Attendance still down in Major League Baseball

Steve Megargee, The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — You can blame the lingering effects of the pandemic, dissatisfaction with the lockout or economic fears.

Major League Baseball is struggling to fill the stands to the same level as before the pandemic, as the league enters the home stretch of its first season since 2019 without capacity restrictions.

Major League Baseball reached the All-Star Game break with an average of 26,409 spectators per game. That’s down 5.4 per cent from the 2019 All-Star Game break — which started 10 days earlier than this year.

League leaders remain encouraged and point to a recovery.

« We’re back to 94-95 percent of where we were before the pandemic, » Major League Baseball chief revenue officer Noah Garden said. We are therefore very pleased with the progress we have made on the audience side.”

Attendance is up 70 percent from the 2021 season-ending average, but only the Texas Rangers had started the campaign at full capacity and not all of the league’s 30 teams were at full capacity before July 2. In 2020, Major League Baseball played a shortened season, without spectators.

While Major League Baseball’s attendance average had fallen every year since 2015, most of the declines were less than 2 percent. The average attendance had reached more than 30,000 spectators for 14 consecutive seasons, from 2004 to 2017, but it has not returned to this mark since.

Victor Matheson, an economics professor at Holy Cross University who specializes in sports economics, said Major League Baseball relies more than other professional sports leagues on out-of-town fans. This makes the league particularly vulnerable to issues that could reduce tourism.

“If travel is disrupted, either by high gas prices, or expensive plane tickets, or just general travel disruptions, that could create a big shortfall,” Matheson said.

Charles Lindsey, an associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management, noted that single-game ticket sales remain strong, but season ticket sales have declined. He added that the NBA faced a similar problem this season.

Lindsey cited inflation as the main cause and pointed out that the pandemic may have contributed to a lesser extent.

« But these are factors that are common to all kinds of recreational experiences, » Lindsey said. And a lot of recreational entertainment — restaurants, travel — a lot of those areas are back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Lindsey thinks dissatisfaction with the lockout may have caused some fans not to renew their season tickets.

Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Milwaukee Brewers, told a Milwaukee Press Club rally last month that the team’s group ticket sales usually top 600,000 a year. Schlesinger estimated the total would be around 400,000 this season.

He mentioned that some companies are still opting for telecommuting and therefore they have fewer group outings. There are also fewer schools than usual that have made outings to stadiums.

« The group’s activities have not returned to near normal levels, which is frankly not surprising, » Schlesinger said.

The Oakland Athletics’ assist average has dropped nearly 55 percent from its level at the 2019 All-Star Game break. The Athletics have dramatically cut their payroll amid concerns over the future of the team in the area as they search for a new stadium.

Other teams whose average has dropped at least 15 percent from the 2019 break include the Arizona Diamondbacks (26.7%), Pittsburgh Pirates (20.8%), Washington (19.7%), Philadelphia Phillies (17.9%), Cincinnati Reds (17.8%), Cleveland Guardians (16.3%), Los Angeles Angels (15.1 %) and the Kansas City Royals (15.1%).

The only teams whose average has increased from their averages at the 2019 break are the Toronto Blue Jays (48.5%), the San Diego Padres (29.4%), the Miami Marlins (23, 3%), Atlanta Braves (19.1%), Seattle Mariners (12.7%), Chicago White Sox (9.5%), Detroit Tigers (6.9%) and the New York Mets (4.8%).


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