Call it parity. Call it streaking at the right moment. Call it what you will. Ticket demand for MLB playoffs is high. With the Division Series starting today, it’s possible that all games will be sold out by the time first pitches roll around.
While some of the usual suspects will be on display in the postseason for the American League (hello Red Sox, Yankees, and Angels), the Indians will enjoy the first postseason showing since 2001. The National League is a parade of teams that haven’t seen postseason play in years (Rockies – Last playoff games ’95; Cubs – Last playoff games – 2003; Phillies – Last playoff games – 1993; DBacks – Last playoff games – 2002).
What this amounts to in part is an overall increase in the interest of Major League Baseball — not just the playoffs.
There have been discussions in the media that the hardcore fans will always remain, but that the casual fans have left MLB in droves. There’s no empirical evidence pointing to that assertion, and even if the gaudy attendance figures that MLB rolls out are for “paid attendance”, not the total turnstile clicks that represent the actual number of fans in the stands, this author makes the assertion that it is exactly the opposite: that the casual fans have increased dramatically. Whether the hardcore fans have remained at stable or dwindling numbers, there is no method of knowing.
Here’s what we do know…
Paid attendance for MLB increased by 4.30% over last season – the fourth record breaking year for attendance (total paid attendance came in at 79,503,424).
To place an exclamation point on how corporate ticket sales (read: casual fans) have increased in one market, the Marlins posted a staggering 17.60% increase in paid attendance from the year prior (total paid attendance listed as 1,370,511). That figure is higher than the attendance numbers posted in 2003 when the Marlins won the World Series. The reason? Most likely the increased season ticket sales in the off-season after last season’s Cinderella team made a run at the Wild Card. As anyone that followed the stories in the news at the end of this regular season knows, there may have been less than a 1000 fans at more than one game for the Marlins. The eyeball test would seem to lend itself to a large number of paid attendance, while actual attendance is far lower. That, once again, points to more casual fans “attending” games, than in the past.
There are other figures that point to an increase interest in MLB – either by way of corporate sales, or pure interest…
A total of only seven teams posted declines in paid attendance last season. For the AL, they were the Angels (-1.20%), White Sox (-9.20%), and A’s (-2.80%). For the NL, they were the Astros (-0.10%), Reds (-3.60%), Nationals (-8.90%), and Pirates (-4.80%).
In the case of the Pirates, the decline is in large part due to last year’s All-Star Game. Fans and corporations bought up tickets for the 2006 season to allow them opportunity to have access to the All-Star Game seating. With the Pirates being the Pirates again this season, a decline was bound to occur.
On the flip side, the Brewers saw an increase of 22.80% from the year prior (2,869,144), Tigers an increase of 17.40% (3,047,124), Indians 15.30% from the year prior (2,275,911, which included snowout games in Milwaukee), 11.50 % increase for the Rockies (2,376,250), and 11.20% increase by the DBacks (2,325,249), on top of the aforementioned increase by the Marlins. Impressive figures, all.
If the paid attendance figures weren’t enough, television ratings saw 21 of the 30 clubs post increases in viewership, posting a 6.6 percent increase from the year prior at the local, and regional level.
The Brewers on FSN North saw a staggering 133 percent increase from the year prior. Others on the upswing from the year prior include the Indians (+45%), Cubs (+30%), Dodgers (+23%), Mariners (+44%), and Athletics (+20%). The Nationals see growth, mostly due to an increase in total televisions that MASN was able to gain access to. They see an increase of 60 percent from the year prior. Even the Marlins, who have had some of the most embarrassingly low actual attendance figures in recent memory for some games this season have seen an increase of 8 percent.
On the downside, the White Sox saw ratings drop through the floor on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, where ratings were 56 percent lower than last season due to a poor showing in the standings. Others dropping include the Rangers (-23%), Pirates (-17%), and Cardinals (-12%). The Braves see a drop of 30 when they were on FSN South, as well as a 20 percent decline on SportsSouth. In an odd twist, nationally televised Braves games on TBS saw an increase of 17 percent compared to last season.
Back to the topic at hand, the prior data seems to show that casual fans are showing increase interest in the game, not a decline. And, let’s face it, the chances that a “casual fan” will become a “hardcore” fan, can be pretty good. After all, baseball has the capacity to draw us into the drama, and that kid that made a chance summer trip to the ballpark could be the next Bill James. Who knows?
Does baseball hold the collective consciousness that it used to in America? Certainly not. The chances of seeing Time Square packed to the gills, as it was in 1919 to simply see the updating of a scoreboard for the Reds/White Sox World Series is a faint memory for history. But then, MLB had the sports world by the tail at that time. That was before Pete Rozell made the NFL iconic, the internet and video gaming systems invaded the home and PDA, and hundred of channel options for television appeared on the scene. Entertainment options are nearly endless these days, so understandably, the American populace is less focused on one entertainment option.
It’s hard to look at the figures and say things are not rosy for MLB. Hardcore fans… casual fans… corporate fans… point is, there’s an interest in MLB these days, and business is good.
(Sources: ESPN, Baseball Reference, Sports Business Daily, MLB.com)
What do you think? Add your comments on whether MLB is, or is not more popular than it used to be.
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also a contributor to Baseball Prospectus contributed to the 2007 Pro Football Prospectus and is an available freelance writer.
He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted here