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Parsing The Phillies "Sellout" Streak (That May End Soon)

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The Phillies like to say that they have a "sellout" streak of 234 games. It started July 7, 2009, when the team lost 4-3 to the Cincinnati Reds before a paid crowd of 43,623. It has continued through last night, when the team played before a paid crowd of 44,216.

If you're newish to this blog or this issue, you might be thinking to yourself - how can the team sellout games with two different attendance numbers? If they can sell 44,216 tickets, why is a game with 593 less tickets sold a sellout? After all, if a venue has X tickets available for people to buy and sells less than X tickets, then it's not a sellout, right?

Wrong. In the world of Phillies sellouts, if you want to call it a sellout, go ahead! If you want to exclude games that don't fit the definition, why, just do that too! If your sold tickets vary from the most sold to the least sold by almost 2,300, don't worry about it!

Because that's the world of Phillies sellouts. As John Weber, the Phillies vice president of sales and ticketing, explained yesterday, the Phillies consider a sellout to be between 43,400 and 43,500 fans. Two years ago, Weber was singing a slightly different tune. In August 2010, when the streak reached 100 straight games, Weber told the Inquirer that the team considers a sellout anything over 42,900 to 43,100 fans. If this all seems quite odd to you, you're not alone.

So let's parse this sellout streak and look at some of the oddities. First, there's the wide disparity from lowest attendance to highest attendance during the streak. The lowest came on day 1, when the Phils sold 43,623 tickets. The highest came on day 186, when the Phils sold 45,894 tickets. That game was a night game against the Diamondbacks on August 17, 2011. The difference from lowest to highest is 2,271 tickets. Stated differently, on August 17, 2011, the Phillies sold 5.2% more tickets than they did on July 9, 2009. Don't worry though, they're both sellouts!

The streak also doesn't include three games against Toronto in the summer of 2010. Those three games were played in Philadelphia but they counted as Blue Jay home games because they had to be moved from Toronto as a result of the G20 summit that summer. So, even though Philadelphians bought tickets for games played in Philadelphia, the games were not home games. Good thing for the streak too, as two of the games had paid attendance below the lowest in the streak - 42,571 on June 27 and 43,076 on June 25. It's great to be able to exclude games that don't qualify!

The average paid attendance at the 234 games has been 45,156. Half of the games have been higher than 45,250, and half below. Fifty five games over the course of the streak have had paid attendance more than 1000 tickets lower than the high of 45,894. Nine have been under 44,000. Rest assured, they're all sellouts.

So when will this streak end? With Weber's shifting definition, tickets almost always being available, and games being excluded when they don't fit, who knows? After all, there's no precision here whatsoever.

But, there's a troubling trend here. Of the nine games that have been under 44,000 in the streak, seven of them have been this year, all after May 7. Of the four seasons in the streak, this season has had the lowest average so far. In descending order, the averages have been: 45,441 in 2011; 45,028 in 2010; 45,022 in 2009; and 44,921 this year.

In the midst of a five-game losing streak with a day game during the school year, will the streak end today? The weather and Cole Hamels are working in the Phillies favor, but we'll see shortly.

And rest assured - if you want to go to the game today but are concerned it's going to be a sellout, you can still buy tickets!