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Thursday, May 02, 2019

MLB attendance is down again, and rebuilding teams are getting hit hard

If two rebuilding teams play a baseball game and no one was there to watch, did the game actually happen?

The Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles put that to the test with a doubleheader Wednesday. If Game 1 was any indication, fans didn’t seem interested to watch two noncompetitive clubs go at it.

A similar thing could be said about the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays. While the Rays actually have the best record in the American League, they typically don’t draw large crowds. Put them on the road against a struggling Royals roster, and you get a lot of empty seats.

Attendance has been an issue for Major League Baseball once again in 2019. After watching attendance drop by four percent in 2018, the early returns don’t look promising.

Turns out there really are dire consequences when revenue and performance are so disconnected.

 

QLE Posted: May 02, 2019 at 06:07 AM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: attendance, rebuilding

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   1. bfan Posted: May 02, 2019 at 07:53 AM (#5837474)
Wait; attendance is down because 12 teams were down, year to year? Is not there a big fact missing here, as in that would mean 18 teams are up?

I get that if the 12 down are down to a greater extent than the 18 are up, then overall you could have an overall reduction, but if 60% of the teams have experienced an increase, that strikes me as something other than dire.

Come on, if there were a headline such as "Cardinals offense continues to struggle as 3 regulars drop off from last year", I am guessing quite a few of you would raise your hands and say "well, no."
   2. manchestermets Posted: May 02, 2019 at 08:55 AM (#5837481)
What's the statute of limitations on r-building? The White Sox haven't been in the playoffs since 2008, and haven't had a winning record since 2012. Surely at this point they're just building?

And the Rays clearly aren't "rebuilding" at all. They're fielding a good team, as they did last year. Their low attendance is a function of their crappy stadium, or of Florida being a crappy place to put a baseball team, or something else but it certainly isn't because they're rebuilding.
   3. . Posted: May 02, 2019 at 09:21 AM (#5837484)
No great surprise that fewer people want to watch 2019-style baseball. It has little/nothing to do with teams "rebuilding," which have always been part of the sports scene.
   4. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: May 02, 2019 at 09:21 AM (#5837485)
The article definitely frames the issue badly. It does cite to a USA Today article which identifies a dip in league wide attendance of less than 1% from last year to this.

But no change from last year to this year would also be noteworthy because MLB saw a 4% decline last season. Despite better weather (as measured by fewer rainouts) in 2019, those fans haven't been coming back.
   5. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 02, 2019 at 09:26 AM (#5837488)

It wouldn't surprise me if attendance was declining, but you also have to look at attendance in the context of ticket prices. If attendance is down but ticket prices are continuing to rise, that may have little to do with the product on the field and might actually reflect a stronger business.
   6. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 02, 2019 at 09:39 AM (#5837493)
Phillies attendance has risen 50% so I don't know what is every other team's problem.

It has little/nothing to do with teams "rebuilding," which have always been part of the sports scene.

I don't know about that. In the past every team claimed they were trying to win. Even if you knew you had the least talent in the league and no top prospects, you would bamboozle the fans and usually it worked unless you had also sucked for the last 5 years or more. Now, they proudly state that they are at a certain point in the "success cycle" and they are scheduled to be a good team in 2-3 years.
   7. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 02, 2019 at 10:26 AM (#5837520)
I never see this get mentioned much, but isn't a factor all these weekday day games that are now required by the CBA? When I was a kid, the Royals never had weekday day games, and now they have one nearly weekly because the union requires it for many games. Aside from Wrigley and maybe a few other places, the attendance for most of those games is pitiful.


The article definitely frames the issue badly. It does cite to a USA Today article which identifies a dip in league wide attendance of less than 1% from last year to this.


