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Signs of Life in the Sports Economy

Spring training in Florida set an attendance record -- of sorts -- in 2010:

From March 2nd through April 3rd, a total of 1,427,627 fans watched the 15 teams comprising Florida’s Grapefruit League. The record-breaking per game average of 6,640 fans per game [ed: emphasis added], surpassed the previous per game average high of 6,478, set during the 2008 season. A total of 19 games* were cancelled due to rain, the most since the 2005 season when 24 games were not played because of weather.

While 12 of the 15 teams holding spring training in Florida saw per game attendance totals increase, the largest was posted by the Baltimore Orioles, in their first season at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The Orioles enjoyed a 33 percent increase in per game attendance, from 4,588 fans per game to 6,815. The Orioles also showed a 28 percent increase in total attendance from 2008, as a record-setting 102,219 fans attended 15 games.

Four more teams established per game attendance highs. The Philadelphia Phillies drew an average of 9,452 fans per game at Bright House Field in Clearwater. The Minnesota Twins drew more than 8,000 fans per game for the first time as an average of 8,055 fans were on hand at Hammond Stadium for 13 games. The Tampa Bay Rays set new marks with 6,531 fans per game at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte and 97,971 total attendance at 15 games. The Toronto Blue Jays were limited to 11 games due to three rainouts, but still set a record of 4,777 fans per game at Dunedin Stadium.

The announcement was made by Florida's governor, who touted the economic impact of the Grapefruit League. One might hope for the figures to come from a more objective source, but I suspect all attendance figures are colored by intent in some way.

In this case, total attendance was off by about 134,000 fans, or 8.5%. There are fewer teams now in Florida, as teams have been relocating to Arizona, where the sunshine is a bit more reliable. Cincinnati relocated to Arizona this spring, for example.

Aggregate attendance in Arizona fell slightly, from 1.58 million fans in 2009 to 1.47 million this spring. But much of 2009's higher total can be traced to the World Baseball Classic. The Arizona figures are from this story, which notes that Florida is attempting to woo the Cubs into relocating their Spring Training site to Florida. Hence the Guv's participation in the Florida press release? I think so.

Regardless, these results are reasonably strong for a weak economic environment. We'll take a look at attendance figures for the opening week of the regular season tomorrow.

For the record, here are the aggregate attendance figures for Florida from the past twelve years:

Florida Spring Training (1999-2010)

2010: 1,427,627, total attendance; 6,640 average attendance
2009: 1,561,873, total attendance; 6,030 average attendance
2008: 1,677,858, total attendance, 6,478 average attendance
2007: 1,716,840, total attendance; 6,243 average attendance
2006: 1,604,393, total attendance; 5,855 average attendance
2005: 1,598,454, total attendance; 6,244 average attendance
2004: 1,557,934, total attendance; 5,792 average attendance
2003: 1,397,144, total attendance; 5,272, average attendance
2002: 1,538,444, total attendance; 5,028, average attendance
2001: 1,500,184, total attendance; 5,320, average attendance
2000: 1,598,255, total attendance; 5,473, average attendance
1999: 1,502,617, total attendance; 5,042, average attendance