Attendance Winners And Losers

We now have final attendance figures for the 2012 regular season. Overall, attendance increased by 1,443,909 compared to 2011, or slightly less than 2%. And while MLB touted that increase as “the largest year-to-year growth since the 2007 season total rose 4.6% over 2006,” much of the increase can be attributed to the additional 698,882 fans who bought tickets to see the Miami Marlins in their new ballpark. By contrast, there was no new ballpark opening in 2007.

In fact, attendance changes differed significantly across the league. The teams with surprisingly successful seasons — the Nationals, Orioles and Athletics — saw immediate rewards at the box office, with attendance increases ranging from 14% (202,221 more tickets sold by the A’s) to 22% (430,316 for the Nationals). Baltimore had a 19% gain over 2011, with 345,779 visiting Camden Yards to watch the Extra-Inning Miracle Workers.

Two teams that made big moves over the winter and were expected to make the postseason — the Rangers and the Tigers — also experienced significant attendance jumps. The Rangers, on the heels of two consecutive World Series appearances and the signing of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish, entertained an additional 503,331 fans at home in 2012, a 17% increase. The Tigers made a big splash when the team got Prince Fielder and then were rewarded when 385,988 more fans visited Comerica Park in 2012 than did in 2011 — a 15% gain.

Only two other teams registered attendance gains greater than 10% this season: the Blue Jays and the Dodgers. The increased enthusiasm in Toronto seems a bit perplexing, given the team’s disappointing season. But as this July Toronto Star story on the Blue Jays’ attendance increase notes:

Young and energetic, they were the trendy pre-season pick to be a dark-horse contender. The return to a popular throwback logo, attractive new uniforms and a highly marketable cast of on-field characters didn’t hurt either.

Plus, the Blue Jays were competitive in the first half, before losing nearly the entire starting rotation to season-ending injuries. Just over 280,000 more fans watched the Blue Jays play at the Rogers Centre this season than did in 2011.

The Dodgers welcomed back an additional 389,107 fans in 2012. And “welcomed back” is the operative phrase. Many fans stayed away from Dodger Stadium in 2011, during the throes of the McCourt meltdown. Indeed, 2011 was the only season since 2001 in which the Dodgers drew fewer than three million fans to Chavez Ravine. New — and very wealthy — ownership, plus an early lead in the standings, were more than enough to bring the Dodger faithful back through the turnstiles.

My favorite attendance nugget comes from the Rays. Despite the early-season injury to star third baseman Evan Longoria, and a poor attendance history, Tampa Bay sold 30,493 more tickets in 2012 than in 2011. That amounts to an Extra 2%, as our friend Jonah Keri termed it in his best-selling book about the team.

The Royals saw a modest increase with 15,309 more fans visiting Kauffman Stadium. That’s a disappointing number, particularly because Kansas City hosted the All-Star Game this year and the host team typically sells more season tickets and ticket packages with tie-ins to All-Star festivities. It’s also a cautionary tale for the Mets, which will host the 2013 All-Star Game. The Wilpons undoubtedly hope that the All-Star hoopla will draw fans back to CitiField next season. Attendance was down by 135,746 this year to 2,378,549, the lowest figure since the ballpark opened in 2009. And that was with a surprisingly good start and the excitement over R.A. Dickey‘s remarkable season.

Other teams that registered attendance gains the season were all in the National League: the Braves (+47,231), the Reds (+133,753), the Cardinals (+168,155), the Pirates (+151,489), and the Diamondbacks (+72,185).

The biggest surprise among the attendance losers is the Angels. Sure, more than three million fans bought tickets to watch the Angels play at home this season, but overall, the team saw an attendance drop of 104,221. After a winter buying spree that included a 10-year, $240 million deal for Albert Pujols — and a five-year, $77.5 million contract for C.J. Wilson — the Angels must have expected more fans at its ballpark in 2012. After the Angels failed to make the postseason, it’ll be interesting to see if fans return next year, particularly with an ascendant Dodgers organization.

The biggest attendance loser, by the numbers, was the Astros. Houston’s tickets sales dropped by 459,283, when compare to 2011. While a drop-off was to be expected given the Astros’ second consecutive season with more than 100 losses, a 22% decrease is startling. Just five years ago, the team’s attendance topped three million. This year, it was only 1,607,733.

The second-biggest drop-off belongs to the Indians, which battled fan apathy (in the form of game attendance) all season, even when the team played well in the first half. Closer Chris Perez famously took to Twitter to implore fans to show more support at Progressive Field, but to no avail. Cleveland’s attendance figures dropped from 1,840,835 to 1,603,596 — a 13% decrease. The Twins were next, with a 12% decline, from 3,168107 to 2,776,354. Like the Astros, the Twins just suffered two consecutive dismal seasons. The difference, of course, is Target Field, which opened in 2010, and is therefore is likely to provide an attendance boost to the Twins even during a downturn in the team’s play.

The only other team with an attendance drop at or above 10% was the Rockies. Colorado had a miserable season, punctuated by the four-man-75-pitch-limit rotation that failed to right the ship. The Rockies’ attendance fell from 2,909,777 in 2011 to 2,630,458 this season. The Mariners attendance fell by 9% (-174,401); the Brewers by 8% (-239,988).

The remaining teams saw ticket sales drop by 5% or less: the Yankees (-111,274), Red Sox (-10,998), White Sox (-35,162), Phillies (-115,000), Cubs (-135,210), Giants (-9,932) and Padres (-19,297).

