Dollars & Sense: Attendance Down, Expanded Replay Moving Forward Slowly

Some weeks, there are major developments in the business of baseball — like a team signing a new local TV contract. Some weeks, there are little developments on the big developments. My posts tend to focus on the big developments, but that leaves you in the dark on the little developments, unless those little developments become big developments down the road.

Dollars & Sense keeps you up to date on the smaller stories that are important but may not justify a separate post. Today, we have news on attendance through the first quarter of the seasons and expanded in replay in 2014.

Attendance Down In First Quarter Of the Season

Attendance across the league is down 3% compared to attendance through the first quarter of the 2012 season. Bud Selig blames the bad early-season weather in some markets.

We’ve had 21 games postponed this season due to rain, snow and cold, as many in all of last season. But bad weather doesn’t account entirely for the attendance drop. Some of the teams that usually find themselves at the top of the attendance rankings have seen attendance nosedive this year. And the there’s the Marlins. Take a look at these numbers (home games through May 15 in parentheses):

Team 2013 Average attendance thru 5/15 2012 Average attendance thru 5/15 % Change
Yankees 37,438 (21) 40,710 (19) -8%
Red Sox 32,516 (23) 37,560 (20) -13%
Phillies 37,495 (20) 44,937 (18) -17%
Marlins 18,410 (18) 29,808 (16) -38%
Diamondbacks 27,028 (23) 27,704 (19) -2%

Some of the decline for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies could be weather related, but certainly not all of it. In fact, the Yankees have seen their TV ratings plummet 39% over the same period last season. With many of the team’s big stars out with injuries, fans haven’t tuned into the team this season, even though the Yankees are in first place in the AL East.

Note the slight attendance drop for the Diamondbacks, too. Weather isn’t a concern in Phoenix with the retractable roof on Chase Field. Attendance is up in always-sunny Los Angeles for both the Angels and the Dodgers, although the Angels have seen a big drop just from April to May. An awful start will do that.

So Selig may be right, in part, but it seems something else is going on with attendance in the first quarter of the season. As the weather warms and kids start their summer vacations, we should see a bump, but it may not be enough to keep attendance on pace to meet 2012 numbers.

Expanded Instant Replay Still on Schedule for 2014, Or is It?

MLB owners are meeting this week, which gave Joe Torre an opportunity to provide an update on the league’s move to expanded instant replay. As Vice President of Baseball Operations, Torre chairs a committee charged with devising an expanded-replay plan for the league. Tony LaRussa and Braves President John Schuerholz also serve on the committee.

Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated explained what the committee is considering:

The Collective Bargaining Agreement reached in 2011 allowed for an expansion of the system to include fair/foul and catch/trap calls. After testing the camera-based Hawkeye System (used in tennis) and the radar-based Trackman system (used in golf telecasts) at the two New York ballparks and in the Arizona Fall League last year, the league decided to wait another year, in large part due to the desire for a more comprehensive system that could aid with safe/out calls on the basepaths.

Torre admitted on Thursday there’s a growing interest in expanding replay to include safe/out calls on the bases. One particularly egregious call by umpire Jeff Nelson during last season’s ALCS highlighted the need for more video review. The Yankees’ Robinson Cano tagged out the Tigers’ Omar Infante but Nelson ruled him safe. The Tigers then scored two runs that inning and the game. Torre told the Associated Press:

That really caught my eye and caught my attention with the fact that there was more conversation about that instead of the game itself. There’s no question we’re considering much more than the trap play and fair/foul. But again, one of the decisions we have to make is how much of this do we want to do without really disrupting and putting people to sleep?

In addition to the breadth of instant replay, Torre’s committee is considering whether to have designated replay officials at each game or in a central location, like in the NHL, and whether umpires should wear headsets. The committee is working toward a presentation at the next owners meeting on Aug. 14-15.

It’s good to see Torre’s committee taking it’s time to get it right. No matter what the owners ultimately approve, there will be detractors once the new system is in place, so thorough, thoughtful planning is a must. Still, the owners and players agreed in 2011 to expand replay to include fair/foul calls and caught/trapped calls. A year and a half later, that agreement has not been implemented. In the meantime, bad calls are made, calls which affect the outcome of games. They’re aired over and over on the highlights shows and in GIFs that zoom around the internet. Players are miffed. Managers are miffed. Fans are miffed. And the integrity of the game takes a hit.

Get it right, Mr. Torre, but get it done in time for next season.

 



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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.


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Anon21
Guest
Anon21
3 years 2 months ago

Thrilled to hear that there’s recognition at the highest levels of the sport that there is a need for replay that includes safe/out calls on the bases. If we’re being honest, we will acknowledge that most Major League umpires do an outstanding job most of the time. But certain plays, because of the angle or because of the speed with which the play unfolds, leave the umpire in the position of being forced to guess. Some of those guesses will inevitably be wrong, and as Wendy says, that detracts from the integrity of the game.

