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Saturday, September 28, 2019

MLB attendance drops in boom-bust era of big winners, losers

Jumping ahead:

With some teams out of contention even before their first pitch, average attendance has dropped four years in a row for the first time since the commissioner’s office started tracking it in 1980.

“We’re going to draw 68-plus million people at the big league level,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said this week, “another 41 million in minor league baseball — they’re actually going to be up. I’ll take 110 million people going to see the sport live. That’s a really, really awesome number in an environment where people have more and more and more alternatives to consume.”

More and more teams have adopted an all-in or all-out philosophy. If they don’t think they can win it, why bother to be in it? Better to shed expensive veterans and rebuild with cheaper rookies — and incur the box-office hit. Management calls that prudent rebuilding. The players’ association labels it tanking.

“We have some of the most remarkably talented players our game has seen as a whole in a long time,” union head Tony Clark said. “But the willful failure of too many franchises to field competitive teams and put their best players on the field is unquestionably hurting our industry.”

So, how do we interpret this state of affairs?

 

QLE Posted: September 28, 2019 at 01:07 AM | 46 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: attendance, winners and losers

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Brian White Posted: September 28, 2019 at 09:38 AM (#5883958)
It's worth noting that other sports have seen declines in attendance over the last four years; NFL attendance is down 2% over that time, and college football attendance seems to be down over the same time frame (although I can't find a good metric to find out how much). NBA and NHL attendance have held steady over the past four years.

MLB's attendance is down 5% over the last four years, which certainly seems like a lot.
   2. My name is RMc and I feel extremely affected Posted: September 28, 2019 at 09:58 AM (#5883962)
It's worth noting that other sports have seen declines in attendance over the last four years

No, no, no. When cool sports attendance declines, it's a "market correction". When baseball attendance declines, it's cuz baseball is old and boring and racist and probably transphobic.
   3. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: September 28, 2019 at 10:08 AM (#5883965)
And Alex Rodriguez RMc, don’t forget ARod.
   4. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: September 28, 2019 at 10:21 AM (#5883968)
When baseball attendance declines, it's cuz baseball is old and boring and racist


The decline in attendance corresponds to the Indians axing Chief Wahoo. So maybe it’s because baseball isn’t racist enough.
   5. McCoy Posted: September 28, 2019 at 10:31 AM (#5883971)
All time high to not. Yawn
   6. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: September 28, 2019 at 01:11 PM (#5884003)
Just out of curiosity, when do we plan to stop summarily dismissing the attendance drop? If it hits 10 percent? 20?
   7. Itchy Row Posted: September 28, 2019 at 01:22 PM (#5884010)
That just means more baseball is left for me.
   8. The Yankee Clapper Posted: September 28, 2019 at 01:22 PM (#5884011)
Attendance is only down 457 fans per game. MLB is still on the very high attendance plateau that they’ve been on for more than a decade. Revenues are likely at an all-time high … until next season.
   9. Itchy Row Posted: September 28, 2019 at 01:54 PM (#5884017)
Miami’s attendance is up by two people per game. Jeter’s plan is starting to work.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 28, 2019 at 02:20 PM (#5884025)
Miami’s attendance is up by two people per game. Jeter’s plan is starting to work.

Those two must be awful lonely.
   11. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: September 28, 2019 at 02:41 PM (#5884033)
MLB is still on the very high attendance plateau that they’ve been on for more than a decade.

They've mostly slid off that plateau. In 2003, MLB averaged 27,840 fans per game but then jumped up to 30,074 per game in 2004. That kicked off 13 straight years averaging over 30,000 per game, peaking at 32,704 per game in 2007. So far this year, they're down to 28,148 per game. That's basically where they were before 2004. It's a fall of 14% from where they were a dozen years ago. If they fall down around 300 more next year, and they'll have their worst year since 1996, shortly after the strike.

Oh, I know they money is better than ever. And I know that attendance revenue represents an ever-shrinking share of a team's overall revenue. But declining fan attendance isn't a good thing. The question is how far can it drop before it actually starts cutting into other revenue streams?

