With each club pulling in over 4 million fans,
the Yankees, along with the Mets, helped
push MLB attendance to the second
highest ever in 2008.
The 2008 Major League Baseball regular season is the second highest attendance mark in history, drawing 78,624,324, falling just 1.14 percent below last year’s record of 79,502,524 in paid attendance, a sign that baseball’s popularity remains exceptionally strong. While the figure is the second best ever, forecasts at the beginning of the season were for a total attendance in excess of 80 million. Still, the strong attendance figure comes at a time when the economy has been hit exceptionally hard, gas prices impacted travel, and the weather wreaked havoc at open-air stadiums, lowering walk-up ticket purchases.
The National League established a new record for single-season average attendance and seven teams in the sport – the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies – each set all-time franchise records for home attendance during the 2008 regular season.
The National League’s average attendance of 34,201, spanning 1,289 gates, eclipsed the previous record of 34,064 set last year.
The league saw both New York teams draw in excess of 4 million fans each, driven by fan interest in seeing the last games in both Yankee and Shea Stadiums (Yankees at 4,298,655 and Mets at 4,042,045).
Eight teams saw attendance above 3 million with the Dodgers (3,730,553), Cardinals (3,432,917), and Phillies (3,422,583) leading the way.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Marlins recorded the worst paid attendance in the league for the third consecutive year, drawing an anemic 1,335,076 despite being in the Wild Card hunt for much of the season. The low figure comes in 2.59 percent below last year’s average attendance with the 2008 Marlins avweaging just 16,688 over 80 games this season.
The Marlins were followed by the Royals (1,578,922 over 79 games), Pirates (1,609,076 over 80 games), and A’s (1,665,256 over 81 games, including two games in Japan against the Red Sox that posted attendance of 44,628 and 44,735 respectively).
The other notable attendance swoon came by from the Baltimore Orioles. Attendance for the Birds came in at 1,950,075, or 9.92 percent below last season. The total attendance figure is the lowest for the Orioles since 1988 when they still played in Memorial Stadium.
The largest increase in average attendance came by the Rays, who see a jump of 28.20 percent to 22,370 per game, or 1,780,791 in total attendance, up from last season’s 1,389,031. Still, the increase only moved the Rays from 29th in the game, to 26th of the 30 clubs.
The other large increase comes by way of the Washington Nationals who moved into their new $611 million stadium this season after playing two years in RFK Stadium. The Nationals saw an increase of 18.29 percent to 29,005 per game over 80 dates this season compared to 24,217 over 81 dates last season. However, the increase is not completely positive news. The Nationals posted the worst new stadium attendance in the Camden Yards era. A total of 18 ballpark openings have drawn better since the Orioles’ signature throwback ballpark opened in 1992.
Other increases include the Rockies (11.53 percent or an average of 33,128 over 80 games), Phillies (10.11 percent, or an average of 42,254 over 81 games), and Diamondbacks (8.35 percent, or an average of 30,987 over 81 games).
The decreases were led by the Rangers (down 17.34 from an average of 29,796 per game last season to 24,321), A’s (down 13.35 percent from an average of 23,726 per game last season to 20,559), and Padres (down 12.99 percent from an average of 34,445 per game last season to 29,970).
In total, attendance losses outpaced gains. Fourteen teams posted increases in attendance compared to sixteen showing losses.
When looking at how the nearly full-capacity clubs are filling their respective venues, Fenway Park (Red Sox) led the way at 104 percent of capacity, followed by Wrigley Field (Cubs) at 99.1 percent, Comerica Park (Tigers) at 98.6 percent, Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) at 97.1 percent and Yankee Stadium (Yankees) at 92.3 percent of capacity.
Dolphin Stadium (Marlins) at 45.9 percent of capacity, McAfee Coliseum (A’s) at 48.3 percent of capacity, and Kaufmann Stadium (Royals) at 49 percent of capacity were the bottom of the spectrum in terms of attendance seating capacity.
It should be noted that MLB played 10 less games this season compared to last due to weather. At a league average of 32,516, attendance would have increased by 325,160 if the 10 games had been played. Even facoring in this adjustment, 2008 would still have seen the second highest attendance ever at 78,916,285, a decline of 0.73 percent from last season.
Next season, MLB will most likely not reach this year’s attendance figure. With both the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field coming online with reduced seating capacities than the outgoing facilities, attendance for the two strongest attended teams will drop.
Still, MLB has always focused on revenues, and next year should be no exception. While attendance dropped sllightly this year, revenues were up from $6.075 billion to $6.5 billion this year. Even with the expected 2009 decrease in attendance, and concerns about the economy prevailing into next year, expect revenues to remain flat or slightly above this year’s figure.