It is never surprising to see many half empty ballparks in April and May in Major League Baseball. The weather is not conducive to sitting outside that early in many locales. School is still in session and the usual family trips to the ball park are still a month or two away. Plus there are really no pennant races yet as teams are still sorting out themselves out somewhat.
Yet the numbers don’t lie in 2013. Ballparks–including many where getting a ticket at any time of year was always tough–are more empty than in 2012 right now.
According to website Baseball Reference the total attendance by the 30 major league teams is off by 705,069 from last year at this time. That means the average attendance announced is just under 1000 per game less.
Certainly in all sports the success of clubs has a lot to do with attendance. But some of baseball’s most successful clubs of the last decade or longer are seeing fewer fans. The Boston Red Sox are attracting nearly 5000 fewer per game. The Yankees are down. The Cubs are down. So are the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers. All but the Cubs have been among the strongest in baseball for years. The Cubs are in a special category.
While those clubs are down it must be pointed out their average per game is still what many teams would die to have. The same is not true elsewhere.
The Miami Marlins after opening a new ballpark in 2012 and then decimating the team to cut costs in 2013 are seeing just under 11,000 fewer fans on hand per game. The Marlins also have the worst record in baseball–by one game–over the Houston Astros.
As for the Astros their average attendance has been on a slow decline for the past several years with non competitive 100 game losing teams for two straight seasons and most likely a third. They had played the first 49 years of their history never having had such poor records. The Astros with a drop of over 4300 per game are averaging an announced 18,512 per game. They are one of five teams with an average gate of less than 20,000 per outing. They are only fourth worst, however. Cleveland averages just 15,520, Minnesota just 17,730, Tampa Bay only 17,932, then Houston followed by Oakland. To be fair it must be noted that outdoor baseball in Cleveland and Minnesota early in the season is often not attractive to fans. Houston has a poor team. Tampa Bay has no excuse.
You will notice all five of the teams averaging under 20,000 per game are in the American League. This has actually been a trend for years with the NL outdrawing the AL by an averaged of between two and three thousand per outing–oftentimes more.
Opponents of the designated hitter have used that fact to show that the DH does not apparently affect attendance and that the American League which has often beaten the NL in public awareness due to the strength of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox in the dominant media markets of the East is not really as preferred as it may seem. It is highly debatable whether the loss of the DH would adversely affect AL attendance significantly since is apparently does not help in relation to superior NL totals and averages.
A strong perception this observer has noted from Facebook and Twitter comments and elsewhere on line is that Major League Baseball in the cities it resides is generally OK. Where it is losing interest is everywhere else. Cities that do not have major league baseball have fewer baseball fans by percentage than ever before.
Houston and Cleveland are two markets that are most troubling. The Indians and Astros were both among the strongest teams and franchises in baseball in the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s. Since they have fallen off the fan base has eroded badly.
The good thing is that those same fans who supported the teams are still around, but under the surface waiting to pop through when the teams return to consistent contention. How long that takes will determine if the following for both clubs can ever get all the way back.
Minnesota and Cleveland’s attendance–as with most of the clubs that have had sub par support early–will automatically improve with the arrival of warm weather and summer. There cannot be the same assurances in Tampa Bay, Miami or Houston. Both have not had to deal with weather and still have had disappointing support. It is far worse for Tampa Bay since they have been providing a winning ball club for years. Numbers will rise with the close of the school year. But they would still seem to be headed to places where it will take a lot of work and success on the field to either hold steady in Miami and Tampa Bay or have hopes for major improvement in Houston.