I posted a similar article from Jeff Passan that said they are basically down 193 fans per game, which doesn't strike me as a huge problem, although 2018 was a big drop from the previous year. It is still up pretty significantly from the 80s and 90s.
   8. Don August(us) Cesar Geronimo Berroa Posted: May 02, 2019 at 11:26 AM (#5837539)
this is kind of weird: The Reds have played 13 home games. Not one of them has been a Friday or Saturday game in Cincinnati (they played 2 "home games" in Mexico).
   9. Don August(us) Cesar Geronimo Berroa Posted: May 02, 2019 at 11:55 AM (#5837554)
The Reds have their first Friday and Saturday night games at home starting tomorrow against the Giants. Looks like Friday night should be pretty nice, weather wise. Fireworks show after the game. Saturday is currently scheduled for rain most of the day and getting fairly cool by game time. Sunday 4:10pm start should be lovely weather. If they average 12,000 fans or so for these games, then yeah, there is a problem. Though, they still have yet to play the Cubs and Cards at home (other than the 2 Mexico games).
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: May 02, 2019 at 12:03 PM (#5837558)
I never see this get mentioned much, but isn't a factor all these weekday day games that are now required by the CBA? When I was a kid, the Royals never had weekday day games, and now they have one nearly weekly because the union requires it for many games. Aside from Wrigley and maybe a few other places, the attendance for most of those games is pitiful.


Thursday has almost almost always been a weekday day game or Wednesday if the series started on Monday... At least from my memory. It's been called the getaway game since at least the 80's because of that. Early start, plane trip, you rest your regulars etc.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: May 02, 2019 at 12:24 PM (#5837575)
Thursday has almost almost always been a weekday day game or Wednesday if the series started on Monday... At least from my memory. It's been called the getaway game since at least the 80's because of that. Early start, plane trip, you rest your regulars etc.


I eyeballed the schedules of birds from both leagues, your Cards and the O's. The Cards had 61 day games last year, 53 in 2008, 50 in 1998 and 52 in 1988. The O's had 58 day games last year, 46 in 2008, 47 in 1998 and only 39 in 1988.

Assuming these aren't outliers (and I have no reason to think they are, since there hasn't been a major ballpark change for either, such as playing indoors to outdoors), it would seem teams are definitely playing more day games today than they did at any point in the previous 40 years.

   12. Davo Posted: May 02, 2019 at 12:35 PM (#5837581)
This year’s bad teams only *seem* especially bad.

Those Pirates and Rays and Royals and Expos teams in the 90s and 00s had the exact same combinations of “has beens and never would be’s” that the Marlins and Orioles are trotting our this year.

I mean. The 2005 Pirates. Holy ####.

Or the 2006 Royals. That’s 38-year old Reggie Sanders, 31-year-old Emil Brown, 36-year-old Mark Grudzielanek, and 32-year-old Doug Mientkiewicz in the opening day starting lineup!
   13. cardsfanboy Posted: May 02, 2019 at 01:04 PM (#5837612)
Assuming these aren't outliers (and I have no reason to think they are, since there hasn't been a major ballpark change for either, such as playing indoors to outdoors), it would seem teams are definitely playing more day games today than they did at any point in the previous 40 years.


They are definitely playing more day games in the past couple of years, but it's not happening more because of one mid week game is being played in the day, that has been the norm since forever, it's happening because more than one midweek game, more Saturday day games are happening etc.

Roughly speaking 40 or so day games in a season is equivalent to two games a week... Sunday and the Getaway game, they are adding basically beyond that. I'm not sure it's happening mid week though, it does really feel like there are more saturday day games than ever before... but at the same time with the new CBA and the extra days off, there is more opportunity for getaway games with an extra day off in between, and they will almost always be day games no matter when they fall.
   14. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 02, 2019 at 01:13 PM (#5837618)
I posted a similar article from Jeff Passan that said they are basically down 193 fans per game, which doesn't strike me as a huge problem, although 2018 was a big drop from the previous year. It is still up pretty significantly from the 80s and 90s.


For anybody interested, Baseball-Reference tracks this. Their comparisons to 2018 (second table at the link) are through the same number of home games last season. As of today, average attendance is down 319 per game this year (from 26,706 to 26,388), which isn't a huge deal, except that it continues a trend that's been going on for about 5 or 6 years now (and was most acute last year).

That said, no team has played more than 19 home games so far this year and with so few games you're definitely going to run into small sample sizes related to weather, time of day of games, and days of the week for games (e.g., the Reds are down 1,808 per game through their first 13 home games, but somebody noted above that they haven't played a weekend home game yet this year, so that one probably needs to be taken with a grain of salt). Although I suppose in theory weekday vs. weekend discrepancies should largely offset at the league level (if the Reds are always on the road on weekends, the teams they're playing in those weekend series are at home).
   15. cardsfanboy Posted: May 02, 2019 at 01:17 PM (#5837620)
And of course the earlier start to the season probably doesn't help those numbers.
   16. BillWallace Posted: May 02, 2019 at 01:31 PM (#5837631)
the exact same combinations of “has beens and never would be’s”


