manager Kurt Landes. "Despite a record amount of wet weather, our fans once again came out in full support of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Our entire organization is thrilled that they will be rewarded for their loyalty and support by being treated to playoff baseball this September."

Second: a look at the big winners in attendance. We're going to ignore the numbers posted by the Mexican League teams -- attendance numbers posted in this circuit tend to wildly fluctuate from year to year -- and focus on the remaining MiLB leagues. Here's the top 20 boasting the biggest per-game increases from year to year:

  Team League Total Gms Av. 2010 +/-
1 Bradenton Marauders FSL 103,978 69 1,506 823 0.83
2 Orem Owlz PL 104,007 38 2,737 2,195 0.25
3 Jupiter Hammerheads FSL 82,071 68 1,206 994 0.21
4 Connecticut Tigers NYP 62,317 35 1,780 1,485 0.20
5 Tampa Yankees FSL 117,162 66 1,775 1,534 0.16
6 Carolina Mudcats SL 255,216 69 3,698 3,245 0.14
7t Dunedin Blue Jays FSL 43,148 66 653 576 0.13
7t Huntsville Stars SL 93,340 59 1,582 1,403 0.13
7t Palm Beach Cardinals FSL 68,620 63 1,089 966 0.13
10t San Jose Giants CalL 222,547 69 3,225 2,873 0.12
10t Bluefield Blue Jays AppL 26,395 33 799 714 0.12
10t Fort Myers Miracle FSL 122,328 64 1,911 1,708 0.12
10t Brevard Co. Manatees FSL 93,903 63 1,490 1,339 0.11
10t Helena Brewers PL 37,484 38 986 887 0.11
10t Salem-Keizer Volcanoes NWL 105,973 38 2,788 2,532 0.10
10t St. Lucie Mets FSL 105,379 64 1,646 1,506 0.09
10t High Desert Mavericks CalL 119,028 69 1,725 1,585 0.09
10t Visalia Rawhide CalL 118,065 68 1,736 1,598 0.09
19t Memphis Redbirds PCL 493,528 70 7,050 6,507 0.08
19t Midland Rockhounds TL 308,810 68 4,541 4,193 0.08
19t Billings Mustangs PL 109,881 37 2,969 2,743 0.08
19t Savannah Sand Gnats SAL 135,415 69 1,962 1,825 0.08
  AppL = Appalachian League (rookie)          
  CalL = California League (High Class A)          
  FSL = Florida State League (High Class A)        
  NWL = Northwest League (short season A)        
  NYP = NY-Penn League (short season A)        
  PCL = Pacific Coast League (Class AAA)          
  PL = Pioneer League (rookie)          
  SAL = South Atlantic League (Low Class A)          
  SL = Southern League (Class AA)          
  TL = Texas League (Class AA)          

Some notes:

  • You're seeing a lot of High Class A Florida State League teams on this list: eight of the top 19 attendance gainers are from that circuit, led by the Bradenton Marauders, who rebounded from a poor 2010 to an 83 percent gain per game. Part of that is a change in the front office -- Trevor Gooby took over last offseason -- and part of that was a more aggressive sales push in the community. Fairly decent weather in Florida throughout the season helped all the teams, but beyond that the league continues to grow as it emerges as what many considered an afterthought from spring training. Overall, the circuit posted a 10 percent increase in attendance from 2010.
  • Also emerging as a theme: changes in front offices. Besides Gooby, we had some new faces running Bluefield Blue Jays, the High Desert Mavericks and the Roger Dean Stadium complex where Jupiter and Palm Beach play.
  • Departures and arrivals also played a role in Carolina, where a Southern League team is leaving (and a Carolina League team is arriving next season); and Salem-Keizer, where the Volcanoes picked up some fans driving down from Portland after the departure of the Beavers.

Third: Pivoting to some sadder news, here are the teams that suffered the biggest per-game declines in attendance this season, by average:

  Team League Total Gms Av. 2010 +/-
1 Bakersfield Blaze CalL 40,056 70 572 932 -0.39
2 Tucson Padres* PCL 242,136 71 3,410 4,265 -0.20
3 Lake County Captains ML 235,897 66 3,574 4,234 -0.16
4 Lowell Spinners NYP 167,222 36 4,645 5,446 -0.15
5t Jacksonville Suns SL 309,310 70 4,418 5,140 -0.14
5t Casper Ghosts PL 47,982 37 1,296 1,503 -0.14
7t South Bend Silver Hawks ML 112,795 64 1,762 2,024 -0.13
7t Tulsa Drillers TL 366,291 68 5,386 6,184 -0.13
9t Great Falls Voyagers PL 59,884 37 1,618 1,836 -0.12
9t Peoria Chiefs ML 187,915 68 2,763 3,131 -0.12
9t Salt Lake Bees PCL 437,769 68 6,437 7,292 -0.12
12 Jackson Generals** SL 106,689 65 1,641 1,823 -0.10
13t Pulaski Mariners AppL 30,236 34 889 980 -0.09
13t Burlington Bees ML 54,284 65 835 916 -0.09
13t Burlington Royals AppL 28,427 34 836 917 -0.09
16t Birmingham Barons SL 261,623 68 3,847 4,180 -0.08
16t SWB Yankees IL 298,098 65 4,586 4,981 -0.08
16t FriscoRoughRiders TL 509,331 70 7,276 7,886 -0.08
               
  *Playing last season as the Portland Beavers        
  **Playing last season as West Tenn Diamond Jaxx      
               
  AppL = Appalachian League (rookie)          
  CalL = California League (High Class A)          
  IL = International League (Class AAA)          
  ML = Midwest League (Low Class A)          
  NYP = NY-Penn League (short season A)        
  PCL = Pacific Coast League (AAA)          
  PL = Pioneer League (rookie)          
  SL = Southern League (Class AA)          
  TL = Texas League (Class AA)          

First off: it's a bad year to be a Burlington team, obviously; good thing the Vermont Lake Monsters had a good year, or we would be posting a trifecta. Second, the highs experience last season in Tulsa and Great Falls due to some new and renovated ballparks led to a depression this season. Third, the numbers posted in South Bend are probably a little misleading: Covaleski Stadium was renovated during the season, and we're guessing some fans were inconvenienced by the construction.

After some debate, we decided to leave the Tucson Padres in this list to show the change in attendance after the team moved in the offseason from Portland. However, when you look the historic Tucson PCL attendance, it's pretty clear this year's attendance was squarely where it should have been: in 2008, the last year of the Tucson Sidewinders, the team's attedance was 3,552 per game -- almost the same as this year's tally.

It was, in some ways, a rough year for Minor League Baseball on the weather front: much of the country (save, interestingly, the Mountain West) suffered through unseasonably hot temperatures, wet weather swamped the East Coast throughout the season and many teams lost games on the final weekend of the season when a hurricane rippped up the East Coast. True, weather usually is part of the attendance story for Minor League Baseball, and it's also true teams can conquer the heat (the Midland RockHounds posted an impressive per-game increase). But dealing with the heat could end up being a long-term problem for teams (no, we don't want to get into a discussion of global warming -- just pointing out the chance the record temps will continue), who may need to look at how fans are shaded and cooled at ballparks.

 

RELATED STORIES: 2011 Baseball Attendance by Average; 2011 Affiliated Attendance by Average; 2011 Affiliated Attendance by League; 2011 Affiliated Attendance by Total; 2011 Independent Attendance by Average; 2011 Independent Attendance by Total; 2011 Independent Average Attendance by League; 2011 Summer-Collegiate Attendance by Average; 2011 Summer-Collegiate Attendance by Total; 2011 Summer-Collegiate Attendance by League

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