The Effects of Promotions on Attendance in Professional Baseball

Abstract:

Professional baseball organizations use many types of promotions to increase attendance. The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not different types of promotions effected attendance in professional baseball. Promotions were categorized into price, non-price, and a combination of price and non-price. Attendance and promotion data were collected from four professional baseball organizations located in the Ohio River Area. The results indicated significant increases in attendance in two of the four teams when any promotion was used. Two teams also revealed attendance increases when non-price promotions were present, as well as when combination of price and non-price promotions were employed. Finally, this study supports previous research, which has found higher attendance at games with promotions than games without promotions and when non-price promotions are used rather than price promotions.

Introduction:

Each off-season, professional baseball organizers must organize promotional plans to lure fans back to the ballpark for long seasons (Quinn, 1995). Sales promotions are commonly used by sports marketers due to the managerial control and effectiveness of increasing attendance (Boyd & Krehbiel, 2003). Boyd and Krehbiel (2006) emphasized the importance of attendance and fan interest for all professional sports in the future. Bill Veeck, the inventor of promotions such as Bat Day, believed that each day should be like Mardi Gras in order to enhance each fans’ experience at the ballpark (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000).

Attendance Research:

Early research studying attendance at athletic events can be placed in four categories: economics, demographics, game attractiveness, and other factors (Hanson & Gauthier, 1989). Through research in different ranks of athletics, including colleges, minor leagues, and major leagues, multiple regressions have been used to observe the effects of attendance by economic factors, such as ticket prices (Kahane & Scmanske, 1997; Noll, 1974), average income (Domazlicky & Kerr, 1990), and population (Domazlicky & Kerr, 1990; Hill, Madura & Zuber, 1982). Other studies have combined demographic, economic, and attractiveness factors (Siegfried & Eisenberg, 1980; Noll, 1974). Until recently, most studies did not examine factors that were controllable by sports marketers. Studies that have scrutinized managerially controllable factors have looked at price and non-price promotions (Wall & Myers, 1989; Hill et al., 1982; Madura, 1981; Siegfried & Eisenberg, 1980) and pre-event marketing (Zhang, Pease, Hui, & Michaud, 1995; Jones, 1984).

The positive effects on attendance associated with the usage of promotions have shown an average of a 14% increase (McDonald & Rascher, 2000). Quinn (2005) discussed the differences among promotional attempts by Major League Baseball (MLB) organizations. For instance, the New York Mets used a ‘Baseball for a Buck’ campaign, selling tickets for $1 to increase attendance at home games, and the L.A. Dodgers put together an opening weekend promotional extravaganza with over 130 prizes including trips, cars, cap giveaways, and autograph sessions. The greatest attendance increases have recently been attributed to the resurgence of bobble-head dolls (Taylor, 2004). Malcolm Alexander mastered the bobble-head doll after the San Francisco Giants requested the productions of Willie Mays bobble-heads. Alexander’s bobble-heads were more durable and actually resembled Mays.

Although promotions have proven to increase attendance in all levels of professional baseball, researchers McDonald & Rascher (2000) believe that baseball organizations can negatively impact the attendance increases of promotions by offering promotions too frequently. A slight “watering down” effect for MLB organizations was discovered when teams schedule numerous promotional events; therefore, McDonald and Rascher (2000) predicted that minor league teams would face a watering-down effect, especially since minor leagues have a higher percentage of games with promotions. Contrary to the previous assumption, Hixson (2005) found no “watering down” effect after analyzing the effects of promotions on 31 minor league teams, even though minor league programs offer more games with promotions.

A watering-down effect has most notably been detected when price promotions have been offered. A price promotion offers a reduction in the price of tickets or selected concession items, such as beer or hot dogs, to all fans or to a selected group (Hixson, 2005). Thus, price promotions result in smaller increases in attendance in MLB and minor league baseball, while greater increases in attendance occur when non-price promotions and combinations of price and non-price promotions are available for fans (Boyd & Krehbiel, 2006; Hixson, 2005, Boyd & Krehbiel, 2003, McDonald & Rasher, 2000).

Researchers Wakefield and Bush (1998) discovered that “in minor league baseball, those attracted to price promotions are spectators who are price conscious and who attend infrequently.” Promotions are used to increase attendance, help the organization, and assist the sponsor in sales and public advertising. Therefore, games with price promotions that only induce certain fans to attend certain games, such as reduced prices of beer, are not the most successful type of promotion (Mullin et al., 2000). The most effective sales promotions are those that provide benefits that are similar or complement the team. The entertainment value is increased in professional baseball through the use of non-price promotions, such as giveaways or special events, instead of simply reducing the cost of the tickets.