MLB’s press release touts the total attendance as the highest since 2008. And by raw numbers, that’s true. But like many things in baseball, the goods are not equitably distributed among the 30 teams. Nine teams broke the thre million mark this season: Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers. In 2008, 10 teams topped the three million figure, with the Yankees and Mets at more than four million that season — the last in their old ballparks.

With no new ballparks set to open in 2013, there will be no artificial boost from fans flocking to see the shiny new thing. It will be interesting, then, to see if MLB can sustain even this year’s attendance level.



Print This Post



Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Wrong Context
Guest
Wrong Context
3 years 9 months ago

Braves ticket increase due 100% to it being Chipper’s last year.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch
3 years 9 months ago

Lots of analysis on demand or tickets, but that’s only half of it. How did teams draw their supply curves this year? As in, what happened to ticket prices? Especially where “surprising” losses occurred, or gains seem smaller than they should have been.

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 9 months ago

Baseball!

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
3 years 9 months ago

Interesting…. Mike Illitch spends on Prince and gets rewarded with big ticket sales, jersey sales, and a new upcoming TV deal. Sounds like a good businessman and not necessarily an over-spending senile old man as some thought.

David
Guest
David
3 years 9 months ago

I don’t think there was anyone who thought having Prince Fielder for the next three years was a bad idea. It’s the $24M/yr for the last half of this decade that some might think it asking for trouble.

tbjfan
Guest
tbjfan
3 years 9 months ago

Who knows for sure though?

6 years from now $24m might not carry the same ‘power’ as it once did.

jirish
Guest
jirish
3 years 9 months ago

Maybe. Maybe not. The Prince has met it through yet ANOTHER season without a trip to the DL or even a sit-me-down for a few days injury.

Yeah, the last half of the decade may stink, or he might just slide into DH stardom. Prince has already been an outlier. Men of his size just don’t have successful baseball careers, yet here he is, year after year, shining bright.

Ian G.
Guest
Ian G.
3 years 9 months ago

I’m amazed at how much better attendance has become in baseball over the long-term. In 1980 (the year I was born), only 1 of 26 teams managed to draw 3 million fans (the Dodgers), and 3 (Mariners, A’s, Twins) didn’t get to the 1 million mark.

It would be interesting to see an article on the causes of the long-term increases in attendance. It can’t all be population and economic growth, can it?

Brian
Guest
Brian
3 years 9 months ago

I wasn’t born around then, but my guess is the low attendance in the early 80’s was a result of the labor disputes between owners and players. Fans tend to be weary of watching games when there’s a feeling that the season could be suspended or canceled at any time.

baycommuter
Guest
baycommuter
3 years 9 months ago

Attendance has been increasing steadily for decades with the increase in urban population, prosperity and leisure time. When I was a kid in the 1960s, the all-time Chicago record was 1.64 million by the 1960 White Sox, now the Sox draw around 2 million and it’s a disappointment. The Cubs didn’t even draw a million to Wrigley, now they do 2.9 with a terrible team.

Candlestick
Guest
Candlestick
3 years 9 months ago

After a short post World War II boom, major league baseball attendance cratered in the early 1950s and did not really recover until the mid 1970s. For some reason, this sad era — when more than a third of MLB’s teams relocated to new cities and the NFL came out of nowhere to overtake baseball in popularity — is misremembered as a baseball golden age.

Baseball’s recovery began in the late 1970s. I remember the universal astonishment when the Dodgers became the first team to draw 3 million, at a time when very few teams could reach the 2 million mark. Attendance throughout baseball climbed during the 1980s, and then took off at warp speed in the 1990s.

Whether attendance now goes up or down a bit in any given year, the big story is that over the past two decades it has consistently achieved levels that are orders of magnitude above what anyone previously thought possible.

monkey business
Member
monkey business
3 years 9 months ago

Well, public funding for ball parks has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. The Federal Reserve Banks, and economists in general, often point out that funding these projects typically just serves to move money away from other entertainment expenses.

Kate Upton: Fantasy MVP
Guest
Kate Upton: Fantasy MVP
3 years 9 months ago

Angels jacked up their prices this year. Not too surprising to see a drop in attendance, especially given how bad they were out the gate.

Joe
Guest
Joe
3 years 9 months ago

Any figures on the Brewers?

JimBighorse
Guest
JimBighorse
3 years 9 months ago

This news and record wagering on horseracing… Why are they telling us the economy is bad? I guess you can’t get a raise when the “economy is BAD”.

Tony Franco
Guest
Tony Franco
3 years 9 months ago

For all those that like to claim that you HAVE to give the MVP to a Triple Crown winner, I’d like to point out that Ted Williams won the Triple Crown twice (1942, 1947) and hit .406 (1941) in another but failed to get the MVP in any of those years.

David K
Guest
David K
3 years 9 months ago

Were the Diamondbacks the only MLB team not mentioned in this article?

Greg
Guest
Greg
3 years 9 months ago

“With no new ballparks set to open in 2013, there will be no artificial boost from fans flocking to see the shiny new thing.”

You may see it in Houston, with the “shiny new thing” being AL teams, particularly visits from the Red Sox and Yankees, and 9 home games against the Rangers.

ragin Texan
Guest
ragin Texan
3 years 9 months ago

Polls in Houston show 80% are against move to AL, this team will see their attendance drop another 22% in 2013

wpDiscuz