Tebow, Goats Lead To Minor League Attendance Rise

It’s not a surprise that Tim Tebow’s presence boosted attendance everywhere he went in 2017. Teams across the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues saw massive increases for games when the former football star was in town. The St. Lucie Mets, for whom Tebow played in the second half of the season, saw a 37.1 percent increase from their 2016 attendance (96,556) to their 2017 figure (132,359). With Tebow in tow, Minor League Baseball finished the season with 37,789,759 fans, an overall jump of 444,604 fans (1.2 percent) from 2016.

But it wasn’t all Tebow. Plenty of teams saw jumps in attendance without playing in the SAL or FSL. The Hartford Yard Goats got the biggest bump, obviously, by drawing 850 percent more fans than last year. How’d they do it? Easy. They actually had a stadium in 2017. That’s as opposed to 2016, when the team roamed the Eastern League while the boondoggle involving the construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park played out on the construction site and in the courts.

With that resolved, Hartford drew 395,156 to DDP this year, good for third in the Eastern League behind Reading and Richmond, the circuit’s traditional top finishers, after drawing just 41,569 to its road parade in 2016. When added together, the FSL and SAL’s Tebow bumps of 130,726 fans and Hartford’s extra 353,627 easily account for MiLB’s rise in attendance between 2016 and 2017.

After they received Tebow on June 28, St. Lucie played road series against seven teams: Charlotte, Clearwater, Florida, Fort Myers, Jupiter, Palm Beach and Tampa. Of those seven teams, four (Charlotte, Fort Myers, Florida and Tampa) set season home attendance highs on days Tebow was in town. The 9.8 percent attendance bump the FSL got (1,160,428 fans in 2017 compared to 1,056,800 last year) can be tied almost exclusively to Tebow.

The South Atlantic League, too, saw a bump, but it wasn’t nearly as significant. The SAL drew 0.9 percent more fans than last year (3,073,435 fans in 2017 compared to 3,046,337 in 2016) can also be tied to Tebow. That’s a difference of just 27,098 fans, which can be almost entirely comprised of of the 22,578 fans Hagerstown (which averaged just 1,080 fans per game) drew for its four-game series with Tebow and the Fireflies in May.

That particular series also helped give Hagerstown the boost it needed to finish outside of last place for the first time since 2010. As mentioned, the Suns drew 22,578 fans for their Tebow series. The margin between them and Kannapolis for last place in SAL attendance was just 15,069 fans. Kannapolis didn’t have the benefit of getting a series with Columbia before Tebow was promoted to the FSL.

Similarly, after moving back from Henley Field while Joker Marchant was being renovated, the Lakeland Flying Tigers saw a 156 percent increase from 2016. They drew 52,191 fans this year—and got to host the all-star game—as compared to 20,387 last year. On the other end of that spectrum, the franchise formerly known as the Bakersfield Blaze suffered the biggest attendance percentage drop this past season. In their final season in the California League, the Blaze drew 62,922 to Sam Lynn Ballpark. This year, in their first of two seasons as the Buies Creek Astros, the team welcomed 30,518 to Campbell University’s cozy Jim Perry Stadium.

The second-biggest percentage decrease in attendance came from another team that moved for 2017. The Brevard County Manatees moved from Space Coast Stadium to Kissimmee, Fla., changed affiliations from the Brewers to the Braves, and moved into Osceola County Stadium as the Florida Fire Frogs. The result? A drop of 27,708 fans (from 85,032 to 57,324) and a 32.6 percent decrease. That’s also in part because of the rain, which cost the Fire Frogs a staggering 17 home dates this year. Using their average 1,308 fans a game, the weather was responsible for the team missing out on 22,236 fans.

The biggest winner unaffected by Tebow this year? That would be the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, one of a spate of rebrands for 2017 (but the only one done without a fan vote to determine the name), which drew 65,450 more fans to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville than in 2016. That 25.1 percent increase represents the seventh-best in the minors (among full-season teams) and first among teams that could not have been affected by Tebow or a stadium change.

Ken Babby, the owner of the Jacksonville franchise since before the 2015 season, also oversaw the rebranding of the Akron Aeros into the Akron RubberDucks before the 2014 season. In their first season as the RubberDucks, the team saw an 18.7 percent increase in attendance. There were some similarities between the rebrands, Babby said, but they certainly weren’t identical.