While there has been extensive research regarding the effects of promotion type on attendance, there have been no studies that examine the effects of promotions on attendance in a geographic area with four levels of professional baseball.

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between different types of promotions and attendance in many levels of professional baseball located in the Ohio River Area.

Methods:

Participants

This study examined the types of promotions and attendance among four professional baseball organizations in a similar geographic area. Organizations ranged from an independent team with no major league affiliate, to minor league affiliate teams, to a major league franchise. Teams located within the selected geographic area include: the Florence Freedom (Independent); the Lexington Legends (A-Toronto Blue Jays affiliate); the Louisville Bats (AAA-Cincinnati Reds affiliate); and, the Cincinnati Reds (Major League Baseball franchise).

Instruments

Game schedules and promotion schedules issued by each team on their websites or in their media guides were used to compile the necessary data for the study. The attendance at each of the participants’ home games were found on the final box score, which was found on each team’s website.

Apparatus

SPSS 14.0 (2005) was used to compile and analyze the variables to determine any significant results between the affect of the different types of promotions on attendance for each of the chosen participants.

Procedures

Game promotion data and attendance were found on participants’ websites. Using Hixson’s (2005) model to examine the effects of different types of promotions, game promotions were coded as price, as non-price, and as a combination of both. Additionally, a “no promotion” category was added for games with no scheduled promotion. There were four types of promotions used as the independent variable for this study. Games were coded as: “no promotion” (games that had no promotion to the fans); “price promotion” (games that provided a price discount to patrons on ticket price or concession items, such as hot dogs and beverages) (Mullin et al., 2000); “non-price promotions” (promotions that added entertainment value through giveaways, celebrity appearances, contests, activities for children, tributes, fireworks, and community events) (Mullin et al., 2000); and, “combinations of price and non-price promotions” (games that offered at least one of each of the promotional categories) (Hixson, 2005). The dependent variable was game attendance.

Statistical Analysis

Relationships were assessed based on the comparison of means for each type of promotion on each team and nonparametric correlations between types of promotion on each team. A t-test was performed between each type of promotion and no promotion games to determine significant differences. Game attendance was then matched to the game promotion type. Like McDonald and Rascher (2000) and Hixson’s (2005) studies, a regressional analysis was completed with attendance as the dependent variable, and several independent, predictor variables representing each type of game promotion.

Results:

Over the course of the season, the four teams selected for the study played in 268 games. The attendance increased in all organizations when promotions were present. Significant results were found in two of the four organizations. For the Louisville Bats, promotion attendance (x = 9,281) was significantly different than no promotion attendance (x = 7,235) (t = 1.77, p < .01), which showed a 28% increase in attendance. For the Cincinnati Reds, promotion attendance (x = 27,474) was significantly different than no promotion attendance (x = 23,363) (t = 2.21, p < .05), which showed a 17.5% increase in attendance when a promotion was used. Although significant results were not discovered, the Freedom and Legends showed an increase in attendance of 28.5% and 12.5% when promotions were used.

Attendance had the highest increases for the Reds when only non-price promotions were present. Although just one of the organizations had its highest increases when non-price promotions were present, two showed significant results when non-price promotions were present. For the Louisville Bats, non-price promotion attendance (x = 9,880) was significantly different than no promotion attendance (x = 7,235)(t = 2.51, p < .05), which resulted in a 35.5% increase when a non-price promotion was used by the organization. For the Cincinnati Reds, non-price promotion attendance (x = 29,968) was significantly different than no promotion attendance (x = 23,363) (t = 3.01, p < .01), which resulted in a 28% increase when non-price promotions were offered. Although significant results were not discovered, the Freedom and Legends showed an increase in attendance of 26% and 22% when non-price promotions were used.

For all organizations, combinations of price and non-price promotions resulted in higher attendances than when only price promotions were present. Combinations of price and non-price promotions were associated with an increase in attendance in 3 of the 4 organizations, while average attendances when only price promotions were present were much less. For the Florence Freedom, a combination of promotions resulted in a 34.5% increase in attendance versus games with no promotions, and no price promotions were offered. For the Lexington Legends, a combination of promotions resulted in a 10% increase in attendance than when no promotions were present, while price promotions resulted in an 8% decrease. The Louisville Bats’ games with a combination of promotions showed a 38% increase in attendance versus when no promotions were present, while price promotions resulted in only a 16% increase. Finally, a 14% increase was shown when combinations of promotions were used versus when no promotions were used, while price promotions produced only a 5% increase for the Cincinnati Reds.

