Major League Baseball has enjoyed four straight seasons of record paid attendance, but at the current pace, the league will be coming in just below last year’s record figure.
As of Saturday, Sept. 6, average attendance for the league is at 32,614, down from 32,757 on the same date last year, or a 0.44 percent decline. The drop in paid attendance (tickets sold, not turnstile clicks) comes as both Yankee and Shea Stadiums see their swansongs, and a new ballpark opened in Washington, D.C.
The Yankees, already exceptionally popular and running at 92.2 percent of capacity, have only seen an increase of 0.46 percent or 243 more tickets sold per game on average from last season. The Bronx Bombers are seeing nearly 53,000 fans per game (52,982) compared to 52,739 at the point last season, even with this being the final year in The House That Ruth Built.
The biggest declines from last year to this come from the Rangers (-20.58 percent), Padres (-13.75 percent), Athletics (-13.42 percent) and Mariners (-12.10 percent).
Those offsetting the losses with the largest attendance gains over last season are the Rays (20.51 percent), Nationals (17.87 percent), and Rockies (12.94 percent).
Attendance losses are out weighing gains with less than a month to go in the season. 17 clubs are posting declines compared to 13 posting increases.
- The White Sox, who have been sitting atop the AL Central, are seeing a decline from an average of 33,141 at this point last season to 30,831 in 2008, a drop of 7.49 percent.
- The Red Sox are now the all-time consecutive sellout champions. As of Monday, September 8, the club from Boston has sold out 456 straight games.
- Unsurprisingly, teams that made the playoffs last year are, for the most part, posting paid attendance gains. The Angels, Red Sox, Indians, Yankees, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Rockies and Phillies combine for an increase of 3.41 percent over last season. Who’s muddying the waters in this group? The Indians are averaging over 1,500 less per game this season than last or a decline of 5.66 percent. The only other team on the decline out of the 2007 postseason lot? The Angels, who are running away with the AL West (1.21 percent below this time last season).
- In the futility department, all the teams in last place, with the exception of two, are drawing less than last season. The Orioles are close to even (only an average of 26 less than last season), with the others drawing less than 2007 being the Pirates (-8.81 percent), Mariners (-12.10 percent), and Padres (-13.75 percent) as the decliners out of the bottom feeders. The Nationals are up 17.87 percent, but that’s misleading. At 18th out of the 30 clubs, the Nats will wind up with one of the worst average attendance figures for a new ballpark opening since the Camden Yards era. Currently, the Nationals are at an average of 29,487. Last season at RFK? An average of 24,217. The other team that’s posting a modest gain? The Royals at 20,285, an increase of 1.60 percent or 324 per game.
- The Rays are the darlings of the league, and are posting the highest increase from this time last season at 20.51 percent. But even with the sizable increase, the Rays are still the fifth worst in the league for an average paid attendance at 21,573.
- Is it a sinking ship? Consider this: The Mariners are averaging 29,433, or 19th in the league in overall paid attendance. Remember, seven years ago when Safeco Field saw its first full season, the Mariners were the league’s best draw beating out San Francisco and the Yankees. Of course, they won 116 games that season.
At a league average of 143 persons less a game this season compared to last, MLB could still pull off another record attendance season, but it will be close. Time is running out. The Nationals and Pirates are already offering cuts in ticket prices for the remainder of the season, and promotions tied to gas cards have been done in an attempt to get families out of the house and into the ballpark during the economic downturn. That fifth record attendance season could happen, but chances are fading.
MLB's high water mark for attendance came last year with 79,502,524 in paid attendance, or an average of 32,785 per game. The record shattered the previous season's record mark of 76,042,787, or 31,423 per game and an increase of 4.6 percent over the 2006 record figure.
Even if MLB doesn’t break the attendance record, it will be close and will most likely be the second highest attendance figure of all time. When you look at how well the All-Star Game went, and other business aspects, the odds are that even if attendance were down a smidgen at the end of the season, revenues will be up. MLB will certainly crow about that even if they don’t chest thump on attendance.
An extra special thanks goes out to David W. Smith of the indispensable Retrosheet for supplying the data for this research.