A little more than one month into baseball season, if we analyze the relationship between win record and home game attendance, we see a few surprises. The Nats, for example, rank second in the National League so far this season, yet their attendance remains among the lowest in the NL. Wrigley Field is packed, despite the fact that the Cubs are off to one of the worst starts in all of Major League Baseball. Phillies' attendance, too, remains high, despite the fact that their win record rivals the Cubs'. What gives?
The answer may be the number of Tweets about a team: an analysis of mentions of each MLB team on Twitter reveals a very high correlation between the number of times a team was mentioned on Twitter in the last month and the average attendance at home games.
For example, in the last month, the Phillies rank highest in average home game attendance (despite ranking dead last in their division) and have the fifth highest number of mentions on Twitter of any team in Major League Baseball; the Yankees rank first in number of mentions on Twitter of any MLB team and boast the fourth highest attendance.
At the other end of the spectrum, Cleveland ranks dead last in average attendance so far this season (despite leading their division), and has the third fewest number of mentions on Twitter. Tampa Bay is tied for first place in their division but has the third lowest average home game attendance in all of Major League Baseball and receives the second lowest number of mentions on Twitter.
Correlation or causation? Can you "Tweet" your way to higher attendance, or is attendance driving mentions on Twitter? An analysis of attendance data from 2011 provides some insight. If attendance drove mentions on Twitter, rather than the other way around, we should see a strong relationship between 2011 attendance and the number of Tweets in the first few weeks of the 2012 season. But the relationship between past attendance and current Twitter mentions is not nearly as strong as the relationship between the volume of mentions on Twitter and concurrent fan attendance.
Examining the content of Twitter mentions reveals that the MLB teams using Twitter most effectively are creating a platform for engagement between fans. For the MLB teams with the highest volume of Twitter mentions in the first month this season, a relatively small number of the Tweets are from the team's official Twitter handle -- instead, most of the conversation is fans talking to one another. In fact, the teams with the most engaged fans on Twitter seem to use the team's official handle to push out more content involving questions for fans to respond to ('which was better: the homerun in the bottom of the 9th or the standing ovation after he ran the bases?' or 'can you spot the small difference in our uniforms from last season?' etc.).
By contrast, teams with fewer Twitter mentions tend to ask fewer questions in their official feed that would spark conversation between fans. Instead, these teams tend to use their Twitter stream more for live Tweeting the game and promotional information, which offers fewer opportunities for fans to interact with one another.
Data so far this season suggests that creating an exciting fan experience on Twitter can translate to a home run in attendance at the ballpark, regardless of the team's win record or standings. If so, then this is a way that teams can improve attendance even if team performance is mediocre or worse.
What do you think? Join the conversation on Twitter using #MLBTwitter.
Dr. Amy Gershkoff is the Global Director of Analytics for Burson-Marsteller, where she advises clients on social and digital media strategy, and is an avid Yankees fan. Follow her on Twitter @amygershkoff.