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.

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