The New York Yankees came up short in their pursuit of another world championship during the 2011 season. They didn't reach the World Series in the first place, nor did they so much as reach the ALCS, having been eliminated by the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the playoffs. In that sense, the Yankees' season was a disappointment. But in what surely comes as satisfying consolation, the Yankees did finish the year atop one leaderboard. They actually finished the year atop several leaderboards, but they finished atop one leaderboard in particular that I'm going to talk about here.
Everybody is familiar with home attendance statistics. Home attendance statistics are what make the Boston Red Sox look good, and what make the Tampa Bay Rays look bad. But there are also road attendance statistics, which you can find over at ESPN. And by looking at the road attendance statistics from 2011, we may observe the following two things:
- As visitors, the Yankees drew the biggest average crowd, total
- As visitors, the Yankees drew the biggest average crowd, by percent capacity
This isn't a huge surprise. What makes it more interesting is when you examine the track record. The Yankees drew the biggest road crowds in 2010, as well. They were second in 2009, and fourth (by percent) in 2008, and then...well, ESPN provides these numbers going back to 2001. Where have the Yankees come out over the years?
Pretty steady. Aside from two drops - in rank, but not percent capacity - the Yankees have made a habit of finishing first, here. They've dominated this statistical category for at least the last 11 years. When the Yankees have played, people have come out to watch them, no matter where they were.
Of course, road attendance numbers are fraught with issues, or biases. A team's numbers might be inflated or deflated based on how their road games are split up. For this reason, we can't read too deeply into, say, the fact that the Angels had the smallest average road crowd in 2011. But I don't think the Yankees have been getting an unfair boost. They've played a bunch of games in Boston every year, sure, but they've also played a bunch of games in Tampa, Baltimore and Toronto. The Yankees have earned this, by being the Yankees.
Why have the Yankees drawn so well in the past, and why have they continued to draw so well lately? I think we can narrow this down to a few major reasons, none of which will rattle the earth you stand on:
They are massively popular
You know who likes the Yankees? The plurality of baseball fans. If somebody is just getting into baseball, he's more likely to root for the Yankees than any other team, and this has been true for a while. They're also the most well-known team in the league, even to people who don't know baseball at all. This is a sure-fire way to bring people out.
Their hometown fans are everywhere
Yankees fans from New York end up settling all over the place. Additionally, Yankees fans from New York seem to travel well, relative to fans of other teams in other cities, which might have something to do with how difficult it can be to score Yankees tickets at home. It also might not. What I know is that it's not rare to run into a New Yorker when you're not in New York.
They are massively hated
Surprise! Most of the baseball fans who don't like the Yankees don't like the Yankees. They'll tell you that they even hate the Yankees. The Yankees are the original hateable baseball team. This is a draw because it increases the potential payoff for a fan of the home team. By attending, he could be rewarded with the satisfaction of watching his team beat the Yankees, and also with the satisfaction of having that happen in front of a bunch of Yankees fans. Everybody loves to observe a disappointed Yankees fan.
In more recent years, there's been a lot of attention paid to the fact that Red Sox Nation tends to take over other ballparks. And it's true, it does. Red Sox fans swarm over other stadiums like flies on beached seaweed. And because Sox fans have come out in droves, home fans have been more likely to come out as well in response. So the Red Sox have wound up one of baseball's biggest draws. But they still don't match up with the Yankees. In this and so many other ways, they still don't match up with the Yankees.