Interleague Attendance Lagging in Season’s First Five Weeks

Major League Baseball introduced interleague play in 1997, in part to boost interest in the game after the 1994 season was cut short by the players’ strike. More than 15 years after the first interleague game between the Giants and the Rangers at The Ballpark at Arlington, MLB continues to boast about attendance at interleague games. Last season, the average attendance at interleague games was 34,693, the highest since 2008, when 35,587 fans, on average, attended interleague games.

Going back to 2007, interleague attendance has outpaced overall attendance, as follows:

Year Average Interleague Attendance Average Overall Attendance
2007 34,905 32,785
2008 35,587 32,528
2009 33,351 30,330
2010 33,253 30,183
2011 33,606 30,362
2012 34,693 30,895

MLB points to the interleague match-ups as the reason for the attendance bump. But many are skeptical, and note that until this season, interleague games were largely played in June and July, when kids are out of school and the weather has warmed up — two factors that traditionally boost attendance regardless of the opponents. There’s also the matter of weekends: more than 60% of interleague games were played on weekends, when attendance, on average, is higher than on games played Monday through Thursday.

This season, we have interleague games from start to finish, not just in the summer and not just on weekends. And even though the season is only five weeks old, there are early indications that the skeptics of interleague’s attendance boost were right.

Here’s a chart showing the ten  twelve interleague series to date, the average attendance during the series, and the average attendance for the home team for all games this season (the chart below has been corrected from the one that appeared when the post first published. Thanks to comments from Evan in pointing out my error):

Interleague Series Weekend (Y/N) Interleague Series Average Attendance Home Team Average Attendance
LAA v. CIN N 34,073 25,690
KCR v. PHL Y 41,413 37,321
CWS v. WSH N 24,588 31,812
NYM v. MIN Y 26,270 27,731
KCR v. ATL N 24,709 29,235
TEX v. CHC N 26,270 32,252
ARI v. NYY N 34,836 37,414
LAD v. BAL Y 37,775 26,398
MIA v. MIN N 24,508 27,731
ATL v. DET Y 37,170 34,611
PHL v. CLE N 11,785 15,167
TBR v. COL Y 32,858 29,489

The only non-weekend interleague series with a higher average attendance than the home team’s overall average attendance was the first series, which pitted the Angels against the Reds. But the first game of that series was also Opening Day, when 43,168 fans bought tickets to Great American Ballpark. By the next game, the attendance had dropped to 35,257, and in the third game of the series, only 23,795 fans came out — below the Reds’ overall average per-game attendance. The next series between the Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies started on Friday, the Phillies’ home opener. Attendance for that game was 45,307. Saturday and Sunday saw a drop to 39,745 and 39,457, respectively. That’s still above the team’s overall game attendance but may very have reflected the weekend bump.

For the other eight ten interleague series so far, the weekday games saw attendance below the home team’s game average while the weekend games saw attendance above the home team’s game average. In addition, in four interleague series, there was at least one weather-related postponement: Sunday’s game between the Mets and the Twins, Wednesday’s game between the Rangers and the Cubs, Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Orioles, and Monday’s game between the Marlins and the Twins. Only the Dodgers-Orioles game was made up by a Saturday doubleheader. Weather may very well have played a role in suppressing turnout in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Baltimore. Indeed, many have complained about this season’s schedule, which saw 18 games postponed in April due to bad weather — the four interleague games and 14 others.

But weather-related attendance issues fits in perfectly with what skeptics have been saying for years: that the interleague attendance boost was really a summer-good-weather-weekend-game attendance boost.  So far this season, interleague games have averaged 29,815 30,623 in attendance, compared to 28,872 for all games, a difference of less than 2,000 tickets sold per game. And the 29,815 30,623 figure lags significantly behind the numbers for interleague games from 2007 to 2012.

As the weather warms up, and interleague series feature more interesting matchups than the Marlins and the Twins, we may begin to see more of an attendance bump. Or we may not. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.



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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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Eric R
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Eric R

“So far this season, interleague games have averaged 29,815 in attendance, compared to 28,872 for all games, a difference of less than 1,000 tickets sold per game. ”

I guess we’ll have to see how things go as we get deeper into the season– my estimate was around 100 extra tickets, per game, if not for the fan-friendly interleague schedule. Thus far it is about ten times that, which might suggest that fans *do* prefer interleague to at least a small degree.

I had +0.4% while the league was promoting a +10-12% bump. The data presented here has it as +3.3% thus far, so at least I was a little closer than they were :)

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