“The rebranding process in Akron was different—every community is different. You would never come into Jacksonville and try to operate it like we do in Jacksonville, but there are some core principles in terms of listening to what our fans want and presenting it every night in an experience that is fun for families and affordable with something for everyone,” Babby said. “In both communities we’ve put in picnic areas like our tiki terrace (in Jacksonville) and built great fan experiences with exceptional food yet found ways to keep the costs very affordable. There are similar elements that you’d find if you walked into both ballparks, but really each community is different and we recognized the uniqueness of both markets.”

The Daytona Tortugas were also a big winner at the gate this year. Without the benefit of a Tim Tebow home game, the Tortugas saw a 21.6 percent increase in attendance from their 2016 figure, even with one more rainout on this year’s ledger. Part of that uptick can most certainly be linked to the addition of Ryan Keur, the former Burlington Royals general manager who joined Daytona this offseason after winning three consecutive Appy League executive of the year awards.

The Tortugas’ year included some killer promotions, including Jackie Robinson Night, where every player wore No 9, which Robinson wore when he first broke into the minor leagues; or Bob Ross Night, which included a bobblehead and a painting class; and Sager Strong Night, which included wacky jerseys and an appearance from Vince Carter. But that’s only three nights. Part of Keur’s mission this year included making sure fans had a reason to come to the ballpark every night.

“From the moment I got down here, it was really about engraving ourself within the community. I think we had some really innovative promotions that gained attention and steam throughout the year,” Keur said. “We looked at the calendar and said ‘We’ve got to give people a reason to come to the ballpark all 70 nights. It’s not just a Saturday fireworks night, but 70 nights of the year. We’ve got to give people a reason to come to the ballpark.

“And I think that was one of our biggest successes this year, just how consistent we were. From a Sunday to a Tuesday to a Saturday, we were really consistent in the way that we were attracting fans. We didn’t throw up a ton of duds where it was a just a really sparse crowd. The energy and atmosphere was there every single night, which was really exciting and a testament to our staff and how we approached it this year.”

The Johnson City Cardinals continued their rising attendance trend, drawing 25.7 percent more fans than last year to TVA Credit Union Ballpark. Part of that rise can be attributed to four straight years of selling beer after being a dry stadium for the rest of its history.

“I think this whole area in Johnson City and really the downtown area where our ballpark is located has changed dramatically since my first year when I got here in 2014,” Johnson City general manager Tyler Parsons said. “You see a bunch of growth here. The foot traffic’s completely changed. We’ve got a lot more recreation opportunities out here around the stadium, and it all ties in with our stadium. You can plan an entire day around a baseball game.”

From the Department of Remarkable Consistency, five teams managed to stay within single digits of their average attendance from 2016: The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (up two fans per game), Pensacola Blue Wahoos (up one), Kingsport Mets (down two), Oklahoma City Dodgers (down three) and Batavia Muckdogs (down five). The Northwest League also managed to keep the same order in terms of total attendance for the second straight season.

