The Mets are off today before beginning a road trip that will take them to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh in a single week. Alas, the story that appears to be overshadowing the series win New York posted this weekend against Atlanta- not to mention that a functioning bullpen would have given the Mets a sweep- is the fan protest on Friday over the prospect of dealing Jose Reyes. The fans, as they should be, are against it.
In the midst of a conversation with the always amazin’ Matthew Artus on Twitter, he brought up the point that the Tom Seaver trade accelerated the decline of attendance at Shea Stadium back at a comparable period in team history. I wondered if that had been the case. It certainly makes sense, and would have been my guess as well. As always, we can go to the numbers to test out the theory.
The answer? It sure looks that way. First, the superficial numbers: the Mets drew 1,066,825 in 1977, the year Seaver was traded, down from 1,468,752 in 1976. Now part of that was the 1976 Mets won 86 games, while the 1977 Mets won just 66. Another is that thanks to doubleheaders, the Mets played 82 games at home in 1976 (strange, right?), but only had six doubleheaders, making for 76 home dates. In 1977, doubleheaders meant that 81 games were played in just 72 home dates.
The average attendance per date in 1976? 19,326. In 1977? 14,817.
But drill down deeper, and the Seaver effect becomes clear. After all, the Mets were 8-9 in April and 8-21 in May, so virtually no one went to 1977 Mets games before Seaver left believing they were witnessing a winning team.
In the 24 home dates the Mets had before Tom Seaver was traded, they drew 15,877 fans per date. In the 48 home dates after Seaver departed, they drew 14,287. And it is worth remembering, the weather gets better after June 15, the kids are out of school- this is likelier a bigger drop relative to what they’d have drawn with Seaver than it seems at first blush.
Even before Seaver left, his starts had a demonstrable impact on attendance. In Seaver starts, the 1977 Mets drew 24,209 per date. In non-Seaver starts, but with Seaver on the team, the 1977 Mets drew 13,685 per date.
And that’s right around what they’d draw for the remainder of 1977, post-Seaver. The number is right in line with the average per-date attendance in 1978 of 13,799 over 73 home dates for a similarly awful team. In 1979, just before ownership changed hands, the Mets drew 11,433 per date in 69 dates at Shea Stadium. Of course, Jerry Koosman was gone by then as well, along with virtually anyone of note.
Now, making apples-to-apples comparisons to the current Mets is impossible, since the National League changed attendance figures from number of people in the park to number of tickets sold. But a large portion of the fan base attends games to see Jose Reyes play. And to suggest that dealing Reyes would have a demonstrable impact on attendance doesn’t seem like a stretch-arguably a greater impact, since Reyes is an everyday player. In other words, every home date is a chance to watch Jose Reyes.
Remember, that isn’t a separate issue from the on-field questions. It has been reported that every 200,000 fans at Citi Field are worth around $25 million to the Mets. Put simply, that’s around $11 million more than the Mets have spent on draft bonuses for the last three seasons combined. Put that money into adding some over-slot talent in later rounds, and the Mets get to have their Reyes and rebuild, too.