One thing that's always fascinated me about the Rockies is their incredible ability to to draw fans to the ballpark. Now in their 23rd year of existence, they're still averaging about 37,000 fans per game over their franchise history.
Yes, much of that is due to the historical and colossal numbers from the 1990s when the club was brand new and smashing attendance records at every turn, but even in recent years, the numbers are still impressive. Over the last seven seasons (2008-2014) for instance, the Rockies have drawn an average of at least 32,000 people per game to Coors Field every year despite producing only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance over that span.
It's even more amazing when you look at the franchise history as a whole. We're talking about a club that's never won its division, has only won more than 83 games twice in 22 tries, and has finished either last or second to last in the NL West in all but five seasons. The Rockies have almost surely given their fanbase less meaningful baseball in August and September than any other club in the sport, and yet despite this product, fans keep coming.
There's one group of people who insist it's solely because Coors Field is great place to spend an evening regardless of where the Rockies are in the standings. The idea runs with the claim that people in Denver just want to spend summer evenings outside, and that they choose to do it at Coors Field.
Here's the problem with that theory, though: Almost every major city with a big league team is filled with people who want to spend their summer evenings outside and choose to do it at a ballpark. I've personally seen them at both major and minor league parks all over this country. I'm sure this group is responsible for some of the Colorado attendance numbers, but this is hardly a trait exclusive to Denver.
Compare the Rockies to a club like the Pirates. Both are similar in market size, both have gorgeous ballparks, and both are nice in the summer with cold winters meaning people want to spend this time of year outside while they have the chance. However, when the Pirates were terrible, and PNC Park was brand new, they drew on average less than 23,000 people a night for nine straight seasons. This never happens with the Rockies. So again, we ask, "why?"
This is something I spent quite a while thinking about as I watched the Rockies fall at Coors Field to the Astros by a score of 8-4 for the second time in less than 24 hours Wednesday afternoon. The ponderation hit me because I've noticed that the energy level in the ballpark this season, even just by watching on TV, hasn't been the same as in recent seasons. It always feels depressing when the Rockies are losing game after game on the road each year, but usually there's more positive energy flowing through Coors Field than we've seen in 2015.
And then it hit me. The reason Coors Field is such a great place to spend a summer evening isn't just because it's a great ballpark, it's because it's a great park where the Rockies usually win. For instance, in both 2013 and 2014, the Rockies went 45-36 at home, meaning that despite the overall terrible records, the fan experience at the ballpark was generally positive -- and not just positive in the "I got to go to a baseball game" sense, but positive in that the home team won the game.
Each of those victories represent thousands and thousands of people who bought a ticket and were happier with their experience because the Rockies won instead of lost. These are Rockies fans going to Rockies games and seeing the Rockies win. Those add up and turn into a marketing advantage other clubs don't have in terms of selling tickets.
To show you what I'm talking about, I took the per-game 2014 attendance numbers for every team, and multiplied it by the total number of home wins recorded for each team last season in the table below.
(The figures are not exact because I estimated each game with every club's average attendance for the season, but these numbers will be very, very close.)
In short, those numbers on the right represent a very, very strong estimate of how many fans bought a ticket and saw each home team win last year. Amazingly, the Rockies rank eighth, and are the only team in the top 11 here to post a losing record. As we know, the Rockies not only posted a losing record last year -- they were 30 games under .500.
Stop and think about this for a moment: The Rockies went 66-96 last year and sold nearly 1.5 million tickets to games where the team won. That's an incredible amount of people seeing winning baseball for a club that does as much losing as the Rockies. The next closest team on this list with at least 90 losses last season is the Red Sox, and they sold close to 250,000 fewer winning tickets.
This is extremely important because last year is not an isolated incident. The Rockies almost always win at Coors Field. Here's the history coming into 2015:
That 45-36 home record from last season comes to a .556 winning percentage, and that .556 winning percentage is exactly equal to the Rockies all-time Coors Field winning percentage.
We've talked extensively on this site about some of the impacts the huge gap in home and road success has on the Rockies, but this one has been largely overlooked and it's generally a positive. On average, teams can expect to be about five games better at home than on the road (42.5 wins at home, 38 wins on the road [a half game was lost in the math on games not made up over the years]), but the Rockies on average are 14 games better at home than on the road over the years (45 wins at home, 31 on the road). This means that people going to the ballpark normally have an unusually large number of positive (winning) experiences compared to what the rest of MLB might expect. Fans then reflect on these positive experiences, and decide to buy more tickets to Coors Field, and the pattern repeats itself.
The end result is an enormous disparity between the overall satisfaction rate of everyone who buys tickets to Coors Field each year, and everyone who watches the Rockies on TV over the course of the season. It's what allows the Rockies to be seen as perpetual losers with a low buzz rate around the city, but also still able to consistently collect high attendance numbers with rave reviews about the ballpark experience.
However, this year, we're seeing the other side of the coin. The Rockies have been flat-out terrible at Coors Field. Their most recent loss Wednesday drops them to 13-20 at home on the season, easily putting them on pace for a franchise worst record at 20th and Blake.
This is a dangerous development for the Rockies attendance-wise over the next couple of seasons, because now they risk damaging an important piece -- the ballpark experience -- that they can generally fall back on even when the team's overall record is lousy.
Of course, the Rockies also realize they just need to play better baseball at home in general to keep this from turning into another disastrous season. Drew Creasman got this quote after the game:
"I've been here a long time and one thing we've always done is play well here at home. I don't know if early on the weather had something to do with it and we couldn't get the mojo going, but even right now we're not playing good baseball here, and for us to be a good team we have to win at home," said Troy Tulowitzki.
Throw in that weather Tulo mentioned -- over 500 combined minutes of delays not including three dates rained out -- and you easily have the worst Coors Field experience this team has probably ever offered.
This is why the Rockies need to turn around their play at home. Despite what some critics may say, fans in Denver care about winning. And despite the Rockies generally featuring a loser overall, the Coors Field experience generally features a winner. Even if it doesn't turn around their season, a better home record will salvage a very important and overlooked part of what makes the Coors Field experience such a popular choice each summer.