Chart: The rise and fall of PawSox attendance at McCoy Stadium

My post about the relative success of the PawSox even after their post-2005 attendance slide drew a number of interesting responses, many of which speculated that a longer look at the data would show 2005 was an aberration triggered by the Boston team’s historic World Series victory the prior year.

It’s a good point. So I dug up PawSox attendance data going back to 1990, as tracked by the International League. Here’s what it shows:

PawSox attendance at McCoy Stadium, 1990-2014

Attendance was quite low back in 1990 – just under 300,000 for the season. It climbed over the next two years, then jumped to 466,000 in 1993, and stayed around that level for the next five years.

Then comes the first major attendance bump, during the 1999 season, when it jumped 25% to 597,000. That seems easily explainable: McCoy Stadium had undergone a major renovation before the start of that year. Dan McGowan notes that’s also the year Fenway Park hosted the All-Star Game (where Ted Williams was famously honored).

There was a one-off spike in 2001, to 648,000, and then two record years during and after Boston’s World Series victory as attendance hit 657,000 in 2004 and 688,000 in 2005. It’s fallen fairly steadily since then with the exception of 2008, another season that followed a Boston championship.

One interesting thing to note: the Red Sox won a third World Series victory in that time frame, in 2013, but it didn’t have anywhere near the impact the first two did. Attendance went up less than 2% in the championship year, to 540,000, then fell to a new post-renovation low last year.

There are any number of potential explanations for what’s going on with PawSox attendance. New co-owner Jim Skeffington argues McCoy is decaying and uninviting, which is why a Providence ballpark is needed. Baseball’s popularity seems to be sagging, which could be hurting McCoy (though some dispute the assertion). The Boston team has finished last in the AL East in three of the last four seasons (the exception being, amazingly enough, a championship year). The Rhode Island economy, as you may have noticed, has been less than robust over the last decade, leaving residents with less disposable income.

Update: My colleagues Dan McGowan and Shaun Towne also note a paradox – the PawSox have fielded really good teams in recent years, with the team winning the International League championship in 2012 and 2014 and coming in second in 2013. But there’s not much sign success on the field by the team itself has been correlated with attendance in recent years.

Update #2: Another theory, from the Pawtucket Times’ Brendan McGair:

Update #3: Alex Krogh-Grabbe broadens the picture with a look at the whole league.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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