TEAM2017 TOTAL2017 AVGTEAM2016 TOTAL2016 AVGPCT CHANGE
Hartford Yard Goats395,1965,812Hartford Yard Goats41,569799850
Lakeland Flying Tigers52,191815Lakeland Flying Tigers20,387334156
Down East Wood Ducks145,7802,025High Desert Mavericks76,0511,10291.7
St. Lucie Mets132,3592,005St. Lucie Mets96,5561,42037.1
Pulaski Yankees77,8802,360Pulaski Yankees57,9951,87134.3
Tampa Yankees9,38231,422Tampa Yankees73,2781,16328
Bristol Pirates20,813671Bristol Pirates16,44153026.6
Charlotte Stone Crabs120,6851,916Charlotte Stone Crabs95,5881,59326.3
Johnson City Cardinals65,2021,976Johnson City Cardinals51,8551,67325.7
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp325,7435,171Jacksonville Suns264,4014,19823.2
Daytona Tortugas136,2242064,Daytona Tortugas112,0531,67221.6
Princeton Rays17,690536Princeton Rays14,63545720.9
Potomac Nationals236,0103,869Potomac Nationals195,4483,05420.8
Columbia Fireflies315,0344,773Columbia Fireflies261,1343,78520.6
Nashville Sounds593,6798,861Nashville Sounds504,0607,09917.8
Mahoning Valley Scrappers107,8942,997Mahoning Valley Scrappers92,1172,63217.1
Jupiter Hammerheads69,0641,046Jupiter Hammerheads59,30687216.5
Lynchburg Hillcats137,5662,084Lynchburg Hillcats122,9291,86311.9
Binghamton Rumble Ponies190,7653,289Binghamton Mets172,8592,61910.4
Clearwater Threshers200,2012,988Clearwater Threshers181,5942,71010.2
Great Falls Voyagers47,2601,244Great Falls Voyagers43,5001,2438.6
Las Vegas 51s359,0595,057Las Vegas 51s331,9994,8828.2
Altoona Curve294,4864,395Altoona Curve272,6404,1318
Memphis Redbirds350,0075,073Memphis Redbirds324581,4,7047.8
Vancouver Canadians239,5276,303Vancouver Canadians222,3636,1777.7
Salem Red Sox215,2443,311Salem Red Sox200,4783,0847.4
Arkansas Travelers328,3474,975Arkansas Travelers306,5704,7167.1
Tennessee Smokies313,7964,981Tennessee Smokies293,6944,3196.8
Syracuse Chiefs292,0544,636Syracuse Chiefs274,4274,1586.4
Midland RockHounds282,1464,211Midland RockHounds265,1933,9006.4
Kingsport Mets29,742901Kingsport Mets27,9909036.3
Iowa Cubs535,6607,763Iowa Cubs504,1607,4146.2
Boise Hawks121,4553,196Boise Hawks114,4763,0946.1
Inland Empire 66ers202,3362,891Inland Empire 66ers190,9332,7286.0
Everett AquaSox110,1612,899Everett AquaSox104,1622,8155.8
Billings Mustangs110,3112,903Billings Mustangs104,3152,8195.7
Augusta GreenJackets178,2692,743Augusta GreenJackets169,4212,6065.2
Spokane Indians196,6535,315Spokane Indians187,8485,0774.7
Springfield Cardinals331,2594,801Springfield Cardinals316,9904,7314.5
Greensboro Grasshoppers350,7435,235Greensboro Grasshoppers336,1215,1714.4
Charleston RiverDogs305,6224,494Charleston RiverDogs293,1614,3114.3
Albuquerque Isotopes542,5027,978Albuquerque Isotopes522,2667,7953.9
Danville Braves32,6341,053Danville Braves31,5409563.5
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders439,4126,462Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders424,9916,0713.4
Ogden Raptors128,3483,378Ogden Raptors124,2003,4503.3
Winston-Salem Dash304,6074,415Winston-Salem Dash295,4114,4763.1
New Orleans Baby Cakes349,8835,554New Orleans Zephyrs339,4005,1423.1
Eugene Emeralds125,2973,297Eugene Emeralds121,5873,2003.1
Bowling Green Hot Rods179,8392,855Bowling Green Hot Rods174,7222,6882.9
Visalia Rawhide126,4191,806Visalia Rawhide123,0791,7842.7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans233,1263,587Myrtle Beach Pelicans227,4913,5002.5
Rochester Red Wings445,5816,553Rochester Red Wings434,8976,3962.5
Columbus Clippers616,0599,060Columbus Clippers602,1718,8552.3
