So we briefly touched on this a while back, but I thought...off day and all, we can revisit it a little more closely. This is the issue of attendance among MLB teams, specifically the Astros, from 2008 to 2009. And this is a good time to look at it, since the Astros of 2008 have played the same number of home games as the Astros of 2009.
Let's look at some of the basic stats...
Total attendance through 47 home games in 2008: 1,710,939 (8th in MLB)
Average attendance through 47 home games in 2008: 36,403 (10th in MLB)
Total attendance through 47 home games in 2009: 1,373,284 (11th in MLB)
Average attendance through 47 home games in 2009: 29,432 (13th in MLB)
Difference from 2008 to 2009: -327,655 (3rd biggest dropoff in MLB)
Difference in per-game average: -6,971 (also 3rd biggest dropoff in MLB)
That's a -19.8% difference from 2008 to 2009, something I'm sure Run-DMc (owner Drayton McLane to you newbies) has an eye on. But while your initial thought may be for the Astros to "put a better team on the field," an idea with which we would not argue, there are some other reasons for such a dropoff. Want to hear them? I thought you might...
First let's take into account games versus the Astros' chief "rivals," which we'll call the Cubs and Cardinals. By the All-Star Break 2008, the Astros had played 9 home games against the Cubs and Cardinals, which averaged 35,581 fans per game. To this point in the 2009 season, the Astros have played 8 home games against the Cubs, but none yet against the Cardinals. Those eight Cubs games averaged just under 32,099 fans. So, yes, down, but not drastically.
We should also look at the number of weekend home series. In 2008, the Astros enjoyed being at home during seven weekends in the first half; in two of those weekends the Astros played interleague series' against the Yankees and Red Sox. This can't be overlooked. The Astros had over 40,000 fans in eight games before the All-Star Break - six of those were during the Yankees and Red Sox' visit to Minute Maid. Average crowd of the Yankees/Red Sox series? Just under 42,856 fans per game.
The 2009 Astros hosted three interleague series: Texas (over a weekend), Kansas City (mid-week), and Detroit (weekend).
So for interleague home games in 2008, average attendance was: 40,722
For interleague home games in 2009, average attendance was: 33,744
Interestingly enough, the Silver Boot portion of the schedule did see a decline from 2008 to 2009, but only by 340 fans total. So there's a 62,000+ fan difference between the Yankees/Red Sox and Royals/Tigers in six games.
The 2009 Astros have also played seven weekend series at home, but instead of playing the Marlins, Rockies, Brewers, Phillies (Lidge's first series back to Houston), Cardinals, Yankees, and Red Sox, in 2008 the Astros have played the Reds, Brewers, Padres, Rangers, Pirates, Tigers, and Nationals. Not exactly a star-studded weekend lineup, and it showed in the average attendance:
Average weekend series attendance in 2008 (Fri-Sun): 38,995
Average weekend series attendance in 2009 (Fri-Sun): 30,776
Holiday weekends are a major source of ticketing revenue, as well. And in 2008, the Astros played a four-game Thursday-Sunday Memorial Day Weekend series against the Phillies at home (and were off on Memorial Day. No team should ever be off on Memorial Day). The Thursday game was rough going, with 29,263 paying fans, but Friday-Sunday games averaged 42,297 fans.
Not so in 2009. The Astros were in Pittsburgh over Memorial Day Weekend, and San Francisco over July 4 weekend. That means the two big summer holidays (before the All-Star Break), the lights were off and the roof was closed at Minute Maid Park.
Even the 2008 mid-week series had impressive opponents, and as a result, impressive attendance. 2008's schedule featured mid-week series against the Cardinals, Cubs, Rangers, and Dodgers - meaning mid-week games were getting weekend revenues.
There is hope for the 2009 revenue, though. Coming back from the All-Star Break, the first two home series are against the Cards midweek, and the Mets over the weekend. There are home weekend series remaining against the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Labor Day Weekend with the Phillies, Pirates, and Reds. High-profile mid-week series remain against the Cardinals (twice), Giants, and Braves.
So yes, the Astros' attendance differential is down, and down a lot. While we can chalk up a recession to account for part of it, it's not the whole story. Playing the Cardinals at home before the All-Star Break sure would help.