My personal pet project would be to have review performed “de novo,” as it were, as explained by Ilya Somin here: http://www.volokh.com/2009/12/02/why-instant-replay-should-be-like-de-novo-appellate-review/ . No presumption that the initial call was correct; you go get the best evidence you can from the replay, and then you make what looks like the correct call based on the preponderance of that evidence, if it’s not entirely clear. Only when the video evidence confirms the umpire’s initial call or when the video evidence is completely unhelpful should the initial call be upheld.

cass
Guest
cass
3 years 2 months ago

Better to delay it another year than implement a poor system for next year. Any new system must ensure that umpires never leave the field, even for home run calls. Those are excruciating right now and completely unfair to the pitcher who has to stand on the mound throwing pitches to stay warm while the umpires leave the field and look at video. And the umpires don’t always get it right anyway – the famous Angel Hernandez mistake this year is not even close to the only one they’ve still gotten wrong after looking at video.

I’d prefer they abolish home run review immediately until they can implement a comprehensive system that does not disrupt the game. It’s been a fiasco.

cass
Guest
cass
3 years 2 months ago

In general, I’d say that home run review has been the worst change made to the game since the DH was added. It adds very little and mostly just wastes everyone’s time. If we must have replay, make it so that it does not ever disrupt the flow of the game.

Peter R
Guest
Peter R
3 years 2 months ago

I personally like both the DH rule (not sure why it’s not universal yet) and the Home Run replays. Only once I can think of have I found the replay result to be lacking.

Jaker
Guest
Jaker
3 years 2 months ago

A simple centralized replay room like in Toronto for the NHL would do wonders for the MLB. The umps could have the answer in seconds.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
3 years 2 months ago

I really can’t agree. It’s resulted in many cases in a correct call being made, where the original call on the field would have led to an incorrect (and therefore unfair) result. The system has not been implemented optimally; I agree that umpires shouldn’t leave the field to conduct replay. But on the whole, it’s been a positive change, and I think you’ll find few people on this website who agree with your negative view of it.

MrMan
Guest
MrMan
3 years 2 months ago

Really? So you’d rather HR calls go wrong? It usually takes only a minute or two. The instances where the umps have blown it after a review can be counted on……two fingers? I honestly can’t remember any other than the Angel Hernandez incident.

I want replay for HRs, fair / foul and out / safe calls on the basepaths. I don’t think replay helps with traps b/c once the call is made other things start happening and it will prove difficult to undo those things.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 2 months ago

It’s important to note, also, that the Angel Hernandez incident doesn’t demonstrate that something’s wrong with the system, but rather that something was wrong with the umpire. He blatantly disregarded what replay told him. That’s not a systemic flaw, except in the system that allows him to continue umpiring games.

Momus
Guest
Momus
3 years 2 months ago

I wonder if Joe Torre would have felt the same way about that blown call and the need for video review if it had gone the Yankees way?

Speaking of the Yankees, they may average 37+K a game at home, but there sure seem to be a lot of empty seats in the good seats.

Peter R
Guest
Peter R
3 years 2 months ago

But most of them are sold even if they are empty. Most of the “Legends” seats are on plans or corporate deals.

Phil Cuzzi
Guest
Phil Cuzzi
3 years 2 months ago

It’s unfortunate that no bad calls have ever been made in favor of the Yankees in the playoffs, so we have nothing to compare to.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 2 months ago

MLB — as I think all sports do — measures “attendance” by number of tickets sold, including season tickets. It doesn’t measure actual live bodies in, you know, “attendance.” Thus…more empty seats than 37,000 in attendance would indicate.

ML
Guest
ML
3 years 2 months ago

Wendy –

I think some of the dropoff in the yankees relates to the fact that you have playoff basketball and hockey, with both teams moving past the first round. There are alot of passionate knicks and rangers fans around here. And i would guess that a greater percentage of them are yankees fans than another baseball team (if at all).

Winston
Guest
Winston
3 years 2 months ago

Just add a fifth umpire that watches the game on TV and if there’s an obvious error he can change the call/flag it for the on-field umps to review. No need to drag the in-game umpires off the field every time there’s a close play.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo
3 years 2 months ago

If one or all umps on the field have secret service style earpieces, they can just do their huddle-thing and pretend to talk to each other while getting the call right. Whether amongst themselves or via replay, who cares? And they do this already to some degree. One or two more huddles per game wouldn’t kill anybody.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 2 months ago

I agree. For the most part this works quite well for college football. In fact, can they not just put the 4th umpire in the booth and leave 3 on the field? That way, it’s less physically taxing on an umpire every 4th day + you get more calls right.

Paul Wilson
Guest
Paul Wilson
3 years 2 months ago

It seems the concern about “pace of the game” and “putting people to sleep” will be conveniently tucked away once a few prime ad slots are added during high leverage points of the game when calls are being reviewed.

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