Earlier this month, I wrote about the Cleveland Indians sad inability to draw fans to their park despite putting a pretty darn good team on the field. That is to say – there has been basically zero impact at the ticket office of all these extra wins that the Indians are getting, and the extra dollars that their ownership has spent in order to get them. Some folks pointed out to me that ticket sales are far from a perfect measure of fan enthusiasm (in response to my allegation that Cleveland’s fans had quit on them) and perhaps the Indians just needed a little sustained success to draw that added enthusiasm actually, physically into the park where it does the franchise some good.
Now, luckily, there IS another barometer of “fan enthusiasm” available to us via Google Trends (www.google.com/trends). We can look at trends in searches by search term, comparing them over time and to one another. What I’m interested in is comparing the “intensity” of searches (since Google calculates these things based on the share of total searches that were for those search terms) for the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, for points during this season and last season.
To put the “numbers” that you get from that service in context, for whatever data you ask Google for it will report values relative to the maximum search intensity – for that term – since they started keeping track. The highest weekly search intensity for either Detroit Tigers or Cleveland Indians since 2004 was the week of October 14th to 20th for Detroit Tigers – which is when the Tigers were sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS – so all values, which are based on share of Google searches – are relative to that. From the start of the 2012 season through late August of 2012, the term “Detroit Tigers” had a search intensity of 20.6% of that peak Yankee-thrashing excitement. So far this season, search intensity for Detroit Tigers is at 21.9% of peak. The Tigers were drawing a lot of fans and fighting for the playoffs last year, they’re a little better this year and fans are apparently a little more excited.
What about the Cleveland Indians? The Indians stunk last year, winning only 72 games. They made some big moves and smart moves in the offseason, but a lot of talking heads (and probably a lot of Cleveland fans) figured that at best it would get them to about the level of success that they have actually had this year – above .500 but not quite good enough for a pennant. Not quite good enough for a pennant, even if it’s so close you can taste it, doesn’t appear to put butts in seats. But… it DOES appear to generate some additional search intensity. Through this point in the 2012 season search intensity for Cleveland Indians was only 9.45% of the Tigers peak (the highest level the Indians ever reached was 61% of the Tigers peak, during the 2007 playoffs) – which is not far off the ratio in ticket sales between Detroit and Cleveland last year. This year, the Indians are up to 12% of the Tigers peak. If we use this as a barometer of relative interest, last year the Indians managed to generate only 45.8% of the Tigers fan interest – this year they are up to 54.8% of the Tigers fan interest. They are closing the gap.
Or, at least they WERE closing the gap. Fan interest in the Indians reached it’s highest level during deadline week at 17% of Tigers peak, falling to 16% the following week – which was still higher than at any other point during the season. The Indians had been on a roll, so had the Tigers. That following week began with an August 4 victory over the Marlins which kept the Tribe three games back of Detroit. Then the Tigers came into Cleveland on the 5th and broke the Indians like Bane on Batman, with a 4-game sweep that knocked them 7 back (which is roughly where they still sit). Fan interest plummeted and has not recovered – since the week of that series search intensity for Cleveland Indians has averaged 9.33% of Tigers peak (37.8% of Tigers interest over the past 3 weeks). So… the Cleveland Indians are still playing, still fighting, still going after that Wild Card spot (with a 9-8 record between the last Detroit series and this one) but it looks like that sweep put Indians fans down for the count.