On Sunday, I was at Yankee Stadium for the first time since April. Not much changes at the Stadium from month to month, even sometimes from year to year. Maybe a new vendor is added, or removed, but for the most part, I could guide you through blind-folded. That wasn’t the case this time. While making my way around the concourse, I was struck by the saturation of Aaron Judge-related merchandise. Sure, I had seen most of it on television, but seeing it in person was actually quite mind-boggling—t-shirts with his face, hats with his face, LEGO figurines, “All Rise” shirts, jersey patches, pins, foam gavels, judge robes, and phony, powdered wigs.
I have been visiting the Stadium for about 15 years now, through the apex of the Yankees dynasty, and I have never seen anything like that. The amount the Yankees organization has captured the excitement of this young team, evidenced through the nature of this display, was fascinating to see.
That’s why it wasn’t all too surprising when I read a report from Awful Announcing that the August 1st game against the Tigers had the best ratings (5.01 average) since Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium. There’s a lot more than that: their July average (3.67) was higher than any of their last five July’s, and their overall viewership has jumped 50% over last year.
Their attendance, as well, has seen a spike. Currently they are on pace for 3.18 million in attendance, a 4% increase from last year, and about on pace with where they were when they made the postseason in 2015. They’re still a long way off from the 3.7 million they drew in 2009, but not as far off as one would think. With Sonny Gray in the fold and a tight pennant/division race ahead, packing the house each night would put them very close to their best number in years.
This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, and I’ll just say that firstly it’s an indictment of ownership’s philosophy on fan engagement since the rebuild began. I give them credit for allowing Brian Cashman to follow through on an organization retooling, but their insistence on penny-pinching at odd times, not signing Robinson Cano, thinking Aroldis Chapman would be the true fan attraction, and milking retirement tours means the Steinbrenners don’t really know that all of that is window dressing. The true attraction is merely... a really good and exciting team.
The best predictor for attendance is, funnily enough, run differential. Teams invest tons of money on marketing and ticketing and fan outreach, yet what really puts butts in the seats and gets eyeballs on the screens is, on average, scoring more runs than your opponents. That’s not all, of course. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius, for example, are actually good personalities, and being able to market people as much as numbers on a scorecard. The reason the Yankees are popular again isn’t just that they’re good again, but because if you ask a non-baseball fan on the street, they probably know who Judge is. Name recognition matters.
This probably isn’t news to anyone, but it’s definitely another empirical way of showing that the Yankees are “back,” for whatever that’s worth. If they don’t make it into the postseason and make a run, though, it could be for naught. The much-beloved Mets core got a collective shrug from New York fans this year, and these fans wouldn’t hesitate to do the same if things went south. This is a team on the upswing in more ways than one, so it’ll be interesting to see how the later parts of the season affect attendance and ratings through the end of the year and into 2018.