Thursday, September 30, 2010

Without The Dodgers, This Year's Pennant Race Draws Minimal Crowds

Sure, that may be a slightly spurious correlation, and likely not a causal relationship. But David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays wasn't kidding when he noted that the fan turnout down the stretch has been less than overwhelming this year:

With first place on the line, the Tampa Bay Rays averaged 28,400 fans, or 79 percent of capacity, for their three home games against the Yankees two weeks ago, and filled just a third of their seats on Monday night, prompting several of the team’s star players to lash out at the lack of fan support.

Nearing their first division title in 15 years, the Reds drew 12,000 fans to a recent night game, their smallest crowd of the year. The Braves have had trouble filling even half their seats this month despite battling for a playoff spot.

The sight of so many empty seats at stadiums where teams are vying for a chance to play in the postseason is a glaring reminder that baseball is still not back to its prerecession heights and that professional sports leagues more broadly continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the economic downturn after years of record growth.

Attendance across Major League Baseball is down about a third of 1 percent this year after falling in 2008 and 2009. Declines have been most noticeable in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where the Mets, the Cubs and the Dodgers have had disappointing seasons, but also in Baltimore, Cleveland and Toronto, where attendance has slipped for several years.

With the exception of the Rays, every team in the hunt for a playoff spot this year has had its attendance rise this season. The Reds set a club record for tickets sold in August, and ticket sales for the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Rangers jumped more than 10 percent this year.

But attendance has fallen conspicuously this month in cities that have not seen a pennant in years. Part of the problem is that children are back in school and less likely to attend weeknight games. The quality of the opponent and the chillier weather can dampen enthusiasm as well.

But baseball officials and analysts say that many fans are still pinching pennies, even if economists have declared the recession officially over. With more games broadcast in high definition and the price of flat-panel televisions declining, more fans are content to watch their teams at home and perhaps save money for playoff tickets.

Remember, like unemployment formulas, attendance statistics have also been manipulated--MLB now reflects tickets sold, not asses-in-seats or turnstile counts. And even with that benefit, attendance has fallen. Any Dodger fan going to games this year when they announced attendance and you looked around at the sparse amount of fans and estimated a true attendance number half or one-third the size.

Bud Selig's legacy as MLB Commissioner has three large assets on his balance sheet: adding the wild card team to the postseason race; increasing revenues and franchise value; and restoring attendance figures to healthy historical levels. And now that last point is in jeopardy--and don't even get me started on the lengthy liability side.


Fred's Brim said...

There's more attendance in this thread than at a weekday Rays game

Jason said...

During my trip to the Trop last Saturday (Mariners vs. Rays) they announced the attendance as something like 27,000. There couldn't have been more than 15,000 in the stands. And there was a free Bret Michaels concerts afterward. What more do the people of the greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area want?

Steve Sax said...

Shouldn't Bret Michaels be paying them?

Maybe that's what they want.