Tulsa Drillers374,9765,597Tulsa Drillers366,7345,3932.2
Erie SeaWolves214,3943,350Erie SeaWolves210,0403,0442.1
Hagerstown Suns84,1811,380Hagerstown Suns82,5261,2502
Lancaster JetHawks169,2372,418Lancaster JetHawks165,9472,4052
Lexington Legends281,2104,326Lexington Legends276,0624,3821.9
Lake Elsinore Storm199,6612,894Lake Elsinore Storm196,6842,8101.5
Oklahoma City Dodgers444,2246,533Oklahoma City Dodgers437,9056,5361.4
Frisco RoughRiders470,0036,812Frisco RoughRiders463,5647,0241.4
Dayton Dragons554,6388,038Dayton Dragons548,5748,1881.1
Williamsport Crosscutters61,0821,797Williamsport Crosscutters60,4291,7271.1
South Bend Cubs354,0705,285South Bend Cubs350,8035,0840.9
Omaha Storm Chasers358,7775,355Omaha Storm Chasers356,1355,3150.7
Pawtucket Red Sox409,9606,406Pawtucket Red Sox407,0976,0760.7
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes81,0112,132Salem-Keizer Volcanoes80,4692,1750.7
Indianapolis Indians641,1419,159Indianapolis Indians636,8888,9700.7
Asheville Tourists184,0192,706Asheville Tourists183,0582,7740.5
Trenton Thunder349,0135,133Trenton Thunder347,6615,0390.4
Mississippi Braves190,6452,889Mississippi Braves190,1302,8420.3
Rome Braves161,4442,374Rome Braves161,1212,4050.2
Toledo Mud Hens533,0147,614Toledo Mud Hens532,0087,8240.2
Durham Bulls547,8417,716Durham Bulls547,1567,5990.1
Grand Junction Rockies79,5472,150Grand Junction Rockies79,4702,0910.1
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes171,6222,452Rancho Cucamonga Quakes171,5092,4500.1
Charlotte Knights628,5269,109Charlotte Knights628,1738,9740.1
Cedar Rapids Kernels166,4272,378Cedar Rapids Kernels166,4132,4840.0
Round Rock Express610,6818,724Round Rock Express613,2268,637-0.4
Lake County Captains212,7473,223Lake County Captains213,7383,143-0.5
Tri-City Dust Devils86,4612,275Tri-City Dust Devils86,8862,286-0.5
Tacoma Rainiers374,9515,434Tacoma Rainiers377,1645,312-0.6
West Michigan Whitecaps383,9835,565West Michigan Whitecaps386,4165,683-0.6
Bowie Baysox234,7893,453Bowie Baysox236,3493,528-0.7
Delmarva Shorebirds207,1313,236Delmarva Shorebirds209,1203,217-1.0
Montgomery Biscuits228,3763,409Montgomery Biscuits230,7423,319-1.0
Fort Wayne TinCaps409,2535,931Fort Wayne TinCaps413,7016,084-1.1
Greenville Drive328,2224,899Greenville Drive331,9114,810-1.1
Richmond Flying Squirrels386,1856,034Richmond Flying Squirrels390,6935,745-1.2
Pensacola Blue Wahoos298,1084,320Pensacola Blue Wahoos302,3404,319-1.4
Vermont Lake Monsters82,6742,362Vermont Lake Monsters83,9552,332-1.5
Kane County Cougars394,5675,889Kane County Cougars400,9315,811-1.6
Missoula Osprey71,9361,893Missoula Osprey73,2071,979-1.7
Colorado Springs Sky Sox265,0954,208Colorado Springs Sky Sox270,1004,220-1.9
Akron RubberDucks343,3515,202Akron RubberDucks350,0775,074-1.9
State College Spikes123,4013,247State College Spikes125,8753,313-2.0
Carolina Mudcats190,4202,800Carolina Mudcats194,3343,036-2.0
San Jose Giants163,3732,368San Jose Giants166,7562,417-2.0
Reading Fightin Phils411,6986,054Reading Fightin Phils420,3206,092-2.1
Quad Cities River Bandits230,0063,286Quad Cities River Bandits234,9233,506-2.1
Fort Myers Miracle121,4382,024Fort Myers Miracle124,2731,912-2.3
Clinton LumberKings121,3021,838Clinton LumberKings124,1541,910-2.3
Harrisburg Senators262,8723,983Harrisburg Senators269,1723,901-2.3
Lansing Lugnuts303,8434,468Lansing Lugnuts311,1904,576-2.4
Stockton Ports184,1642,669Stockton Ports188,7322,735-2.4
Fresno Grizzlies428,3416,208Fresno Grizzlies439,3896,189-2.5
