While we await whether Tim Tebow will progress through the Mets organization in his belated quest to reach the big leagues at age 29, one thing we don’t have to wait and see is his impact at the box office on the South Atlantic League.
It is no secret that Tebow, who is hitting .232 so far with the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies, is a popular figure that can draw increased interest and scrutiny, and fans are turning out to get a glimpse of the former Heisman winner.
The Columbia Fireflies have drawn an average of 5,027 fans per game so far in 2017 (through the games played as of May 3rd). At the same point last year, in the first season in Columbia and playing in a new park at Spirit Communication Park (capacity:7,501), the team was drawing 3,707 fans per game. The team would end the year averaging 3,785 per game. (Thanks to Kevin Fitzgerald, Broadcasting and Media Relations Director with the Fireflies, for providing additional attendance data).
Ticket prices range from $5 for the terraced berm in the outfield to $14 at the upper end. If we assume the average ticket sold is around $9 or $10 per visitor, then the club is averaging about $12,000 more in increased revenue this year, based only on ticket sales. Add in merchandising and food/drink sales differences with larger crowds and that number only goes up.
The bigger impact, though, is when the Columbia Fireflies play on the road. When Columbia travels to the other cities in the South Atlantic League, those are rarer events and the fans may only get one opportunity to see Tebow. So far, there have been road series at Rome, Augusta, and Hickory.
Here are the averages in games against Columbia and in other home games so far in 2017 for each of those clubs:
On average, the attendance is more than double in those road games. While we can’t say that it is entirely Tim Tebow, he’s almost certainly most of that difference. In the 11 road games for Columbia, the home team has drawn at least 4,000 in all but one game (a Sunday in Augusta). Meanwhile, those same teams have only hit 4,000 three times in their other 24 home dates (all three on Saturday evenings).
That can be a big deal in an “A” league made up of young players who can pass through quickly, and where the average attendance is less than 5,000 fans. An additional 2,000 fans can be $20,000 in additional revenue per game. Spread out over the course of the 140-game season, then, if these attendance numbers continue, the South Atlantic League teams will make more than $2 million in additional gate revenue with Tim Tebow playing in the league.
This Syracuse University study from 2011 looked at minor league fan preferences and drivers of attendance across three southern leagues, including the South Atlantic League. According to that study, fireworks were the biggest draw and indicator of attendance, once other factors (day, weather) were controlled:
Fireworks were shown to be quite popular, as post-game firework shows were shown to have a positive and significant effect (at the 1% level) in all three leagues. This was, by far, the most popular promotion throughout the season across leagues.
That increase was about 1,000 fans per game due to the presence of fireworks. So far, Tebow is far exceeding that. It might be time to update the study to account for the promotional draw that is Tim Tebow.