What Took Me Out to the Ball Game

The Determinants of Attendance of Major League Baseball Games from 1989 to 1999 and the Implications of the 1994 Labor Strike

Lifelong Learning

Baseball fans attend Major League Baseball games for many reasons-to watch their home team in the midst of a winning season; to bask in the afterglow of a recent World Series win; or to see a newly acquired All-Star. But many impersonal factors determine how many people attend a Major League Baseball game, including local unemployment rates, the presence of other professional sporting franchises, or the number of games broadcast on television.

What Took Me Out to the Ball Game utilizes a linear regression analysis to examine competitive and team-market factors that permeated Major League Baseball during the 1990s and what impact they had on attendance at games. It examines the significance of twenty market and team-quality factors, in particular the impact of the 1994 labor strike which caused the cancellation of hundreds of games and the World Series in 1994.

Katharine E. Willers is a lifelong baseball fan and economic enthusiast. Resulting from research she did for this book, she spent a summer as a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York. Ms. Willers graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a BA in Economics and earned an MA in International Relations from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. After initially pursuing a career in business and marketing, she transitioned to a career in policy and international affairs.

Katharine is married and currently resides in the Washington, DC area.

From the Publisher

Preface

When Katharine E. Willers originally researched and wrote the thesis that forms the basis of this book, Major League Baseball was at an interesting junction. Whereas the preceding decades saw World Series won both by small-market (i.e. Kansas City) and large-market (i.e. New York) Major League Baseball teams, by the end of the 1990s the competitive landscape had shifted.

As large-market teams were able to negotiate lucrative contracts for their local broadcasting rights, small-market teams did not have these same opportunities and therefore did not have the same revenue base from which to draw on to build new stadiums or field a World Series-caliber team. In such an environment, the New York Yankees were able to sign Bernie Williams, one of their home-grown talents, to a nearly $87 million contract in 1998, while the Minnesota Twins, a small-market team, saw Chuck Knoblauch leave their team for a more lucrative contract with the New York Yankees, a large-market team.

As Ms. Willers' original thesis showed, these disparities had serious implications for attendance at Major League Baseball games. This environment created a serious catch-22 where the size of a team's payroll and the number of recent World Series wins contributed significantly to the number of fans attending games. However, since the size of a team's payroll was directly related to their ability to field teams that could succeed in the post-season, small-market teams lacking the sizeable financial resources of the large-market teams had trouble competing with them. The attendance records and World Series titles from the late 1990s reflect this.

Since the late 1990s, though, some competitive balance has been restored to Major League Baseball and attendance levels finally returned to their pre-strike levels. While the `luxury tax' that was introduced in 2003, and which redistributes funds from richer teams to poorer teams, can take some credit, much credit also must go to Billy Beane and other creative general managers who used unique statistics to given their teams recruiting and performance advantages. And with these competitive advantages came better winning percentages and more fans in stadium seats. However, as more and more teams exploited Billy Beane's recruiting methods, the less of a competitive edge those methods provided.

Now, in June 2011, Major League Baseball again is facing questions about how to increase or simply maintain its attendance figures. While the league successfully avoided a potentially catastrophic labor strike in 2002 and has seemed to fair okay since the steroid issue began to rock baseball in the mid-2000s, the questions that Ms. Willers raised in her original study ten years ago still remain. At the core of the debates about Major League Baseball is the question of how teams can stay competitive and draw fans to their games when one of the biggest determinants of both on-field success and the number of fans in the stands is how much teams can afford to pay the players on the field? Until Major League Baseball successfully implements a salary cap, like other professional sports leagues have done, the answer to this question will continue to elude team owners and fans alike.

--Publisher, F Street Books June 2011

Reviews

An in-depth baseball experience. As an English tourist in the USA I went to watch a baseball game. Katharine's excellent book will certainly encourage more trips - to determine What Took Me Out to the Ball Game - on more frequent visits to America!

--J. Sales, August 2011

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