[This piece first appeared on Flushing University on March 15, 2007. You can read the continuation of this article on Flushing University by clicking on the banner to the right.]
When I was writing the proposal for my book, I had to do some demographic research for the section of the proposal that identifies the potential market for the book. While doing this research I ran across several surveys taken over the years that had information I found fascinating. As we wait for the season to begin, I thought I’d share some of this stuff with you, since I think that many of you will find this stuff interesting too.
Apparently the Harris organization takes a poll every year of American baseball preferences. In the latest poll, taken between June 12 and June 18, 2006, 2351 adults, 884 of whom follow Major League baseball, were asked the question “What Is Your Favorite Baseball Team?” The Yankees were found to be the most popular baseball team in the United States, a position they’ve held for the last five years the poll was taken. This is what I would have guessed. But do you know who was second? The Mets! The Braves, the Cubs, the Red Sox, and the Cardinals rounded out the top 6. In the 2005 poll, the rankings were: Yankees, Braves, Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Cardinals. Now, to be honest, I don’t really know what this means. Since they don’t separate the statistics for those who follow baseball and those who don’t, there is a decent chance that the results reflect which baseball teams are the most famous, rather than which ones are really the most popular with fans. If you look at the results of this survey over the years, you will also see that there are suspiciously wide swings from year to year. The Mets ranked 14th in 2004 and you could say they deserved it, but they ranked 3rd in 2003. I suppose that the only thing you can fairly conclude from the Harris Poll is that the Mets are one of the most popular teams in baseball. Which should be obvious, given that they play in the largest and most influential metropolitan area in the United States. They also have some degree of nationwide popularity. Because the New York-based media likes to hype them when they do well and because there are so many transplanted New Yorkers, the Mets draw more fans on the road than any other National League team except the Dodgers.
The Mets are certainly popular. But one place where their popularity isn’t very evident is on the shelves of bookstores. Writing my proposal, I had to make the point that there weren’t enough Mets books for the ten million or so Mets fans. To make my point, I counted the total number of actual books about individual baseball teams available for sale on Amazon.com. I excluded calendars, yearbooks, media guides, childrens’ books, and collections of dates and quotations. There are a lot of books of dates and quotations because a book like that can be written in an afternoon. Anyway, you can buy 90 books about the New York Yankees on Amazon, of which 50 have been printed or reprinted since 2000. There are 77 books about the Red Sox, of which 57 have been printed or reprinted since 2000. There are only 24 books about the New York Mets available for sale on Amazon, of which 13 have been printed or reprinted since 2000. This is crazy.
After the last twelve years, I don’t question the idea that the Mets are less popular than they Yankees. But I don’t think the popularity gap is big enough to justify this enormous book gap. I will argue that the Mets have been more popular than the Yankees for much of their history, more popular overall during the period from their beginnings in 1962 up to the early to mid-1990s. Before your jaw drops open in disbelief, go look at the attendance statistics. In the first 31 years of the Mets’ existence, the Mets drew more fans than the Yankees to their ballpark in 19 of the 31 years. The Yankees outdrew the Mets in only 12 years. The Mets began their existence by combining the fan base of the Dodgers and the Giants and there were more Dodgers and Giants fans combined than there were Yankees fans. The Mets were also a very exciting baseball team for about half of those first 31 years. The Yankees were a pretty lousy team for about half of those 31 years.
Anyway, no one doubts that the Yankees are more popular than the Mets are now. The question is by how much. The question is also whether the two teams are close enough in popularity so that the Mets could actually surpass the Yankees in the next few years.
Well, apparently Quinnipiac University has taken a poll every year for seven years to see whether the Mets or the Yankees are more popular among New York City registered voters. Two questions they ask are “Are you a Yankee fan?” and “Are you a Mets fan?” In the latest poll of 1,041 NYC registered voters, taken between July 5 and July 10, 2006, 49% said they were Yankees fans and 48% said they were not. 42% of NYC registered voters identified themselves as Mets fans and 56% said they were not. Over the seven-year period in which Quinnipiac has taken this poll, the percentage identifying themselves as Mets fans has ranged from a high of 46 % in 2000 to 35% in 2002. Quinnipiac also asks who you would root for if there was another Subway Series. In the 2006 poll 46% said they’d root for the Yankees and 37% said they’d root for the Mets. I think the vote would actually have been a lot closer if the Mets and Yankees had both made it to the World Series in 2006 since the media hype machine in 2006 was, in my view, clearly favoring the Mets, not as better but as “more fun.” The breakdown by boroughs for this question was pretty much what you’d expect. The Mets are much more popular than the Yankees in Queens (52-30), and the Yankees are much more popular than the Mets in the Bronx (62-28). Queens has a lot more people than the Bronx, but the Yankees have an edge of varying size in each of the other boroughs: 45-34 in Brooklyn, 52-30 in Manhattan, and 53-39 in Staten Island.
Obviously, though, if you want to get a sense of the extent of the comparative popularity of the Mets and the Yankees, you have to look beyond New York City to the entire metropolitan area. Next Thursday, in the second part of my column, I’ll talk about what I learned in my research about the demographics of the people who actually fill the stands at Shea and in Yankee stadium.