Saturday, May 11, 2013

Baseball in Montreal--R.I.P.

During the broadcast of the Cubs 7-3 loss to the Nationals on Friday, May 10th, Len Kasper (@LenKasper) commented to his broadcast partner Jim Deshaies that he hoped that baseball would return to Montreal some day, be it through relocation or expansion. That woke me out the dull stupor the Cubs play had put me in.

I wrote some time back on baseball attendance trends and used two general concepts--the percent of stadium capacity a team filled and the percent of a team's metropolitan area population they drew in a year. They're not perfect numbers, but they give a sense of the excitement of the fandom and how well they turn out. This first chart is a busy one:

It's a two-axis chart, with the left axis being average attendance and the right the percent of stadium capacity that was filled. The Expos played in Jerry Park until Olympic Stadium opened, and while there were brief bursts of turnout in the years when they had competitive teams (the early 80s and mid 90s), attendance didn't reflect a passionate fan base. It also flies completely against the grain of the overall increase in attendance that began in approximately 1982--well, everywhere except Montreal.

My 70-year-old neighbor is mowing this 50-year-old's lawn--is this a great country or what? This chart shows what percentage of Montreal's metropolitan market came out by year:

There were numerous facets that led to this--the lack of a 100+ year baseball tradition in Canada, so-so teams and indifferent management that didn't take the steps required to increase attendance, etc. But it worked In Toronto, at least when they were competitive. I won't show the charts, but Toronto drew over 3 million fans from 1989-1993--of course, they had two World Series champions AND a new ballpark in that time frame. They're back in the doldrums now with attendance around 2 million a year, but they haven't been competitive in years.

I know at least one 670 The Score listener who would be ecstatic if baseball returned to Montreal, and any excuse to bring this guy back can't be all bad:

Actually, that would be a problem, since he's wearing Canadiens gear now. In a year (or years) in which the Cubs are going to be difficult to watch at best, Len and Jim are about the only reason to tune in to games. Len's knowledge and insights are first-rate and Deshaies shows a genuine desire to know more of the newer metrics that Len frequently uses on the broadcast.

Tom Ricketts will tear out the bleachers in Wrigley Field and have all outfield seating courtesy of the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association (and let them have ALL the revenue) before baseball returns to Montreal.

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