The Gate Value of Johan Santana
I have been seeing an awful lot of commentary on the on-going Johan Santana saga that his departure from the Twins would have ill effects on the attendance. To wit, Johan became the Minnesota Twins version of Must See TV. His ability to dispatch batters at a constant rate coupled with the way he could make even the most professional hitters look foolish with his change-up was, well, sick. Santana emerged in 2004 as someone whose starts were not to be missed, be it at the Dome or on FSN. His on-field contributions go unquestioned, meanwhile his gate value can be.
I did a quick on-the-fly analysis of Johan Santana's gate value as described in Vince Gennaro's book Diamond Dollars in which he was able to ascertain a monetary value of Pedro Martinez's home starts to the New York Mets overall revenue. Financially, it was determined that the Mets stood to benefit more from increased attendance at Shea Stadium in Martinez's roughly 12-18 starts than any other pitcher in their rotation, therefore Martinez's value to the Mets far exceeded the basic on-field contributions. His presence on the mound in Flushing, New York directly contributed to the Mets's bottom-line.
Obtaining information from Baseball-Reference for the attendance records I found that in 2007 Santana made 15 starts in front of Metrodome crowds that ranged from a high of 48,711 (the home opener, also a season high attended) to a low of 20,849 (a Tuesday night game against the Indians). In all, 492,200 people saw Santana starts over the course of the year averaging 32,813 per start. The rest of the rotation made 66 home starts that had a high of 42,373 (A 62-63 team that had Scott Baker starting a Tuesday night game against the Mariners) and a low of 13,977 (once again Scott Baker who was pitching a Wednesday afternoon game against the Indians long after the Twins were out of the race on September 5th). In those 66 home games 1,804,169 people attended those started by a Twins pitcher not named Johan Santana, an average of 27,335 per start.
The difference per game is equal to 5,478 more people on average attending a game started by Johan Santana versus any other Twins pitcher. According to Forbes.com's study of Major League franchises, the Twins average ticket price is $17. All things being equal, the Twins stood to gain on average $93,126 extra revenue on the days that Johan was on the rubber at the Dome. It could be argued that the Twins actually would have averaged more than that figure since fans would want to sit in sections with better views of the mound and plate area which are significantly more expensive. Over the course of a season, on average Santana has earned the Twins $1,396,890 above and beyond the other starters. Another way to look at it is that of the $37 million made on gate revenues, Johan directly contributed 3.5% of that.
Is a 3.5% loss at the gate enough to persuade the Twins front office to extend one of the most lucrative contracts in the majors? No. Having a two-time Cy Young winner on the roster certainly doesn't hurt the gate numbers at a place like the Metrodome - which during some games has the drawing power of a tractor pull - but for a franchise like the Twins poised to reap the benefits of having a brand-new outdoor stadium it doesn't make financial sense to sign Santana to an contract that will undoubtedly burden the payroll for years (no, the payroll will not be readjusted that significantly when the new stadium opens) when the new facility will draw the attendance for at least three seasons whether Johan Santana or Terry Felton is starting.