   12. Kiko Sakata Posted: September 28, 2019 at 02:53 PM (#5884036)
Attendance is only down 457 fans per game. MLB is still on the very high attendance plateau that they’ve been on for more than a decade. Revenues are likely at an all-time high … until next season.


MLB attendance per game in 2019 (28,148) is 2,800 less than it was in 1993 (30,965). The last time attendance rose was in 2015 when it rose by a whopping 18 people per game (30,346 to 30,366). That rise in 2015 followed back-to-back attendance declines in 2013 and 2014. There are plenty of reasons to think that MLB is doing well and that raw per-game attendance numbers tell less of the story than they used to. But live attendance in MLB games is absolutely in decline and has been for large parts of the past quarter-century now.
   13. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: September 28, 2019 at 02:56 PM (#5884037)
How much of that per game drop is due to some new ballparks? Since 2004 the new parks have lost;

Yankee - 9,000
Twins - 8,000
Braves - 8,000
Padres - 13,000
Nationals - 5,000
Mets - 16,000
Marlins - Oh who cares, 72 people show up every night
Cardinals - 4,000

Now obviously not everyone bangs it out every night so I’m not saying that’s the primary cause, I’m just curious if anyone has looked into this as a function. Just one team I looked at, the Mets lost about a million people the first year the new place was open.
   14. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: September 28, 2019 at 03:26 PM (#5884043)
Miami’s attendance is up by two people per game. Jeter’s plan is starting to work.


Judging from the 784 shots of them sitting in the stands during Fox Sports' 1990s postseason coverage, I assume the two people are Jeter's parents.
   15. spycake Posted: September 28, 2019 at 04:47 PM (#5884070)
How much of that per game drop is due to some new ballparks?


That was my thought too. From 1989-2012, there was an average of 1 new ballpark opening every year. That's a lot of new ballpark boosts! Over the last 7 seasons, there has been only 1 new park total.
   16. Greg Pope Posted: September 28, 2019 at 05:30 PM (#5884079)
How much of that per game drop is due to some new ballparks?


That was my thought too. From 1989-2012, there was an average of 1 new ballpark opening every year. That's a lot of new ballpark boosts! Over the last 7 seasons, there has been only 1 new park total.

I think this probably has an impact. It seems likely that we're not going to have many, if any, new parks in the near future. Although with Atlanta and Texas getting new ones I guess it's not out of the question. But I would have to guess that most of the parks have to have at least 20 years left in them. I would hope significantly more.

Can the new park effect be teased out of the numbers? It seems like a lot of teams tried to tie their success cycle to the new park opening. While they weren't always successful, many seemed to be tanking in the years before the opening so it might be hard to tell.
   17. The Yankee Clapper Posted: September 28, 2019 at 05:56 PM (#5884088)
They've mostly slid off that plateau. In 2003, MLB averaged 27,840 fans per game but then jumped up to 30,074 per game in 2004. That kicked off 13 straight years averaging over 30,000 per game, peaking at 32,704 per game in 2007. So far this year, they're down to 28,148 per game.
That seems like the very definition of a plateau, if you take any kind of long view.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: September 28, 2019 at 06:56 PM (#5884102)
With every human being alive going to see the latest Marvel blockbuster 5 times, it's amazing anybody has any time left for baseball.

It's a very complicated picture (we don't even necessarily have the right outcome variable, we'd certainly at least like to know ticket/concession/etc. revenue) but one thing I've noticed for this year's drops:

Not surprisingly, Sea (6300) and Tor (7200) are off hugely as they shift from teams that competed to ones that were clearly tossing in the towel. In a sense, that's the entirety of the league-wide drop.

Obvious disasters like Balt, Det and KC were off a combined 10,000. No surprise there either other than maybe wondering why it took so long for the market to "correct" on those teams.

Somewhat curious: teams that started out terribly but then, at least for a while, clawed their way back into at least a WC race: The Giants are off 5,600. Less dramatically, Cle and Wash off a combined 5,900. It might be interesting to see if their attendance recovered to standard levels (or at least improved substantially) as the season went on and how long did it take them to recover.

