The NL West has featured some of the more interesting pennant races in recent memory, mainly centered around the Rockies’ amazing comebacks in 2007 and 2009 to snag Wild Card spots. 2010 is no different, as the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies are all within two games of one another entering play today. This race has only really become a race in the past month, as for much of the year, the San Diego Padres seemed to be a foregone conclusion to win the NL West, but a huge losing streak by the Padres matched by another September surge by the Rockies has really made this a race.

Here are their relative standings over the past 30 days.

(Note that the Padres are, for the most part, a straight line because they had been in first, and thus they are ‘zero games behind the leader’ for that period.)

The surges by both the Giants and Rockies have been amazing, especially since the Rockies had found themselves eleven games out 30 days ago. Day by day, and game by game, the Rockies and Giants crept closer (of course, aided by the Padres’ ten-game losing streak), so I wondered what impact this race, and the surges by the Rockies and Giants (who I should note are, in fact, the leader right now), had on the ticket prices of the teams.

Here are the average ticket prices over that same 30-day time span.

This one is a little more volatile than the leaderboard. The Giants’ ticket prices are the most easily explainable. Except for a recent slide, which will probably be evened out over time, the Giants have very much mirrored their team’s performance. Since September 1st, the Giants have had a 5-game turnaround, and become the new leader. They have been consistently good since that date, and not so coincidentally, that same date marks the start of a prolonged increase in ticket prices, which have gone up a good $15, and remained fairly stable, as the Giants have finished chasing and now passing the Padres. The Rockies and Padres aren’t as easily explained. The Padres, after their ten-game losing streak, which is marked by their cratering in ticket prices around 9/5/2010, have been extremely volatile since, while the Rockies ticket prices’ barely rose at all, until the past five days. Why were these teams’ performances not reflected in their ticket prices, which is the norm (much like the Giants did)?

The answer is within the games. Let’s start with the Padres, the team in freefall, whose prices one would imagine would fall along with the team’s standing.

What is interesting to notice is that the prices of these games (all of the home games in the past month until the end of the season) are not reflective of how the Padres are doing at that time, but instead seem to be more related to the opponent the Padres are facing. Excluding the last series against the Cubs, for now, the Phillies and Reds commanded the highest average ticket prices paid by Padres fans. What do both the Phillies and Reds have in common? They are the leaders in the NL East and Central, possible playoff opponents for the Padres. The Phillies series was played when the Padres were up by 6 games (although they lost their last two games prior to that series), and the Rockies series right after that was played when the Padres were up by 5 games, and there is a noticeable difference between the prices for the games against the Phillies than against the Rockies. Padres fans clearly wanted to see a possible playoff preview, and were willing to pay for it.

The more telling series is the Giants one. The Padres entered the Giants series after sweeping the Dodgers and leading the NL West by just two games. In a tight pennant race, against the team that is chasing you, and happens to be a huge rival, the Padres fans still didn’t pay as much as they did to see the Phillies, or as much as they will to see the Reds. The Padres fans are seemingly more interested in watching prospective playoff opponents, than going to games that decide if they will even be in those playoffs.

Now, let’s take a look at the Rockies and see if their games have a similar trend.

The Rockies fans clearly are not as enamored by the prospect of seeing potential playoff teams as their Padres brethren, and there is a simple explanation for this: the Rockies are nowhere near as likely to make the playoffs as the Padres, and especially so when they played the Reds (a series they started 4.5 games back of San Diego). The Rockies weren’t even that excited to play the Padres, as they had to first beat the Giants to get to the Padres. What is strange is that the games that command the highest ticket prices are against the Giants and Dodgers, two divisional rivals. They are fighting the Giants for a playoff spot, but the Dodgers are far, far behind, but they still command a huge price.

Another interesting aspect of the fans’ mindset is how recently each franchise has made the playoffs. The Rockies have been there twice in the past three years, so their fans might not mind not making it this year (at least compared to the other two), which shows in their reluctance to pay top dollar for games against playoff-caliber teams, and their willingness to pay for games against divisional opponents who won’t make it (Arizona, LA). The Padres made the playoffs in 2005, and 2006 and lost a one-game playoff in 2007, so their fans know what the playoffs are like, but are itching to get back in, which shows in their willingness to pay for games against playoff-caliber teams, and pay much higher for games that have a lot of playoff implications. Finally, there are the Giants, who have pretty much followed the rise of their team, paying higher prices as their team gets closer and closer to making the playoffs. The Giants haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, and haven’t been higher than 3rd since 2005, so it makes sense that their interest in the team (and therefore willingness to pay higher prices) rise and fall with their team’s performance. The closer and closer they get to making the playoffs, the higher and higher the ticket prices should get, regardless of opponent, as their fans will soak in the opportunity to play meaningful games in September.

Fans aren’t always built the same way, and much of the way they view each game, especially in baseball where there are 162 games, and interest is very volatile throughout the marathon of a season, depends on the circumstances of each team. Just by looking at the 2010 NL West race, one can see that Padres fans are happy to be in good standing, and are confident and experienced enough to start scouting possible opponents and get into games that will mirror October, whereas Rockies fans are now used to this late surge, and won’t be swayed by the caliber of opponent, and want to see their divisional rivals, while Giants fans are desperate for serious September baseball of any kind.

Do you agree with these findings and placements of each teams’ fanbase? Is this trend seen in other teams? Feel free to share your thoughts. Comment below or chime in on Twitter at @SeatGeek. ‘Til next time.