Economics lurks in everything

I was having a real-life debate with Carlos about why Miami sports fans seem so terrible. When Miami teams win, the stadiums are only full if there’s a reasonable shot at winning a championship. And when they don’t win…things look pretty pathetic. To be sure, there’s an element of fair-weather fandom going on here, as there is in just about all sun belt cities that don’t have old pro sports traditions. But my take is that there’s more to it than that.

Sprawl is partly to blame. The main football and baseball stadium (until the new downtown baseball park is built) is about 15 miles from both downtown Miami and downtown Ft. Lauderdale. The spread-out geography of the area means that planners are stuck; if they try and split the difference and build midway between these built-up areas,  they please almost nobody except the people who live near the county line. (Traffic in South Florida competes with LA for worst in the nation when the economy is in good shape.) And if they pick a city, like the Florida Panthers did, and build a stadium relatively close to one of them, they’re writing off people in the other entirely. My interest in watching hockey live was rather diminished when the Panthers moved an extra 20 miles from my house.

Also, weather matters for baseball, I’d imagine. With so many rainouts, it’s hard to build a fan base that wants to come to the games.

But what I think it really comes down to is price. Knowing the place’s history with pro sports, my hunch was that Miami fans perennially get violated by rapacious owners who charge crazy prices for seats. And sure enough: “Miami’s median household income ranks as the fifth-lowest among the 29 major sports markets, yet the combined Fan Cost Index for its four sports teams is seventh-highest.” Note that that analysis was done before the recession, so incomes appear inflated if anything – anyone want to bet whether the owners lowered prices in proportion to consumer belt-tightening?

Surprise, surprise – when you gouge fans on seeing the games live, on the margin watching on TV becomes a more attractive substitute.

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