Doubly curious: Apparently they're already bored in Houston and the Yanks are not as hot a ticket as one might think.

About those FAs: Philly up 7,300; SD up 2,800.
   19. Best Dressed Chicken in Town Posted: September 28, 2019 at 07:22 PM (#5884106)
How much of that per game drop is due to some new ballparks? Since 2004 the new parks have lost;

Yankee - 9,000]


During the end of their time in the old Stadium, Yankees were selling out almost every game, over 4 million in annual attendance. It's not possible for them to reach 4 mill in the new park.
   20. Captain Supporter Posted: September 28, 2019 at 07:42 PM (#5884111)
I think its clear enough that rule changes since 2004 and the evolution of analytic approaches that both encourage tanking and increase the standard deviation of team payrolls and team W-L records account for a good portion of the decline. Throw in the effect of fewer new parks, the elasticity effects associated with the increases in ticket prices, the ability to watch games on all kinds of new platforms, etc., and you could probably account for most of the decline without having to predict the imminent collapse of baseball. Oh and racism, of course, never forget racism.

Of course many people have predicted the decline of baseball because of a perceived lack of interest and participation in the sport among young people. But interestingly, the facts say otherwise Per an article from ESPN, "Between 2013 and 2018, the number of U.S. kids playing baseball and softball combined increased by nearly 3 million, according to annual surveys by the Sports Fitness & Industry Association. During that same period, participation in soccer and football declined and basketball increased only slightly.

"The increase in baseball participation is real, there's no question about it, and it's substantial. It's statistically significant without a doubt," said Tom Cove, president and CEO of the SFIA.
   21. donlock Posted: September 29, 2019 at 12:24 PM (#5884312)
Can we stop using the term "tanking" until someone explains how a poor team can improve in today's game and can find pitchers, who can succeed on the major league level, without

(1) Spending huge sums in free agency -an option unlikely for small or mid-market teams. The best examples of how well this works can be seen in Philly and San Diego. The Orioles recently paid millions to acquire Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb and, earlier, Wade Miley. Top pitchers don't want to pitch for bad teams as that will hurt their stats and make life unpleasant for them now and in the future.

(2) Trading current assets for such productive arms. Again, if the players on the team were so good, you would be playing better. Few teams have extra major league arms ready to play and rarely give them up in trades.

(3) Working the waiver wire. Bad teams have first crack at the other teams' discards. The last few seasons have revealed few gems from this option.

(4) Qualify for the first position in the player draft. Only one #1 player, Dansby Swanson of Arizona and now Atlanta, of the last seven drafts, is now playing at the ML level.


(5) Expend large sums of money on analytics and minor league and Latin scouting/signing. This is not a quick fix by any means. Probably the best plan.

There are no quick fixes for improvement but finishing last is not a useful option for most teams. The Orioles, Tigers, Royals and Marlins are not "tanking" as much as finding it very difficult to rebuild.
   22. Davo Posted: September 29, 2019 at 01:19 PM (#5884330)
So, how do we interpret this state of affairs?

Everything's fine, stop over-reacting, everything that seems bad is Actually Good, oh you'd rather we go back to 1600 when people died of polio?, etc.
   23. QLE Posted: October 01, 2019 at 12:34 AM (#5884830)
   24. Bote Man sez Davey is MoY Posted: October 01, 2019 at 01:05 AM (#5884831)
I'll start being concerned about the drop in attendance right after the team owners become concerned. They're making their nut from season ticket sales to corporate buyers, media rights, and other revenue streams. They don't care about peons like you or me.

Somebody speculated the other day that perhaps MLB is turning into a high-end luxury sport that only the wealthy will attend in person. The prices are certainly trending that way.
   25. Howie Menckel Posted: October 01, 2019 at 01:08 AM (#5884833)
only a dozen or so Yankees home games this year offered non-nosebleed $5 tickets to anyone if you knew where to look (mainly MasterCard no-annual fee credit card holders, I think).

not sure what bargains the other 29 not as storied franchises pitched to their fans.
   26. BrianBrianson Posted: October 01, 2019 at 04:32 AM (#5884838)
Can we stop using the term "tanking" until someone explains how a poor team can improve in today's game and can find pitchers, who can succeed on the major league level, without


NO! Every team that doesn't win the World Series, and possibly also the Stanley Cup, is, by definition, tanking.
   27. Random Transaction Generator Posted: October 01, 2019 at 07:29 AM (#5884844)
In person attendance went down slightly, but the national TV ratings went up. TBS (+10%), FOX (+8%), and ESPN (+2%) all went up more than in-person attendance went down.

