On Thursday, Maury Brown posted the latest average attendance figures at the Biz of Baseball website.  It’s not really difficult to figure who is doing well and who isn’t.  If you win, they will come.  (Unless you’re in Tampa, where apparently they aren’t coming no matter what.)

The Royals, predictably, are down this year by roughly 2,800 people per game.  That represents the sixth largest average decrease from the 2009 season.  The numbers have been available all season, but seeing them online and in a table format got me to thinking…  Last year, the Royals had their best year at the gate since 1993.  A total of 1,797,887 fans hit the turnstiles in 2009, representing a 13.8% increase from the 2008 season.  That was the largest increase (percentage-wise), in all of baseball.  Given that overall attendance at all stadiums was down about 6.8% for the year, that was quite impressive.

Of course, the primary driving force behind the increase in paying customers was the spectacle of the renovated Kauffman Stadium.  In addition to all the shiny accoutrements that came with the renovated K, it also fueled the team’s record Opening Day payroll of $70.2 million.  “(The payroll increase) represents, in part, a good-faith response to the public’s support in funding $225 million in renovations to Kauffman Stadium,” Glass said in an article in the Star just ahead of the home opener.  It’s nice to give something back to the taxpayers who have been so generous.

Perhaps another reason for fans to flock to the stadium was to watch the starting pitching stylings of one Zack Greinke.  The Royals averaged 24,730 fans in Greinke home starts.  That’s a good theory, but I think we’re giving fans too much credit.  Four of the top five attendances in Greinke starts came on Buck Night.  It’s not only possible, it’s probable, that fans love their dollar hot dogs and peanuts more than watching a Cy Young candidate pitch.  He also started on two Hall of Fame Figurine nights that drew around 28k.

(Sorry to bust your bubble on that one.  Once you really dive into the attendance figures, it’s pretty clear that fans did not come to the stadium last summer with the express purpose to watch Greinke pitch.  They came for cheap food and freebies.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But maybe we shouldn’t pretend fans come out to watch great individual performances.)

Back to the topic at hand:  Attendance is down.  Since the Royals figured they would get a bounce from the renovations – and the “wow” factor of a new or renovated stadium quickly wears off (especially if you aren’t winning) I thought it was time to look at how the Royals compared to other teams who opened stadiums since 2000.

A couple of things before I unleash a table.  First, for the most part we are comparing a renovated stadium with a bunch of new stadiums.  Second, I expanded my scope to include the Angels, who opened their renovated stadium in 1998, because they are the only major league team to perform something similar to their home park.  And third, the numbers presented here are largely presented without comment.  It’s just an exercise to see how the Royals compare.  As I said, the comparison may or may not be fair.  Several factors (economic climate, team status, etc.) need to be considered when evaluating anything with attendance numbers.  This is painting with a broad brush.

The table follows.  It lists the team’s average attendance in the first year in their new home and the average attendance for the second year.

* Renovated stadiums.
** Thru games of 9/8.

— The Cardinals and the Yankees are the only teams to post gains the year after opening their new park.  The Cards got a bounce from a World Title (2006) and the Yankees were fairly aggressive in cutting costs of some premium tickets.

—  It’s interesting that the Royals and Angels are pretty close in their second year declines.  When the renovations were unveiled at the Big A, the Angels were a team scuffling for relevance in the AL West and finished last in the division in their second seasons in their refurbished home.  Sound familiar?

OK… For fun, let’s look at how the attendances stacked up for the Royals by adding the prior two seasons into the mix:
2007 – 19,961
2008 – 19,986
2009 – 22,473
2010 – 19,987

Apart from that bump in ’09, that’s a pretty steady fan base.  Uhh… The Royals are averaging exactly one more paying customer this year than in 2008?  That’s crazy.

So the honeymoon with the renovated K is history.  $225 million in taxpayer funds bought a merry go round, a party deck and a one year bump of about 2,500 more fans per game.  And nobody gives a damn about the deck and the carnival in the outfield anymore.

This is a once proud franchise that drew over 2 million fans for five consecutive years back in the glory days.  They haven’t really come close to that since the dark days arrived.  Hopefully, the Royals will see a bump in attendance soon.  Because they’re winning.