16 February 2016

Do Childhood Memories Affect Attendance?

Not long ago, I found myself late to a discussion about whether a person's favorite team being good when they were a kid makes them more likely to be a fan as an adult. The natural corollary would be that kids growing up around a bad team would be less engaged with the team later in life. This clearly isn't the case, as the Cleveland Browns continue to play in front of dozens of people (shots fired). 

But whether people have childhood memories of joyful success or soul-crushing sadness of their favorite team may affect how big of a fan they are - their magnitude of fandom, so to speak. By treating attendance as a proxy for magnitude of fandom in a region, I was able to measure whether childhood memories, good or bad, have an affect on adults.

I expanded a (pretty good!) season-long attendance regression I built while writing for BSL to include combinations of new parameters that measure extreme seasons 20 years in the past. To make sure I captured a chunk of a fan's formative years, I used a range of 5 years around the season 20 years ago. Parameters for predicting attendance in the 2014 season would be 1992-1996, for example. The parameters listed below were selected as examples of extreme seasons, both successful and not:
  • >= 100 wins
  • playoff berth
  • World Series berth
  • <= 65 wins
  • division cellar
I built multiple regressions with varying combinations of these parameters, which all seemed to predict attendance pretty well. The chart below shows the ability of each regression, categorized by parameters used, to forecast attendance:

...but there's a real issue with the inclusion of these parameters. While the scores look great and the extreme memories may make sense to some, the coefficients were generally opposite of what would be expected. For instance, if you were to believe that a childhood World Series berth makes people more likely to be fans, you would expect it to carry a positive coefficient. That would indicate that it is a positive event that drives attendance among adults. The regression that included parameters for childhood World Series and cellar-dwelling memories that has an R^2 value of nearly 0.98 assigns the following coefficients (shown in green against the blue "no memory" control regression) to its parameters:
These coefficients are entirely out of sync with our expectations; they suggest that teams winning the pennant or even making the playoffs as a wildcard that year are pushing fans away, and memories of a World Series berth make people incredibly unlikely to go to games as an adult. It doesn't matter what its alleged predicted value is. This model is not grounded in any reasonable hypothesis and it's overfit to the data added to it.

The only regression that appeared to have any semblance of modeling reality is one that only includes memories of the team in the cellar:

No coefficients radically changed direction, although it appears additional emphasis is placed on rostering a All Star starter and winning a wild card at the expense of winning a pennant. And it seems to predict that high beer and hot dog prices attract more fans. At least memories of being in the cellar pushes people away from attending.

I tend to favor the original model that doesn't include extreme memories, in particular because I don't believe very young fans know the difference between their team being in 4th or 5th in their division. In fact, I don't think very young fans care very much about the on-field product, and are more likely to harbor positive memories of spending time with their family at the ballpark. Those memories are far more likely to make adults want to return the favor with their own kids.

And anyway, as always, the most important coefficient is how well the team is doing in that season. It makes sense. It's not hard to tell over 162 games whether a team is good, and fans want to see an exciting team that gives them a good chance to go home happy.

In other words, you're all bandwagoners.


Roger said...

Very interesting but I think missing a lot. I have a lot to say and it may take me multiple posts to say it. First, you have to factor in "access" including the fact that media has changed so much in the last 50 years. I grew up in south central Alabama and my baseball awakening was in 1969, so naturally I attached myself to the Atlanta Braves (the only team I could listen to almost all the games on the radio for) and the Baltimore Orioles (I'm a lefty and a lifelong Dave McNally fan and my best friend was obsessed with Brooks). Naturally that led me to one obvious conclusion - I hate and abhor the Mets - even though they were media darlings and underdogs at the time. I continued to root for the O's as they had their dynasty in the 70's and, of course, hate the Yankees too (and the A's). But my home team was Atlanta as it was everyone south of VA and east of Houston - there were no other teams located in the sunbelt. In fact, the O's were the closest American League team. I stuck with the Braves all the way through the horrible 70's and the even worse late 80s. The Braves DESERVED the 90's more than any other team. So proximity is another part of "access" that needs to be considered.

Another factor is minor league baseball. The south was a halcyon place for minor league baseball because there were no major leagues before 1966. I grew up with the Montgomery Rebels - a farm team for the Tigers at the time (strange connection). I was one of the first to watch the "Bird" and Whitacker/Trammell grow up. So I used to have some affinity for the Tigers (which has faded). Teams were not so tied to geographic connections to the minors so affinities were more widespread.