   28. McCoy Posted: October 01, 2019 at 08:47 AM (#5884850)
Should do a percentage of seats sold between then and now.
   29. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2019 at 09:10 AM (#5884854)
In person attendance went down slightly, but the national TV ratings went up. TBS (+10%), FOX (+8%), and ESPN (+2%) all went up more than in-person attendance went down.

OK, but a fanny in the seats is worth orders of magnitude more than a fan watching at home.
   30. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: October 01, 2019 at 09:28 AM (#5884864)
Question: why does it matter to us if baseball attendance drops?

I know why it matters to owners. But why us? It's not going to drop enough for them to stop playing the game. So we, who love baseball, get to continue to enjoy it. I feel bad, in a vaguely altruistic sort of way, for the people who aren't watching baseball, because they're missing something wonderful. But, eh, they obviously think that they've got something more wonderful to do. They might be wrong, but that's their business.

So another way to put my question: so what?
   31. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2019 at 09:39 AM (#5884867)
Question: why does it matter to us if baseball attendance drops?

Attendance is dropping because the product on the field is lousy, and that hurts my enjoyment of the game. I'm actually happy attendance is dropping. Maybe MLB will finally wake up and address the game pace, game length, and TTO problems.
   32. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: October 01, 2019 at 09:50 AM (#5884869)
The potentially scary part of the recent decline is that it's come during good economic times. I haven't looked at this in great detail recently, but from what I recall attendance declines during the past 40 or so years coincided with either a recession, a strike, or both.

We've enjoyed economic expansion for about a decade. If things like the inverted yield curve and higher debt levels lead to the next recession, I can certainly see the attendance decline accelerating.
   33. McCoy Posted: October 01, 2019 at 10:02 AM (#5884874)
Attendance is dropping because teams are offering less seats
   34. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2019 at 10:07 AM (#5884879)
Attendance is dropping because teams are offering less seats

Doesn't explain the last 5-10 years or so. There haven't been many new ballparks built.
   35. Crosseyed and Painless Posted: October 01, 2019 at 10:09 AM (#5884880)
I think "tanking" is a term that gets used too often in all sports, but I do think the Tigers Front Office really didn't seem to care if they won 47 games or if they won 70 games. Or if they did care, they didn't show it last winter.

And maybe they shouldn't care. I really don't know. But I do know it makes the team harder to watch in the short-term.
   36. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2019 at 10:13 AM (#5884884)
And maybe they shouldn't care. I really don't know. But I do know it makes the team harder to watch in the short-term.

Right, and that's why tanking is bad for MLB as a whole, even if it's good for specific teams. If 5 franchise don't even make an effort, that suppresses fan interest in 1/6th of the league's markets, and reduces overall revenue. The individual tanking teams are cushioned from this effect because of shared revenue.
   37. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 01, 2019 at 11:00 AM (#5884909)
Somebody speculated the other day that perhaps MLB is turning into a high-end luxury sport that only the wealthy will attend in person. The prices are certainly trending that way.

It's the logical endgame to "dynamic pricing". In practice it means the only affordable seats are either for games against Who Cares teams, or they're in the nosebleed sections. You can (rightly) say it's simply a matter of supply and demand, but that doesn't change the fact that "dynamic pricing", which is a relatively recent phenomenon in baseball, disproportionately impacts the non-rich fan base.

Charlie Finley once proposed granting free agency to every player at the end of each season. I wonder what the effect on MLB attendance would be if advance ticket sales were restricted to a week before the date of a game, or even eliminated altogether.
   38. McCoy Posted: October 01, 2019 at 11:34 AM (#5884929)
Averaging a little over a 1% decline each year since 2013. Yawn.
   39. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2019 at 11:39 AM (#5884932)
Averaging a little over a 1% decline each year since 2013. Yawn.

