Was The Scott Kazmir Trade a White Flag?

I have a longstanding debate between Michael Weber on Twitter over whether the Scott Kazmir deal represented the Rays’ waving the white flag. Something I have wanted to do –and for some reason hadn’t until now—is see just how the Rays’ attendance shifted once the trade happened. To my surprise, the gates at Tropicana Field did see fewer folks per average following the trade than before.

The usual disclaimers must be made before approaching the data. Correlation does not equal causation. Tying the attendance dip to the Kazmir deal alone is erroneous, as the time following the deal witnessed the team falling out of playoff contention entirely. What turns my head are two series in particular. On August 15 of 2009 I essentially wrote the team’s playoff hopes off –as their odds had fallen under 14%– a few days later they hosted the Orioles for a three-game set and drew roughly 17,000 per. Nearly a month to the days, the team again hosted the Orioles for a mid-week series and drew a little under 10,500 per game.

The other canary in the coalmine happens to be the Red Sox series that came immediately after the Kazmir trade. The teams played a Tuesday-through-Thursday series while averaging fewer than 20,000 fans per game. This is unfortunate because the same matchup drew nearly 31,000 per on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of early August. Whether the fans lost interest because of the Kazmir deal or because the team was slipping out of contention is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: they lost interest. Consider the team’s average attendance numbers over the final six home series since 2008:

Inflating the numbers for 2010 is the Rays’ decision to give away free tickets for the finale. Nonetheless, the 2009 season remains the misfit. Before the Kazmir trade, the Rays were averaging 24,169 folks per game in the 18 games afterwards they drew 19,574 (as the graphic shows). If you are of the camp thinking Kazmir either is the reason or is a large part of the reason the Rays strayed from contention, then the trade’s impact on gate revenue can easily be estimated using Team Marketing’s Fan Cost Index and the Rays’ average attendance numbers.

The financial documents leaked early last year only showed the 2007 and 2008 figures and these are estimates for a reason, as they only take into account the average price for a ticket without an eye towards premium games and their affect on attendance. In other words, while the Rays charged less for a ticket to see the team host the Orioles, they likely drew more fans to the games with higher priced tickets, thus making more money than the estimates will show. Still, the 2007 estimate came within $4 million, so while there is an implied error bar, there should be traces of validity to these numbers as well.

The table is hopefully intuitive, if not: the scenarios are exactly as they sound. If the attendance had stayed the same, then the Rays would have racked in nearly $8 million in gate revenue –roughly $1.5 million more than they actually drew. Whereas if attendance simply split the difference, then the team would have still made nearly a million more through the gate alone –who knows how that difference plays into concession dollars and even season ticket sales for the next season.

The Rays seemingly did come out ahead financially in 2009 even without taking future commitments into the calculus. Kazmir was paid $6 million during the season and if the salary was paid in seven portions, then the Rays saved roughly $1.74 million by trading him when they did, making up for the revenue loss, albeit only slightly. Make no mistake, the team did not make up the difference between making the playoffs and not (the leaked documents pegged their 2008 playoff appearance around $18 million); just the estimated difference in revenue should the attendance numbers remained static through season’s end.

Whether the public saw the Kazmir trade as an act of disarmament or not is unclear, but they certainly reacted around that time.

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2 Responses to Was The Scott Kazmir Trade a White Flag?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Was The Scott Kazmir Trade a White Flag? | The Process Report -- Topsy.com

  2. professortwain says:

    Great analysis. I think that a lot of fans did view this as a white flag. Too bad, because it was a sound move, as anyone who had seen Kazmir’s pitching deteriorate during 2009 could guess. I saw him start a game with something like 10 straight balls and nary a strike earlier that season. Post trade play supports the wisdom of the trade.

    Rays fans are going to have to get used to a different kind of baseball team, that is much like a college team that graduates its favorite players, but constantly brings in exciting young talent. I find that approach exciting and it is a strategy that can allow us to beat teams that spend a lot more money than the Rays. Buy low, sell high.