No games have been played. The regular season is about a month away. But, based upon several factors, Major League Baseball should see overall attendance rise this coming season.
Last year, MLB saw attendance as basically flat from 2010. As we provided in our annual comprehensive report:
Despite the wettest season that resulted in the most rainouts since 1997, Major League Baseball saw a slight increase in paid attendance from 2010 for the 2011 regular season. Baseball saw an increase of under 1 percent (0.71%) with a total attendance of 73,451,522 over 2,420 games, or just shy of 400,000 more tickets sold than last year (397,715) when the league drew 73,053,807 over 2,424 games (an average paid attendance of 30,138).
Here’s 5 reasons why baseball should see, not only an increase in attendance over 2011, but a substantial one for the upcoming season:
- The End of the McCourt Era with the Dodgers – The Dodgers are in the final throes of completing the bankruptcy sale, which will see the baton passed from Frank McCourt to one of several bidders, no later than announced on April 1 and finalized on April 30. That means that the dark clouds that have consumed one of baseball’s most storied franchises should be lifting, and with it, the return of fans to Dodger Stadium. While the fruits of new ownership are yet to be known, losing McCourt as an owner is addition by subtraction. If Magic Johnson’s group wins out, that increased local visibility could push attendance even further given his high profile. Attendance at Dodgers Stadium last year dropped 17.61% from 2010 (2,935,139 compared to 3,562,320 in 2010). Expect the Dodgers to see attendance climb back to above 3 million this season.
- The Marlins, the New Stadium Bounce, and Off-season Player Adds – Last year, MLB did not enjoy having a new stadium come online. This year they will with the addition of the new Miami Marlins stadium. The Marlins ranked 28th in their last season at Sun Life Stadium, pulling in an anemic 1,520,562 in paid attendance. The Marlins should see that number grow by approx. 1 million this year as fans come out to see not only a new stadium, but a team built on a suddenly flush player payroll that includes the addition of Jose Reyes and Heath Bell.
- Albert Pujols Comes to La-La Land – On the face of it, one might be asking how moving Albert Pujols to the Angels creates an attendance increase. After all, won’t it be offset by a decline in St. Louis? Not the way the chips landed. With the Cardinals winning the World Series, the loss of Pujols, while nothing to scoff at from a marketing perspective, is not as great as it could have been if the Cards had not won. The Angels become the ultimate beneficiary in winning the Pujols sweepstake. While the Angels still ranked 5 in attendance for 2011 they saw a decline of 84,495 in paid attendance from 2010, a drop of 2.6 percent. With Angel Stadium filled to 89 percent of capacity last season, there are plenty of seats that can be filled, and will be with the addition of the super star. Look for a healthy bump by the Angels this year in the attendance dept.
- Forget the Curse of the Billy Goat, We’ve Got Hope in Chicago – Chances are the Cubs will continue their World Series futility streak in 2012, but if there’s hope on the horizon, it comes in the form of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer coming on-board with the Lovable Losers. With that, fans will likely jump on-board this year. Total paid attendance dropped 45,007 from 2010 to 2011 for the Cubs. That should change, and not only because of a new GM. The addition of the new Budweiser Patio will hold up to 150 fans as standing-room only.. While that doesn’t seem like much, fans will want to come out to Wrigley to check it out. Put the two together, and it’s very possible that the Cubs erase that 45,000+ drop-off from 2010 to 2011.
- Rain, Rain, Go Away – This one isn’t for certain, but playing the odds, chances are good: MLB should see less rainouts than it did last season. As noted in our report from last year, MLB saw the most rainouts since 1997 last season. Not to mention, there were a hefty number of rain delays. If there isn’t a repeat this year, the league will enjoy the added bounce as some additional sunshine in the mix buoys paid attendance. This comes back to the Marlins, but by default, rainouts become a thing of the past, which means walk-ups should improve with the retractable-roof that is part of their new digs.
So, how much of an increase could we see? We’ll go out on a limb and say that 5 percent is doable, and depending on how the new playoff format factors into a buzz leading up to the postseason, maybe as high as 8 percent. Yes, the Mets will see a drop. So will others. But, overall, baseball should see other clubs erase those decliners fairly easily.
And, this is just the 5 top stories to watch. Look for the Tigers to see an uptick (Fielder addition), while the Brewers appear to be holding strong, even in his absence. The Pirates should see an increase, as well, as talent begins to mature, and the addition of AJ Burnett.
Look for updates on attendance throughout the season here on The Biz of Baseball.
Maury 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 writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He 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 (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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