Monday, August 8, 2011

A Three Followed by Six Zeros

The local press, such as it sadly is for what would be the fourth largest city in America, celebrated the Brooklyn Cyclones being the fastest short-season baseball team to reach 3,000,000 in attendance.  However, neither The Brooklyn Paper nor the Brooklyn Daily Eagle put this accomplishment into any sort of context.  Allow me, historically and statistically.

It is not surprising to me that Brooklyn has supported the Cyclones, now in their 11th season.  The histories of Brooklyn and baseball are intimately entwined.  New York and Brooklyn, separate cities until 1898, were the center of the baseball world in the years before the Civil War and by the late-1850s, the latter was dominant.

An 1860 "national" tour by the Brooklyn Excelsiors, made possible by the growth of the rail roads, popularized the game from Buffalo to Baltimore to Boston.  Brooklyn was home to the Union (below) and Capitoline "grounds," the first two enclosed ballparks.  The ability to charge admission to games contributed significantly to the development of baseball as a professional sport.

The Baseball Hall of Fame credits Henry Chadwick, a Brooklyn sportswriter, with the invention of the newspaper box score, which allowed fans to mentally reconstruct games in the days before radio, television and the Internet.  Yes; it is true: there once was a time when you could not check scores and watch highlights on a telephone you carried on your person.

Of course, Brooklyn was also once home to the much-loved Dodgers.  In the 13 years between the end of World War II and the team's departure for Los Angeles, the Dodgers averaged a million-and-a-quarter fans per season.  Notably, this figure comes from a time when baseball counted the turnstile, not tickets sold, as it does today.

[From Webster's II New College Dictionary: at·ten·dance. 1. The act of attending. 2. Those that attend a function.  I ask baseball to understand that "attendance" does not mean the act of purchasing a ticket and then not going to the game.  Please do not ask me to "guess tonight's attendance" when I have no way of knowing, as I scan the stadium, how many of the empty seats were paid for.]

Since the Dodgers and the Cyclones played in the same "city," albeit in different eras, let's compare the attendance of the two teams.  The Dodgers drew fans at a rate four times that of the Cyclones, but Ebbets Field (below, first game ever) was four times the size of MCU Park, home of the Cyclones.

The Dodgers played significantly more games per season, however, so the Cyclones' 3,000,000 fans is a genuine achievement.  But the boast was fastest short-season baseball team to reach that milestone.  Demographically, Brooklyn doesn't compare with the other towns and cities with teams that play in the New York-Penn and Northwest leagues, the two short-season, Single-A minor leagues.

As of July 2009*, the population of Brooklyn was almost equal to the combined population of the 21 other cities and towns that host franchises in these two leagues.  Or, to put it another way, Brooklyn is approximately four times as large as the next most populous city, Vancouver, British Columbia.  And Brooklyn is over 400 times larger than Wappingers Falls, New York, home to the Hudson Valley Renegades and the smallest town with a short-season team.  Nothing says "small" like naming yourself for an entire geographic region.

The Brooklyn Paper quipped, "don't get us started about Batavia!"  Batavia, a town of 15,144 roughly midway between Rochester and Buffalo, has the second lowest attendance per game this year in the New York-Penn League.

As *ehem* "Matt from math class" commented on the newspaper website, the Muckdogs have attracted the equivalent of 7.4 percent of the town's population to each game, on average.  For the Cyclones to draw at a comparable rate, *he* continues, they would have to pack the house with 190,000 fans every night.

The bottom line is, when 'fastest to reach 3,000,000 fans' is considered in the context of market size, the accomplishment is diminished some.

The numbers also point out that Brooklyn could sustain a baseball team at a higher level of play.  There were advocates for such a plan, myself included, but the decision that both the Yankees and the Mets would have an affiliate in the same league made this not possible.

Parity created, it was hoped, a rivalry for fans to get excited about but it foreclosed certain options.  Relocating two, say, Double-A teams would be considerably more difficult and expensive than two short-season ball clubs.  Further, while it was agreed Brooklyn was large enough to support a Double or even Triple-A team, it was not clear another part of the five boroughs could do the same.

Finally, the major league teams were reportedly concerned higher level minor league ball would cannibalize their fan base.

So Brooklyn has the Cyclones and across the harbor, Staten Island has the very creatively named Yankees.  I congratulate the Cyclones on their success.  As I have stated when observing the baseball team did not stimulate much economic development in Coney Island, as was promised by then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, disappointment does not cause me to wish ill on the Cyclones.

It sure would be fantastic to have a Double- or Triple-A team here in Brooklyn.  I bet a higher level team would have gotten to 3,000,000 fans twice as fast as the Cyclones—it would play almost twice as many games.

* All population figures per as retrieved on July 30, 2011, except Vancouver, British Columbia, from Wikipedia, same date.

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