Discussion:

Results from this study supported previous research that found an increase in attendance at professional baseball games when promotions were used (Boyd & Krehbiel, 2006; Hixson, 2005; Boyd & Krehbiel, 2003; McDonald & Rascher, 2000). Analyzing the effects of the type of promotion used on attendance has shown that each type affects attendance differently. While price promotions negatively affected attendance in all clubs, non-price and combinations of promotions were associated with an increase in attendance for all teams.

Baseball teams, especially those in this study, should notice the negative affect on attendance when price promotions are present. This suggests the watering-down effect occurs when these organizations offer price promotions; however, more research should be done before that is concluded. One theory is that promotions work best when the entertainment value is increased, which price promotions cannot achieve simply by reducing ticket or concession prices (Wakefield & Bush, 1998).

The results showed surprising effects when no promotion was offered; therefore, further examination is necessary. The total mean from each team for the different types of promotions was not used because the results would have been severely skewed. Figure 1 shows the frequency of each promotion used. The Reds played 22 games that offered no promotion; combined, the other three teams only played seven games without offering any promotion.

Figure 1

With the low amount of “no promotion” games offered by the Freedom, Legends, and Bats, attention should not be drawn to believe that the increased or decreased average attendance was correlated to not having a promotion. Increased attendance when no promotions were offered in the minor league teams could be attributed to the opponent or timing of the game. Furthermore, the low amount of no promotions game decreased the possibility of showing significant effects in types of promotions. Future studies should use a larger number of teams or examine the effects of promotion type over multiple seasons.

Some believe that promotions only shift people from attending one game to another (McDonald & Rascher, 2000; Baade & Tiehen, 1990). Researchers believe this theory can be analyzed by viewing a team’s season attendance level compared to other seasons. Baade & Tiehen (1990) believe that the more fans who attend a game, the more excitement that is generated. Fans are more likely to attend such games in the future and create a buzz based on their positive experiences. As suggested, future research should compare the season attendance averages of many teams over multiple seasons.

Teams involved could use the results from this study, as could teams in the same division, league, class, or similar city population, to determine which types of promotions were correlated with increased attendance. Studies from multiple organizations and levels will provide information on the affects of promotions in baseball as a whole and within each level of professional baseball. Any positive relationships found in certain promotions, individual promotions, and/or combinations of promotions could trigger similar promotions by other organizations.

Further research should study multiple organizations with different levels of professional baseball. Additionally, research should examine whether or not fans knew about the promotion offered before attending the game. Information about fan attitude and the reasons fans attend certain games could allow sports marketers to discover the best way to advertise games and promotions offered to benefit the fans, organization, and sponsors simultaneously.

As baseball organizations at all levels attempt to search for new and unique promotions to offer fans, the majority of promotions should consist of non-price promotions. Additionally, price promotions should be limited to only a few games per season. In conclusion, marketers use promotions to lure fans back to the ballpark time and time again: the use of non-price promotions increases the entertainment value and creates a more exciting environment for fans and players.

The results in this study show that professional organizations in the Ohio River Area of Kentucky and Southern Ohio have similar effects when different types of promotions are scheduled for fans. Sports marketers in this area could assume that non-price and combination of non-price and price promotions will have the greatest positive impact on attendance.

Table 1: Comparison of Means between Type of Promotion and Organization* Significant at p < .10 ** Significant at p < .05 *** Significant at p < .01

No
Promotion
Any
Promotion
Price
Promotion
Non-Price
Promotion
Combination
Promotions
Freedom (Ind.) 1,511 1,942 1,903 2,033**
Legends (A) 4,995 5,620 4,632 6,115 5,481
Bats (AAA) 7,235 9,281* 8,404 9,880** 9,991*
Reds (MLB) 23,363 27,474** 24,592 29,968*** 26,607

Table 2: Effects of Promotions Based on Average of Games with No Promotion(s)* Significant at p < .10 ** Significant at p < .05 *** Significant at p < .01

No
Promotion
Any
Promotion
Price
Promotion
Non-Price
Promotion
Combination
Promotions
Freedom (Ind.) 1,511 +431 +392 +522**
Legends (A) 4,995 +625 -362 +1,120 +486
Bats (AAA) 7,235 +2,046* +1,169 +2,645** +2,756*
Reds (MLB) 23,363 +4,111** +1,229 +6,605*** +3,244

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