Northwest Arkansas Naturals304,0264,471Northwest Arkansas Naturals312,0014,457-2.6
Hillsboro Hops128,4163,379Hillsboro Hops131,8513,470-2.6
Orem Owlz55,9811,513Orem Owlz57,5041,554-2.6
Hudson Valley Renegades147,9363,998Hudson Valley Renegades152,3284,231-2.9
Frederick Keys303,9304,824Frederick Keys314,4434,838-3.3
Mobile BayBears92,8981,498Mobile BayBears96,1851,527-3.3
El Paso Chihuahuas544,6687,894El Paso Chihuahuas564,2597,837-3.4
Elizabethton Twins18,746586Elizabethton Twins19,427627-3.5
Great Lakes Loons202,4333,021Great Lakes Loons210,0543,044-3.6
Norfolk Tides359,2635,443Norfolk Tides373,0425,486-3.7
San Antonio Missions305,3514,557San Antonio Missions317,6074,603-3.9
Salt Lake Bees483,2026,903Salt Lake Bees503,6597,195-4.1
Lakewood BlueClaws338,5445,208Lakewood BlueClaws353,0805,350-4.1
Jackson Generals120,6951,775Jackson Generals126,1162,016-4.3
Tri-City ValleyCats142,9224,083Tri-City ValleyCats149,8474,281-4.7
Bluefield Blue Jays21,595697Bluefield Blue Jays22,651731-4.7
West Virginia Black Bears75,0642,029West Virginia Black Bears78,7742,188-4.7
Portland Sea Dogs356,1535,653Portland Sea Dogs374,7465354,-5.0
Reno Aces347,5024,894Reno Aces365,8835,227-5.0
Beloit Snappers64,236959Beloit Snappers67,9751,079-5.1
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers230,3263,438Wisconsin Timber Rattlers243,7673,585-5.5
Corpus Christi Hooks331,2424,871Corpus Christi Hooks350,9645,161-5.6
Chattanooga Lookouts209,9483,181Chattanooga Lookouts223,5173,193-6.0
Modesto Nuts147,5622,108Modesto Nuts157,2392,246-6.2
Idaho Falls Chukars90,8162,390Idaho Falls Chukars96,8662,549-6.2
Birmingham Barons391,7255,935Birmingham Barons418,3616,088-6.4
Buffalo Bisons526574,8,101Buffalo Bisons562,7558,039-6.4
Gwinnett Braves210,0753,135Gwinnett Braves225,2593,218-6.8
West Virginia Power133,6792,057West Virginia Power143,7552,212-7.0
Aberdeen IronBirds130,8233,964Aberdeen IronBirds141,0704,031-7.2
Biloxi Shuckers167,1512,572Biloxi Shuckers180,3842,692-7.3
Peoria Chiefs212,6593,174Peoria Chiefs230,2773,489-7.7
Louisville Bats467,0246,868Louisville Bats506,0307,127-7.7
Sacramento River Cats562,2378,032Sacramento River Cats609,6668,587-7.8
Batavia Muckdogs27,389806Batavia Muckdogs30,007811-8.7
Bradenton Marauders79,3311,301Bradenton Marauders87,1491,341-9.0
Lehigh Valley IronPigs555,1468,541Lehigh Valley IronPigs611,0158,729-9.1
Hickory Crawdads136,2252,129Hickory Crawdads150,1102,176-9.2
Lowell Spinners126,5653,516Lowell Spinners139,9433,782-9.6
Brooklyn Cyclones186,8535,190Brooklyn Cyclones207,7025,614-10.0
Helena Brewers33,843891Helena Brewers37,6241,075-10.0
Connecticut Tigers73,4392,225Connecticut Tigers82,4882,291-11.0
Burlington Bees67,0441,048Burlington Bees75,4291,109-11.1
Auburn Doubledays46,1321,281Auburn Doubledays52,8111,427-12.6
Greeneville Astros35,3051,139Greeneville Astros41,6511,262-15.2
New Hampshire Fisher Cats284,1084,735New Hampshire Fisher Cats338,3874,834-16.0
Wilmington Blue Rocks230,6773,845Wilmington Blue Rocks276,1994,316-16.5
Staten Island Yankees71,4012,040Staten Island Yankees85,5132,250-16.5
Palm Beach Cardinals58,832934Palm Beach Cardinals70,9911,076-17.1
Dunedin Blue Jays38,956573Dunedin Blue Jays50,593767-23.0
Kannapolis Intimidators69,1121,080Kannapolis Intimidators95,7571,473-28.0
Burlington Royals34,4831,045Burlington Royals49,2271,492-30
Florida Fire Frogs57,3241,082Brevard County Manatees85,0321,308-32.6
Buies Creek Astros30,518517Bakersfield Blaze62,922899-51.5
37,789,75937,345,155

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