Also, my explanation above tells you another thing - more teams lose than win. If your favorite team is not always winning then a lot of teams are beating them. Just from my affinity for the O's and Braves, I dislike the Mets, Yankees, Reds, A's, Phillies, Blue Jays, and others to a lesser extent. Liking one team means disliking several so, statistically, winning would lead to a lot more "dislike" than "like" because so many people's favorite teams lose to the winners.

The changing media situation is a key element too. Ted Turner turned Atlanta into America's Team and I was thrilled that I liked a team I could watch on TV more than 80 times a year no matter where I lived - I miss that a lot but am an avid watcher of MASN, of course.

Roger said...

Oh yes, the Dodgers. hate the LA Dodgers (but as a baseball history buff love the Brooklyn Dodgers).

Unknown said...

If your idea that children become adult baseball fans because of positive memories at the ballpark, then I can see that a winning team might be a hindrance. Winning teams raise ticket prices. There's more competition for tickets. The crowds are just larger. I can see that the "family of four" might be discouraged from attending games if they have to pay more, fight larger crowds, and settle for worse seats. On the other hand, losing teams generally promote more, have smaller crowds, etc.- it's just easier to go to a game when the team isn't winning.

Unknown said...

Roger, you're absolutely right - proximity is critical to attendance. There's a lot that goes into fandom, and a lot that comes from being a fan. Attendance is just one of those things. It just happens to be much easier to measure attendance than hat ownership. That being said, each team seems to have a baseline attendance and people's actions have inertia, so that attendance in a previous season is a strong indicator of attendance in the current season. Winning (or losing) seems to have the biggest marginal affect on baseline attendance in a given season.

And yes, TV changes a lot! It's easier than ever to be a fan of an out-of-town team, which you might argue would depress attendance around the league.

Unknown said...

Joe, I should clarify that I think positive memories of the ballpark are more important to attendance as an adult than memories of winning. I also think that memories are very much secondary to habit and quality of the current team in determining season-long attendance. I agree that it's easier to get to games when a team is bad. I went to 20 Orioles games in 2011, but the crowds were sparse. There were much bigger crowds at any given Orioles game in 2014. A cheap day at the park is nice, but in general, people are more inclined to pay for tickets to see a win.

Roger said...

Patrick, I guess I was not addressing attendance directly because I never had much access. The closest park was 180 miles away. I did go to Fulton County a few times in the 70s but the experience was unremarkable except for seeing the Braves get pasted (and once seeing Schmidt and Luzinski hit HRs in the same game - Luzinski twice - sheesh!). I also went to the Astrodome a few times and the best part of that experience was being able to move down to the mezzanine by the sixth inning. It still irks me that it's not easy to that at OPACY. So seating space is certainly a consideration especially if you want to eat food. I don't know about other parks but OPACY offers enough of an experience that it, by itself could have some draw especially if, as Joe would say, they keep prices down as much as possible. Overall, my link to a team has nothing to do with my attendance at the park. It's like choosing a movie. there's lots of places that show the same movie so the theater becomes the method to choose. Although, I have been to the Trop and have been hoping they tear it down ever since.

Unknown said...

Roger, I personally agree that my link to a team has little to do with my willingness to attend a game. I didn't grow up watching baseball, although when I started, I didn't have much of a choice but to be an Orioles fan. When I travel, I'll happily attend a game at any ballpark regardless of who is playing to experience a new stadium.

To your point about access, there are plenty of people that grew up around one team and have since moved away from their hometown. Even if childhood memories play a role in fandom, those people aren't able to attend games anyway. That's part of the reason that I disregard childhood team quality as a real driver of attendance. I don't know that happy family memories change attendance for any specific team either, but they may make individuals more likely to see a game regardless of where they're living.

Boss61 said...

Wow could I ever write a tome on this. It is late and I will not. For our family, its simple:

I grew up watching great Orioles teams. I saw all three World Championships in person. I have held season tickets since being shut down for home World Series ticket distribution in 1983. Now my kids are Orioles fans too, because we went to games when they are little as I had with my Dad.

The Orioles teams my kids saw as they were growing up, sucked. Playoff changes were non-existent and losing 90+ games was commonplace. Now we did sometimes leave games early, or skip going in iffy weather, but we still attended 10 or more games each year.

And when as teenagers, they saw the O's field a competitive team and make an improbable playoff run in 2012, they were as thrilled as I was during the glory years. Yes, the current rendition is more flawed, but my kids watched the team get assembled and the players develop. They are invested, no less than I was a generation ago.

This family bonding, chromosomal hand-me-down aspect of the baseball experience seems undervalued if not missing in your analysis.