While economic growth has been strong.
   40. Howie Menckel Posted: October 01, 2019 at 11:45 AM (#5884937)
"dynamic pricing", which is a relatively recent phenomenon in baseball, disproportionately impacts the non-rich fan base.

that's true - when a team is struggling, tickets can be had for much cheaper prices than ever before, in that "non-dynamic era." that's an impact.
   41. KronicFatigue Posted: October 01, 2019 at 11:59 AM (#5884945)
only a dozen or so Yankees home games this year offered non-nosebleed $5 tickets to anyone if you knew where to look (mainly MasterCard no-annual fee credit card holders, I think).

not sure what bargains the other 29 not as storied franchises pitched to their fans.


When the Mets were struggling early in the season, they had a 1 week sale for almost all future games. 4 tix for $20. There were only a handful of games blacked out. Outfield upper deck of course, but no complaints from me.

I think there are many factors at play. Stadiums hold less (and focus more on the expensive seats, which continue to get more expensive), the pace of game is too slow for today's consumer, tanking, etc. I also think teams are making games less fan friendly in terms of start times. Have Saturdays become more likely to be night games over day games, or is that my imagination? Better for TV ratings, but less likely to get families to the park (if that's actually happening)

Are doubleheaders happening more often now because of more extreme weather? Wouldn't that cut into raw totals for attendance?
   42. villageidiom Posted: October 01, 2019 at 12:04 PM (#5884950)
Attendance clearly is dropping because of the worsening of the thing I care about in baseball.

I suspect I owe a Coke to at least 20 people.
   43. McCoy Posted: October 01, 2019 at 12:29 PM (#5884959)
And prices have gone up about 4% a year during these economic good times.
   44. . Posted: October 01, 2019 at 01:09 PM (#5884977)
Question: why does it matter to us if baseball attendance drops?


There's no reason you should. Hockey is arguably my favorite sport and I give fewer than zero ##### whether it ever "breaks out" of its "niche" as a "regional sport" -- the essential business question of the sport for 30+ years. In fact, I hope it doesn't. It's a fantastic sport, with a great culture of competitiveness and teamwork and camaraderie and balls-out work, and it's better in 2019 than it's ever been. (Unlike baseball, which is way worse than it was at its peak.) The fact that it has a rabid fanbase and franchises outside the US is yet another big aesthetic plus. If the masses ever glom onto it, those appealing things will be threatened.
   45. . Posted: October 01, 2019 at 01:16 PM (#5884981)
"dynamic pricing", which is a relatively recent phenomenon in baseball, disproportionately impacts the non-rich fan base.


It does the exact opposite. No one has to pay more than street value for a baseball ticket anymore and there's now quick and easy price discovery of actual street value.(*) If the street value is too high, games might be less affordable, but that has nothing to do with dynamic pricing.

(*) As opposed to BITD, when you had to deal with scalpers and had no idea of the comparative quality of the prices they were offering, or even such simple fundamental things as whether Section 8 was indeed, as the scalpers were saying, "right behind home plate."
   46. base ball chick Posted: October 01, 2019 at 03:42 PM (#5885047)
Bote Man Posted: October 01, 2019 at 01:05 AM (#5884831)

I'll start being concerned about the drop in attendance right after the team owners become concerned. They're making their nut from season ticket sales to corporate buyers, media rights, and other revenue streams. They don't care about peons like you or me.

Somebody speculated the other day that perhaps MLB is turning into a high-end luxury sport that only the wealthy will attend in person. The prices are certainly trending that way


- zackly

Those People refer to us as "customers" and not fans.

i don't know if there are scalpers on the street outside the Box like there used to be. You could get a ticket for $5 - of course, you'd have to be willing to sit in the upper deck where the ushers aren't looking at everyone's ticket

when is the media FINALLY going to admit that ticket prices have nothing whatsoever to do with payroll or player salaries???!!!

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