Not exactly. There is noticed difference, with fewer "has beens" and more "never will be's"

It's been discussed endlessly already, but those awful teams of the past would employ replacement level 'known' veterans down to their last shred of competence. Now the Orioles for example are chock full of AAAA players who are in or are entering their primes that no one has ever heard of.
   17. Brian C Posted: May 02, 2019 at 01:59 PM (#5837653)
There may have been fewer rainouts here in Chicago - only one this year compared to I think 5 in April last year for the Cubs - but weather's still been a huge factor. In fact, using rainouts as a proxy for weather seems like a not-very-precise way of doing it, because a) rainouts don't count as a game played, so it's obviously not a poorly attended game, and b) as in the case this year, it just means that the weather is just bad enough that the games get played anyway. There have been a small number of good weather days for the Cubs, but mostly it's been the kind of weather no one wants to hang out in.

Put another way, I think rainouts probably help official attendance numbers - when the game isn't played, the attendance doesn't count, and the game often gets rescheduled for better weather. It's the days where the forecast blows but the game gets played anyway that really hurt the attendance figures.
   18. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 02, 2019 at 02:11 PM (#5837660)
Or the 2006 Royals. That’s 38-year old Reggie Sanders, 31-year-old Emil Brown, 36-year-old Mark Grudzielanek, and 32-year-old Doug Mientkiewicz in the opening day starting lineup!
Yes, but they were highly paid veterans, and that makes the FanGraphs people happy now.
   19. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 02, 2019 at 02:47 PM (#5837677)
Just looking at the Royals schedule over the years, weekday day games:

1988 -7
1998 - 12
2008 - 18
2018 - 18

So, probably not a huge difference. I also took a look at all weekday day game attendance last year - it was actually higher than weekday night attendance. Now, a lot of that is (a) the Cubs; (b) Opening Day; (c) other holidays (July 4, Labor Day, Memorial Day). Even taking those out, attendance is still slightly higher on weekday day games. Even during April/May and September, when school is in session, attendance only dips by 7 percent against weekday night games (which also probably drop those months). So that kinda blows my theory out of the water.
   20. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: May 02, 2019 at 03:33 PM (#5837693)
If Game 1 was any indication


Well, it isn't an indication, you ignoramus. It was basically an impromptu game; those will draw interest in the postseason and that's about it.

If you're counting anything besides regularly scheduled games where no exchange was offered, then the comparisons are meaningless. I believe the White Sox had a game a year or two ago where the game was played but the weather was so awful throughout the day they announced the day before that tickets for that particular game could be exchanged any time during the year even though the game went on as scheduled. (They might have moved that game up from a night game to an afternoon start time, I'm not going to spend the time to look it up - much like Cwik spent no time on this article.)
   21. Howie Menckel Posted: May 02, 2019 at 03:46 PM (#5837701)
Does the author not live in the Northeast or Midwest?

last Wednesday, the weather in the NYC area was spectacular. then it got rainy and chilly.

Mets had a day game today, and the weather was spectacular again.

way too soon to draw any conclusions at all.
   22. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 02, 2019 at 03:57 PM (#5837709)
Not exactly. There is noticed difference, with fewer "has beens" and more "never will be's"

It's been discussed endlessly already, but those awful teams of the past would employ replacement level 'known' veterans down to their last shred of competence. Now the Orioles for example are chock full of AAAA players who are in or are entering their primes that no one has ever heard of.


This is correct. Teams now have decided that signing a past-his-prime veteran does not get the fans excited enough to be worth paying 15 times the price of signing a guy who nobody has ever heard of who has a 95% chance of never being any good. But it DOES get the fans to at least believe the team is TRYING to accomplish something albeit maybe with insufficient resources or unimpressive strategy.
   23. RoyalFlush Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:00 PM (#5837711)
I get the concerns with what the article is saying, but attendance in KC has been down noticeably this year (the weather last year in KC was MUCH worse). I was at the second game of the Rays/Royals double header yesterday and it was amazing how loud the ball hitting the gloves/bats is when there isn't anyone around. Anyway....

