From the “Math is hard” files

Inside this article on the Astros’ poor home attendance numbers so far comes the following mathematical muddle.

Through May 20, only 10 of the 30 teams in the majors were seeing an increase in average attendance over last year. Of the 20 teams experiencing a decline, the Astros — at 13 percent — were one of nine whose average was down more than 10 percent. Among the others are the New York Yankees (14 percent) and New York Mets (22 percent), who not only are winning but would have figured to benefit from the fact they’re playing in new parks.

ESPN has a handy dandy reference page for MLB attendance going back to 2001, so you can examine the numbers for yourself. It’s true that the Yankees, who nonetheless still have the best average home and overall attendance in baseball, have seen their numbers decline since last year. It’s also true that last year they were in a stadium that had nine percent more seats (57,500 to 52,235) than they do now. In fact, if they were filling every seat this year, their attendance would still be down from last year’s 53,069 mark. If they were filling seats at the same 92.3% rate as last year, their attendance would be down nine percent. What I would actually say is that their attendance is down eight percent relative to last year, because they’re at 85.2% of capacity this year, and 85.2 is an eight percent decline from last year’s 92.3. That’s a definite issue, one having to do with their pricing model for tickets, and it’s certainly gotten their attention. But however you present it, if you’re going to talk about how their attendance is down despite having a new stadium, I think you’re leaving something out if you don’t mention the reduced capacity in that new stadium.

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