Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Truth About Yankees Fans

What better time to talk about the New York Yankees fan base, than two weeks after the 27th World Series Championship in team history. Yes, the Bronx Bombers are the most successful franchise in the history of professional sports. Yankees “faithful” have been filling “The Stadium” to root on their heroes for decades…or have they?

It’s difficult to debate that when a team is winning, “they will come”. Since the mid-nineties, the Yankees have clearly given every reason for their fan base to make their way to the South Bronx to watch a Championship caliber team dispose of the “victim du jour”. There’s no question that this franchise that officially became the “New York Yankees” in 1913, has featured some of the game’s greatest players, on some of the greatest teams. Decades of dominance, beginning in the early 1920’s, with legendary players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and later Joe DiMaggio, fueled the desire of baseball fans to rally around New York’s pinstriped players.

If one spends some time in New York City, or many other major US metropolitan areas for that matter, it quickly becomes apparent that the Yankees are not simply one of New York’s two baseball teams, and one of 30 Major League Baseball teams. The Bombers have become much more than a member of the American League East. The Yankees are “America’s Team”. The questions is…when did this happen?

The incredible success that the Yankees enjoyed in the 20’s through the early 60’s eventually faded, as the franchise began to experience the peaks and valleys that most other sports teams endure. As the 1990’s got under way, however, the Yankees seemed to separate themselves from the rest of the league in a number of ways.

Firstly, the Yankees began to dominate as they hadn’t done in decades. Furthermore, game-day attendance soared to record levels. Additionally, the team payroll began to increase at a rate that left the rest of the league well behind. The extraordinary success and popularity led to revenue opportunities that were, and remain, unmatched by any other team in Major League Baseball. The Yankees had gained the advantage of being able to significantly outspend the rest of the league for the services of premium free agents.

What is the point, you ask? I contend that with the exception of the “Jeter Generation”, which began in 1995, an overwhelming number of present-day Yankees fans coincidently hopped on the Yankee vessel in the mid-Nineties, contrary to what the vast majority of “die-hards” will admit.

A snapshot of New York City baseball attendance data will support this conclusion.

In 1985, the New York Yankees drew an average of 27,510 fans per game. The cross-town rival New York Mets drew an average of 34,094 fans per game. This trend continues as follows:

1986 Yankees 28,000 Mets 34,168 (Mets win World Series)

1987 Yankees 29,971 Mets 37,458

1988 Yankees 32,717 Mets 38,193

1989 Yankees 26,983 Mets 36,033

1990 Yankees 24,771 Mets 33,738

1991 Yankees 23,009 Mets 28,379

1992 Yankees 21,589 Mets 21,970

1993 Yankees 29,839 Mets 23,126

1994 Yankees 29,656 Mets 20,380

1995 Yankees 23,521 Mets 17,683

1996 Yankees 27,789 Mets 19,609 (Yankees win World Series)

The attendance data shows that between 1985 and 1992, Yankees “faithful” stayed away from the Bronx, in favor of the surging New York Mets. It wasn’t until 1993, the year following a 90-loss Mets season, when Yankees Stadium began to reclaim thousands of fans that had been lost during the successful run of the Mets.

Not for one moment would I pretend that an enormous number of “fans” that attended Shea from 1985-1992 bothered returning until the late 1990’s. We can all agree that success breeds attendance. The point is rather a questioning of the undying loyalty that is preached in New York and around the country from the vast majority of Yankees “fans”. Had the Yankee fan base truly been comprised of die-hards, the 1985-1992 attendance swoon would have never happened.

It will be interesting to see what happens to fan support during the next Yankees valley, although considering the current economic advantage the Yankees possess, it may be awhile.

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