Since their inception in 1993, the Colorado Rockies have ranked in the bottom half in attendance only three times. The team also still holds the single-season home attendance record, set in 1993. The Rockies’ high attendance is somewhat surprising—the Rockies have a relatively small regional following, the franchise is young, and the Rockies are far from the most popular team in their own city. Not only that, but the Rockies’ attendance has not been historically correlated with their record. In 2007 and 2009, for example, the Rockies drew fewer fans than they did in 2013 and 2014, when they lost 88 and 96 games.
This year, attendance is up—way up. The Rockies are averaging over 4,000 more fans per game than they were last year (8%). Only two teams have seen a higher year-to-year increase in attendance: the Indians, who made it to the World Series, won 22 games in a row, and still draw 10,000 fewer fans per game than the Rockies; and the Braves, who recently relocated to a mall in suburban Atlanta. What’s going on with the Rockies’ attendance?
The graph below shows the Rockies attendance this year. In purple is how “hot” the team has been, as represented by the number of wins they have in their last ten games. The first homestand is excluded, since the Rockies historically sell out the first homestand regardless of other factors.
A few trends stick out. Rockies fans do respond to the team winning, but there’s a lag. Attendance was at its worst early in the year, when they Rockies couldn’t lose—presumably because it took time for people to 1) realize that the Rockies were good, and 2) plan a trip to Coors Field. This also explains why attendance in 2007 wasn’t very high, as Rockies fans didn’t have the time to respond to the success of the team before the end of the year. Attendance in 2008 was significantly higher, which is a more accurate measure of the “Rocktober” bump.
The second trend is that after about two months, there was a very significant correlation between attendance and how “hot” the Rockies were at that time. This explains why the Rockies’ attendance was so poor during their early September homestand, in spite of the fact that the Rockies still held a playoff spot for the first time in years. Fans don’t just want to see the Rockies when they’re having a winning season, they want to see them actually win when they go to the ballpark.
This can all be interpreted in several ways. On the one hand, the trend seems to counteract the notion that Rockies fans are more casual than the average baseball fan. Rockies fans appear to be quite responsive to how the team is doing at any given time; by contrast, Diamondbacks fans have responded to a fantastic year with a much more modest rise in attendance (less than 1,000 more fans per game). On the other hand, the Rockies don’t have a fanbase that shows up to the ballpark when the team is struggling. But then again, few teams do.
One thing, however, is clear. The pattern and timing of the Rockies wins this year have been a boon to ownership, at least as far as attendance numbers go. It’s much better to start hot than to have either a middling season or a “Rocktober”-esque run to the playoffs. The Rockies will draw more fans per game this year than they have since 2001, all while winning fewer games than they did in 2009 and (possibly) 2007. It is a good thing to win, but it is a better thing to win early. Either way though, fans will show up.