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Toronto’s Big Draw

It’s been no secret that both former GM J.P. Ricciardi and new GM Alex Anthopoulos of the Toronto Blue Jays were trying to unload Roy Halladay to recoup some value before he left for free agency after the 2010. After months of speculation, the rumors came to fruition when Halladay was sent to Philadelphia in what amounted to a three-team trade that also involved the Seattle Mariners.

Losing one of baseball’s best starting pitchers is tough, no question, but hopefully the Jays acquire a prospect who may become the next Roy Halladay. They may have done that in acquiring Kyle Drabek from the Phillies, but Roy Halladays don’t just show up at the doorstep (or in a basket in the river, like Moses).

Nowhere is that statement more evident, one would think, than at the turnstiles. The Jays have certainly had some stars like Carlos Delgado, but recently, Halladay has been part of a rather lackluster squad that has seen the status of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios implode. The question becomes: how much of an effect, if any, did Halladay have on the Jays’ attendance figures?

To investigate, I went to old reliable, Baseball Reference and threw attendance figures into an Excel spreadsheet. The following chart will show the Jays’ attendance on days in which Halladay starts compared to when others start.

Halladay has been the bigger draw in six out of the eight seasons since he started pitching regularly in Toronto. The difference on average is about 1,850 fans per game. Halladay has made 116 starts at home in this time span, which amounts to about 215,000 more fans. If we assume the Jays make $50 profit on every fan that walks through the turnstile, then the Jays have made about an extra $11 million in eight years, or about $1,350,000 per year.

This analysis, of course, does not factor in merchandise as Halladay’s number 32 is likely the Jays’ most popular jersey purchase. Nor does this analysis factor in TV and radio ratings, which may or may not be correlated with attendance; and nor do we know the effect of Halladay on advertiser dollars. We can state confidently, though, that Halladay has meant a lot to the Jays aside from his on-the-field performance.

Anthopoulos, in acquiring Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis D’Arnaud — a much, much better assortment of players than was offered to him last July — certainly came out a winner, but he and his compadres in the front office should be prepared to see fewer and fewer fans buying tickets and jerseys, and tuning into games on television and radio, as well as fewer advertisers looking to peddle products alongside the Jays’ logo.

On the other side of this is the Phillies, Roy’s new team. Should the Phillies expect an increase in attendance? The answer, quite simply, is no.

In 2009, the Phillies sold out 73 of 81 home games after winning the 2008 World Series. Overall, they saw nearly 315,000 more fans in ’09 than in ’08. It might seem natural to expect even more fans, but there are a finite number of seats at Citizens Bank Park — 43,650 to be exact. Therefore, there are diminishing returns for a team like the Phillies acquiring the services of a star player, especially at the cost of another star player in Cliff Lee.

With the waning excitement of 2007’s team reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and 2008’s squad winning the World Series for the first time since 1980, it is reasonable to not only expect Halladay to have no noticeable effect on attendance, but to expect a regression in that area as well. In the balance book, Roy Halladay meant much more to the Toronto Blue Jays than he will to the Philadelphia Phillies.