Move over, New York Yankees — there’s a new baseball boss in town. For the first time since at least 1998, Quinnipiac University has found, more New York City baseball fans liked the Mets than the Yankees. Although it was a narrow victory — 45 percent to 43 percent, well within the margin of error — it shows that winning ballgames remains the key to winning the hearts of Big Apple sports fans.
The Yankees usually hold a hefty fan advantage over the Mets in New York. Over the last 20 years, the Yankees have averaged a sizable 55 percent-to-31 percent lead over their crosstown rivals. Just three years ago, the Yankees led the Mets 61 percent to 27 percent on the same question Quinnipiac asked this year.
|FAVORITE TEAM IN MLB|
|POLL DATE||YANKEES||METS||METS MARGIN|
|Fav. in a Subway Series|
|Poll Date||Yankees||Mets||Mets margin|
Indeed, the Yankee lead climbed as high as 41 points five years ago. That survey was taken after a season in which the Yankees had made the playoffs, while the Mets hadn’t appeared in the postseason in six years. Now the tables have turned: The Mets have made the playoffs two years in a row, even appearing in the World Series in 2015. Meanwhile, the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs last year and they haven’t made a World Series since 2009.
Before this year, the only time the Mets ever came close to the Yankees was in May 2007. That year, 49 percent of New York City baseball fans said they’d root for the Yankees in a Subway Series against the Mets, while 48 percent said they’d root the other way. Recent results had an influence then, too — the Mets made it to the National League Championship Series (before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals) in 2006, while the Yankees were knocked out in the American League Division Series.
The Mets’ triumph in this year’s poll, however, is far more impressive than when they nearly overtook the Yankees 10 years ago. You’ll notice in the table that there are two types of questions Quinnipiac has asked on this subject in the past: Sometimes they asked baseball fans who they’d root for in a World Series matchup between the Mets and the Yankees, as they did when the Mets came close to the Yankees in 2007. Other times, fans are asked who their favorite baseball team is overall. (That is, fans can choose teams besides the Mets and Yankees.) And in four surveys, Quinnipiac asked both versions of the question.
|YANKEES ARE FAVORITE …||METS ARE FAVORITE …|
|POLL DATE||TEAM IN MLB||IN SUBWAY SERIES||DIFF||TEAM IN MLB||IN SUBWAY SERIES||DIFF|
The Mets do much better when baseball fans are forced to choose between the Mets and the Yankees. While the Yankees lose a statistically insignificant 1 percentage point of support on average, the Mets pick up 10 points of support. This seems to confirm the finding of a nonscientific Reddit poll from three years ago that found the Yankees were the most hated team among baseball fans. In other words, non-Yankee and non-Met fans may pick the Mets when forced to choose between the two of them, simply because they dislike the Yankees more.
This year, though, the Mets beat the Yankees on the open-ended version of the question — the version in which they have always done worse. If we take this year’s result and apply the same boost the Mets typically receive in the other version of the question (where fans were forced to choose between the two teams), they would probably hold a 10-point head-to-head advantage over the Yankees. That’s pretty mind-boggling, considering the Mets were down 22 points on that type of question just three years ago.
The Mets need to keep winning, however, if they want to maintain an edge over the Yankees. As I wrote about three years ago, the Mets seem to pick up fans when they win and shed them when they lose, but the same didn’t hold true for the Yankees. Now, it seems the Yankees may also gain or lose fans depending on their record. (Before this year, Quinnipiac had never polled after a season in which the Mets made the playoffs — or World Series — more recently than the Yankees.) In the chart below, I’ve plotted the difference between the percentages of Met fans and Yankee fans in New York City against the difference in how long it had been since each team had been in the playoffs.1
Perhaps what’s most interesting about the chart is that, based on prior trends, we would have expected the Yankees to have more fans than the Mets even now. That is, in an environment where the Mets were doing slightly better than the Yankees, the pattern would have been for the Yankees to still have a larger fan base. That might mean Quinnipiac’s new poll is too friendly to the Mets — certainly a possibility, given the margin of error. It could also be the case that the Mets are receiving a “bonus” because they were in the playoffs last year and the Yankees weren’t. Again, we can’t really test that phenomenon because in every previous survey, the Yankees had been in the playoffs as recently (or far more so) than the Mets had been.
Either way, it’s clear that New York City is a two-baseball-team town right now. The Mets have caught up to — or perhaps even surpassed — their older brother. Yankee fans need their team to start winning again, or they’ll have to get used to seeing a lot more Mets caps on the subway as they make their commute.