Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Losing on Purpose

Dave Cameron, over at Fangraphs, offered some thoughts on the idea of rebuilding, in light of the Marlins latest sell-off. As is so often the case recently when discussing bad teams, the Astros came up. Dave wasn't exactly critical, but he did note the effect the consistent losing has had on Astros' attendance.

From 2007 to 2010, the Astros averaged 77 wins per season and never finished higher than third in the standings. During those four years, their attendance dwindled from 3.0 million fans per season to 2.3 million fans per season. In the last two seasons, where they’ve averaged 55 wins per season, their attendance went from 2.3 million down to 1.6 million. In other words, they lost as many fans in two years of being atrocious as they did in four years of being mediocre.

I noted a similar effect on the TV ratings yesterday in my post about Deshaies. People simply aren't tuning in or going to games to see a 100+ loss team.

Obviously, the Marlins' situation and the Astros' situation are vastly different. Poor choices led the Astros to a point where tearing down was the only legitimate option. But I think its important to remember that the casual fan doesn't care that Jim Callis rated the Astros' top 10 prospect list #3 in the AL, or that the Astros had three players in the AFL Rising Stars game this year. They want to go to a game to see the home town win, and if there is less than a 35% chance of that happening, they just won't go. Dave's right, the calculus is not merely playoffs v. no playoffs, and losing really takes its toll on a fan base.

The Astros primary goal right now has to be making themselves truly competitive in a couple years, but if they maintain that goal while making the team marginally better next year, it will help them in the long run. If 2013 is as rough as 2012, or worse, the fans will continue to stay away. The Astros better hope that when the rebuilding comes to fruition, they start to come back.