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Inside MLB Attendance - Part I - Looking at Early '08 to '09 PDF Print E-mail
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Ticket & Attendance Watch
Written by Maury Brown & Mike Moore   
Sunday, 24 May 2009 03:13

MLB AttendanceThe following is the first of several articles that will be looking at MLB attendance by Maury Brown and the latest staff member of the Business of Sports Network, Mike Moore. The following looks at attendance leading up to interleague play from this year to last to see how the economy is impacting matters at the gate. We have also added some interesting tidbits from our attendance data set that runs back to 2001. – Maury Brown and Mike Moore

With interleague now underway, we can take a look at MLB attendance leading up to the NL/AL games, and ponder whether the economy has taken a ding out the gate, or whether the Commissioner’s fan initiative is pulling fans through the gate.

As reported, the league average is down 6.4 percent as of 5/21 based on league averages of 30,582 in 2008 and 28,602 in 2009 -- far batter than the league expected.

(See attendance details in the chart below by selecting Read More)

Eighteen of the 30 clubs are seeing declines compared to the same period last season, with 9 of the 18 seeing double digit declines. Leading the way is the Washington Nationals, who, in their second season at Nationals Park are seeing a 30.12 percent decline from last season (averaging 19,930 compared to 28,520 over the same period last season). The other big decliner is the Detroit Tigers who are seeing how the heavy hits to the auto sector are trickling down to those looking to attend Tigers games, along with the bubble burst in '08 when off-season acquisitions Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera did not translate into a winning season. Detroit is seeing a decline in attendance over the one year period of 27.72 percent from an average of 37,407 in 2008 to 27,036 in 2009.

An artificial decline comes by way of the Mets and Yankees who opened new stadiums this year with decidedly lower seating capacities. While the Yankees still lead the league in attendance to date (averaging 44,323), they have declined 12.82 percent in attendance over last year.

Many will be saying, “Yes, but new Yankee Stadium has a smaller seating capacity.” That’s true. From old to new, seating capacity went from 56,936 in 2008 to 52,325 this season. However, when you look at how fans are filling the seats, the picture is somewhat different. Currently, Yankee Stadium is running at 84.9 percent of capacity compared to 89.30 percent of capacity last year (average of 50,843 to May 21 of 2008). The Mets, by comparison, are running at 91.9 percent of capacity of the new Citi Field (seating capacity 42,000) compared to 86.56 percent of Shea Stadium, which had a seating capacity of 57,333 – a sign that the Mets may have sold themselves short by creating a stadium with such low seating capacity in a strong market.

On the flip side, of the 30 clubs, 11 are seeing average attendance above the league average. Significant increases have come to Rays (up 29.54 percent from an average of 18,446 to 23,895), the Dodgers (up 21.94 percent from an average of 34,836 to 42,479) and the Phillies (up 10.76 percent from an average of 43,109 from an average of 38,954 last season).

But the biggest increase has come to the Florida Marlins, who came out of the gate in 2009 white hot. That has allowed the Marlins to post a 46.06 percent increase over the same period last year. The problem? Even with the increase, the Marlins are only averaging 19,856, third worst in the league ahead of only OaklandPittsburgh (averaging 15,668) (averaging 18,030) and

In the case of the Rays and the Phillies, the reason for the increases are obvious: Both teams made it to the World Series last season, with the Rays breaking from an incredible futility slump over the life of the club’s history. For the Dodgers, it has been tied to both winning, and the increased interest of Manny Ramirez. For those wondering whether the suspension of Ramirez has hurt attendance for the Dodgers, in the six games that have been played at Dodger Stadium since the May 8 suspension, the average has been 42,653. The average for the 14 games played at Dodger Stadium before the suspension? 42,405.

Here are some other attendance tidbits:

  • The Pirates are an interesting case to look at. In 2008, up to May 21, six of 21 games at PNC Park (they had one rainout on 5/12) saw attendance below 10,000 (9,735 on 4/9 and 9,798 on 4/10 against the Cubs, 8,444 on 4/21 against the Marlins, 9,544 on 4/24 against the Cardinals, 9,788 on 5/7 against the Giants, and 8,805 on 5/21 against the Brewers). In 2009, they see four games with attendance below 10,000 (8,790 on 4/20 and 9,917 on 4/21 against the Marlins; and 8,482 on 5/4 and 9,775 on 5/5 against the Brewers). However, attendance is pretty much flat compared to last season (down 0.28 percent compared to last season), which sadly means with Florida and Tampa Bay increasing attendance, the Pirates are sitting deep in the attendance cellar.
  • Highest attended game of the season: Opening Day at Dodger Stadium against the Giants (4/13 with Randy Johnson in a losing effort) at 57,099
  • Lowest attended game of the season: Monday 5/4 Brewers at Pittsburgh with attendance at 8,482

Stat to Whet Your Appetite for the Next Attendance Article

This makes any diehard baseball fan a bit sad: Of the 70 lowest attended games going back to through the 2001 season, 64 of them belong the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium, with the lowest attended game being (drum roll, please) 2,018 on Friday June 21, 2002 against the Indians in interleague. Who owns the other six lowest attended games? The Florida Marlins with (you guessed it) the Montreal Expos playing in three of them (the worst being 4,003 on 9/13/2004)

By selecting Read More, the table below shows average attendance for the 2008 and 2009 seasons up to May 21. To show just how much fans miss baseball when it is in its off-season slumber, we are providing the 2009 Opening Day attendance figure for each of the 30 clubs, along with the Opening Day league average.


MLB Attendance to May 21st - Opening Day '09

'08 Avg '09 Avg % + or - * Opening Day
MLB Avg 30,582 28,602 -6.47% 43,772
Arizona 29,217 27,301 -6.56% 48,799
Atlanta 29,139 23,915 -17.93% 48,327
Baltimore 22,767 21,833 -4.10% 48,607
Boston 37,586 37,803 0.58% 37,057
Cubs 40,108 38,992 -2.78% 40,077
White Sox 26,108 26,533 1.63% 37,449
Cincinnati 21,759 21,479 -1.28% 42,177
Cleveland 22,327 21,020 -5.85% 42,473
Colorado 32,533 27,227 -16.31% 49,427
Detroit 37,407 27,036 -27.72% 44,588
Florida 13,595 19,856 46.06% 34,323
Houston 33,677 29,093 -13.61% 43,827
Kansas City 18,616 21,695 16.54% 38,098
LA Angels 39,800 39,486 -0.79% 43,220
LA Dodgers 34,836 42,479 21.94% 57,099
Milwaukee 32,237 35,953 11.53% 45,455
Minnesota 23,105 24,782 7.26% 48,514
NY Mets 49,626 38,595 -22.23% 41,007
NY Yankees 50,843 44,323 -12.82% 48,271
Oakland 17,034 18,030 5.85% 36,067
Philadelphia 38,954 43,109 10.67% 44,532
Pittsburgh 15,712 15,668 -0.28% 38,411
San Diego 29,061 24,655 -15.16% 45,496
San Francisco 31,604 33,951 7.43% 42,767
Seattle 26,257 26,457 0.76% 45,958
St. Louis 41,258 39,978 -3.10% 45,832
Tampa Bay 18,446 23,895 29.54% 36,973
Texas 24,077 24,294 0.90% 49,916
Toronto 25,548 22,143 -13.33% 48,027
Washington 28,520 19,930 -30.12% 40,386

* "Opening Day" reflects the Opening Day attendance for each of the 30 clubs. The figure for "MLB Avg." reflects the league average attendance on Opening Day in 2009


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

Mike Moore is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network assisting in data collection and analysis

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