Posted: April 01, 2011

Sports biz: Statistically speaking

Stewart Schley

Baseball season is upon us, so once again we are presented with fresh opportunities to parse on-field performance into about a million shards of statistical flotsam.

No spectator sport offers more mathematical and computational possibility, or attracts more followers with a fearsome devotion to statistics. The mere fact that baseball statistics zealots have a lofty-minded school of analysis known as Sabermetrics alone is evidence that baseball fans are ... searching for the right word here ... weird.

But SportsBiz is not one to judge. In fact, we embrace the pursuit of baseball numerology ourselves as a conduit to truth and understanding. And so herewith, with Opening Day 2011 in the books and an unusually pitched level of Rockies fever in the air, we dive wholeheartedly into the baseball statistics craft from a business and economic point of view.

First, the raw numbers, drawn from the most recent season.

The average cost of a ticket at a Colorado Rockies home game last season was $19.50, according to the sports industry research firm Team Marketing Report. That should make you happy, Rockies fan, because the Major League Baseball average was $26.74, with the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox each topping $52 per ticket. (Incidentally, the most expensive beer across MLB ballparks also comes from Fenway Park, at $7.25. And if I recall, they serve it in really tiny cups.)

The Rockies ranked 10th among 30 MLB teams in attendance, with 2.87 million fans at Coors Field, or just under 40,000 per game.

The team's 83 wins ranked in the middle of the MLB pack, but the team produced elite results from individual players, with outfielder Carlos Gonzalez ending the year as baseball's third-best hitter measured by batting average (.336) and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez tied for the third-highest victory total at 19.

So all in all the Rockies, relative to the league, offered high entertainment value for the price of a ticket. An interesting ratio, if we want to get geeky about it (and yes! Yes we do!) is the number of home wins relative to the cost of attending. With a 52-29 home record in 2010, the Rockies won 64 percent of their games last season at Coors Field. Thus, a fan who attended all 81 games, paying $1,579.50 for the year, spent an average of $30.37 per win.

That is to say, she/he spent an average of $30.37 on ticket costs per win. The total spend was probably significantly higher. According to Team Marketing Report (and, yes, these data are the source of many disavowals and complaints from MLB teams, but anyway ...) the "Fan Cost Index" for attending a Rockies game last season amounted to $161, including tickets for a family of four, a quartet of hot dogs, an outpouring of beer and soda, a place to park the car and a couple of adjustable-sized caps.

Even so, the average ticket cost per win for the Rockies was an excellent bargain, compared to some poor-performing teams. The New York Mets, playing in a slick new ballpark, charged $32.22 per ticket and yielded 47 wins at home for an average cost per win of $55.52. (And managed to lose a boatload of money, partly because owners got scammed by investment schemer Bernard Madoff, whose team allegiances could not be determined at press time.) The Chicago Cubs were the worst deal of all, recording just 35 home wins while charging the highest amount in baseball for a ticket, at $52.56. The cost to see a win at Wrigley Field was $121.63. And that doesn't include parking, which is non-existent there anyway.

In contrast, Rockies fans of late have been treated to a solid return on investment, as the team has produced a winning record at home for five seasons running.

Of course, a learned economist would scoff at our calculation of cost-per-win for two reasons. First, learned economists just generally scoff a lot. Second, there's no certainty that a Rockies "win" counts as positive ROI for everyone in attendance. That means you, Dodger fans. But we stand by our ratio as a sound indicator of value. What's needed now, in the early innings of a 2011 season that features what looks to be the best Rockies team since that of the Walker-Bichette-Castilla-Gallaraga heyday, is for the team to produce some more wins away from home.

Do that, and even SportsBiz will be moved to buy one of those adjustable caps. 

Listen to CoBiz Publisher Bart Taylor's interview with Rockies' owner Dick Monfort. 
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Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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