KC Royals Through 15 games:
Year Average attendance
2019 15,136
2018 17,450
2017 26,311

The article below is pretty interesting as it notes the problems we've been talking about - but also notes a 20% rise in TV ratings for the Royals. So, baseball isn't dead in KC, but maybe he stadium experience is taking a hit.

https://theathletic.com/953216/2019/04/29/downside-of-a-rebuild-royals-face-attendance-woes-even-as-tv-ratings-improve/
   24. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:09 PM (#5837716)
No problem, the Royals can just raise the price of everything by 20%. Then attendance will drop again and they can raise the price again. Eventually there will be one fan there who pays six figures for a ticket, like Martin Shkreli's Wu-Tang album.
   25. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:35 PM (#5837730)
I get the concerns with what the article is saying, but attendance in KC has been down noticeably this year (the weather last year in KC was MUCH worse). I was at the second game of the Rays/Royals double header yesterday and it was amazing how loud the ball hitting the gloves/bats is when there isn't anyone around. Anyway....

KC Royals Through 15 games:
Year Average attendance
2019 15,136
2018 17,450
2017 26,311

The article below is pretty interesting as it notes the problems we've been talking about - but also notes a 20% rise in TV ratings for the Royals. So, baseball isn't dead in KC, but maybe he stadium experience is taking a hit.


You need to be careful looking at individual teams, though. Probably the biggest factor in attendance changes is the quality of the team. The Royals are coming off a 104-loss season and are now one year further removed from their World Series bump. If I were the owner of the Royals, sure, I'd be very concerned about the team's attendance - and the fact that the team is terrible and likely headed for another 100-loss season.

But for MLB as a whole, team quality is zero sum - at least as measured by wins and losses. To get a sense of to what extent there's a problem with baseball as a game/sport/industry, I think it's more helpful to look at league-wide numbers (which, to be clear, don't look great, but don't look quite as dire as the numbers for either MLB in 2018 as a whole or for the 2019 KC Royals specifically).
   26. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:50 PM (#5837734)
Teams now have decided that signing a past-his-prime veteran does not get the fans excited enough to be worth paying 15 times the price of signing a guy who nobody has ever heard of who has a 95% chance of never being any good. But it DOES get the fans to at least believe the team is TRYING to accomplish something albeit maybe with insufficient resources or unimpressive strategy.
I'm going to take a WAG here and say that to the extent these things matter, the casual fan is more interested in seeing the "name" guy they've heard of even if old and declining, rather than a 4A guy with similar performance at a lower price tag (unless there's any "hot prospect" sheen left).
   27. DL from MN Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:53 PM (#5837735)
the casual fan is more interested in seeing the "name" guy they've heard of even if old and declining, rather than a 4A guy with similar performance at a lower price tag (unless there's any "hot prospect" sheen left).


I was way more interested in seeing late-career Rickey Henderson play than I was seeing prime-of-his-career Rich Becker.
   28. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:57 PM (#5837736)
I was not very interested in seeing Chris Stynes or Matt Lawton when they signed with the Pirates because nobody else would give them a major-league deal, but they were more interesting than Mike Edwards and J.J. Furmaniak.

At least it was SOMETHING. They weren't just saying "We suck, why waste money?" They were saying "Unfortunately we are the Pirates and these are the best veterans we can afford."
   29. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 02, 2019 at 04:58 PM (#5837737)
I'm going to take a WAG here and say that to the extent these things matter, the casual fan is more interested in seeing the "name" guy they've heard of even if old and declining, rather than a 4A guy with similar performance at a lower price tag (unless there's any "hot prospect" sheen left).


Probably. Although I suspect this is more true if the "name" guy earned his name for the team in question. I could see Orioles fans being more willing to watch Adam Jones play a lousy center field than Cedric Mullins. But I wonder how true that is of D-Backs fans, who have no personal memory or connection with Adam Jones back when he was really good. Although Jones isn't the best example here as he's off to a very nice start with the D-Backs, who are playing very well so far this season (and have seen an attendance boost of almost 2,000 fans per game this season despite having traded away Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason).

EDIT to add: Re: #27, sure a guy like end-of-career Rickey Henderson will be a draw anywhere.
   30. manchestermets Posted: May 02, 2019 at 05:04 PM (#5837739)
Or the 2006 Royals. That’s 38-year old Reggie Sanders, 31-year-old Emil Brown, 36-year-old Mark Grudzielanek, and 32-year-old Doug Mientkiewicz in the opening day starting lineup!


