Predicting the attendance for a Columbus Crew game can be a risky proposition. There are a relatively large number of variables that can impact the size of a crowd for any given day. Some of the biggest appear to be:
- What will the weather be?
- Does the opposition have a marketable player like David Beckham?
- Are the team on a hot streak?
- Is there a competing sports event, like an OSU football game at the same time?
- Is it summer yet?
I’ve tried to build a statistical model of these and many other factors in the past, but so far haven’t found much success. One of the clearest patterns, however, is that the attendance for the second home game of a season is usually significantly smaller than for the home opener.
The chart above illustrates the attendance drop for each season in team history. Only two times in the past 18 years has the crowd gotten larger for the second game – and that was after two of the worst-attended openers in history (2010 and 2011).
On average, more than 4,000 fewer people attend the second game of a season than came through the gates for the opener.
One other pattern that emerges from the above chart is that game two attendance has almost always been below 15,000. The two exceptions were in the team’s inaugural season and in its first year in Crew Stadium.
Another way to look at these data points is via a scatterplot. The chart above compares attendance from a home opener (horizontal axis) with the corresponding attendance at the second game (vertical axis). The gray dashed line from lower left to upper right is the line of equilibrium – the farther a point is from that line, the greater the change in attendance. Even the last two years (shown in yellow dots) have seen significant declines.
There is a significant amount of noise in this plot. If we examine only the years in Crew Stadium, a best-fit linear model through these data points generates a relatively low R2 value of 0.1839 (a value of 1.000 is perfect). Using this as a starting point, however, if we plot this year’s home opener attendance as the vertical yellow line, it looks like we could expect a crowd of around 13,000 this weekend.
(As an aside, if we include the data from all years the model improves significantly to an R2 value of 0.3941 – although the predicted attendance for this weekend is still around 13-14,000.)
Feeling the Weather
There is another way to look at these data points, however. As I was mentioning these thoughts last night on Twitter, my colleague from MatchNight, C. Lee Smith, asked me how temperature might impact this data.
The chart above shows that illustration. In this case, I’ve removed the data points for 1996 and 1999 as significant outliers. Including those years actually produces a better R2 value (0.3938 compared to 0.2445) but including those exceptional years doesn’t pass a sniff test of examining weather’s role in game two attendance.
Interestingly, if we plot Saturday’s expected temperature of 49 degrees, this model indicates a lower anticipated attendance. Only 11,500 fans would be expected under the terms of this model.
A New Era?
Against this backdrop is a competing – and much newer – narrative.
— Chris LaMacchia (@chrislamacchia) March 30, 2014
The new sales regime at the Crew, bolstered by the energy around Andrew Precourt’s new ownership and fed by coach Gregg Berhalter’s on-field impact, may significantly change the attendance. Chris’ note above about using Nordecke sales as a proxy for the general stadium attendance gives a hint of what could be the new dynamic – one in which near-capacity crowds could become the norm, even in temperatures that historically kept crowds low.
It doesn’t hurt that Saturday’s opponent, Toronto FC, made the biggest waves in the offseason transfer market when they signed Michael Bradly and Jermain Defoe.
Which of these narratives will prove most accurate? Will the Crew draw a sizable game two crowd for the first time in more than a decade? While this question pales in comparison to the drama of the unfolding (unbeaten) season, I can’t say I won’t be looking for the attendance figure on Saturday night.