Never mind the lineup, look at the pitching. One starting pitcher across the whole season who ended up with an ERA below 5.00, and he started two games. Brutal.
   31. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 02, 2019 at 05:35 PM (#5837747)
Never mind the lineup, look at the pitching. One starting pitcher across the whole season who ended up with an ERA below 5.00, and he started two games. Brutal.


And just to be clear that's one out of 17 starting pitchers. Mark Redman, Runelvys Hernandez, Scott Elarton, Luke Hudson, Odalis Perez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Duckworth, Mike Wood, Denny Bautista, Jimmy Gobble, Bobby Keppel, Joe Mays, Adam Bernero, Seth Etherton, Ambiorix Burgos (1 start and 67 relief appearances), and Kyle Snyder. Somehow I remember all those names except Bobby Keppel, because of the constant Royals content being put out by our favorite writers.

They had 20 pitchers throw over 15 innings. Todd Wellemeyer was the only one who had a good season by any standard (130 ERA+ in 57 innings across 28 relief outings). Elmer Dessens, Joe Nelson and Joel Peralta had ERA+ just over 100. No starter was even close to 100.

Andy Sisco pitched in 67 games with an ERA over 7.
   32. Moeball Posted: May 02, 2019 at 07:51 PM (#5837784)
Mixed emotions. For the good of the sport I want teams to be successful and for fan support to be plentiful. But, I have to admit, on the occasions I've been to games where the crowd is sparse (happens with the Padres sometimes), I've really enjoyed being able to spread out and, quite frankly, if there are only 10,000 at a game instead of 40,000, the ones who are still there are usually actual baseball fans that I can have halfway intelligent conversations with. The 30,000 that aren't there were only attending for the beach towel giveaway anyways, so I don't miss them. I don't need to be elbow to elbow with drunk Rockies fans trying to tell me that Coors Field doesn't really help hitters all that much!
   33. Howie Menckel Posted: May 02, 2019 at 11:53 PM (#5837853)
yeah, the past two years when the Mets struggled (and it's a frontrunning town), going to Citi Field with little game traffic and no lines at concession stands was not terrible.

I learned from Cubs fans in the 1980s in the Wrigley bleachers that whatever the season is about, there's a decent chance to win THAT DAY - which would be fun.
   34. Walt Davis Posted: May 03, 2019 at 01:03 AM (#5837857)
Whether it's having an effect or not, if you want to tease out the attendance effects of tanking (or sucking ... not clear you could distinguish the two without substantial historical digging), you've got to capture the variance in team quality. (As noted, overall ML performance is 500 every year).

For example, in the NL so far this year (early, yadda yadda), average r/g is 4.51 which seems normal enough. But 9 teams are above-average (also not a shocker) ... but what is a bit surprising is that they are way above average -- the Brewers are 9th at 4.88 r/g. The gap between Mil in 9th and the Rox in 10th is half a run ... and the Rox in 10th in raw scoring is a terrible-hitting team. But the 10th place Rox are out-scoring the 11th place Reds by more than .7 R/g. And the Reds are out-scoring the last-place Marlins by .8 r/g. So it's a 1.2 run differential between 9th and 11th and 2-run differential between 9th and 15th. The leading Cubs are scoring nearly twice as many runs as the Marlins.

In short, nobody is interested in 3.7 r/g baseball and 1/3 of the NL is providing that or worse. Things are much more stable on the pitching side. The 1st to worst spread is still substantial at 2.3 r/g but 2nd to 14th is just 1.27 r/g. League average is 4.48 and you've got 6 teams within +/- .3 runs of that.

In the AL, the pitching looks more like NL hitting with a 3-run gap top to bottom and a 2-run gap from 2nd to 14th .. their hitting looks a bit more like the NL's pitching with a lot of teams close to average.

I don't know how unusual this is, if at all, especially through April. It just struck me there are some atrocious offenses out there right now in the NL ... and apparently some atrocious pitching staffs in the AL. The sort of spread we saw in the AL last year (1 team under 300, 3 more under 400) ... which also results in some not-so-talented teams having decent records because they get to beat up on these super-losers ... is the sort of spread you'd expect to produce something like 18 teams doing a bit better and 12 doing way worse.

So far the NL has maintained its greater balance -- yes, the Marlins really stink (300 WP) but everybody else is playing at least 400 ball. The Reds are only scoring 3.7 but they're only giving up 3.3 so they're hanging in there for now. The AL is doing better than last year so far with only the O's and Royals really stinking it up. By the way, NL with an early 6 game lead in interleague.

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