Early months have proved a problem for attendance
The Santa Clara
May 2, 2019
Unless you were living under a rock this past weekend, you probably heard about Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” record-breaking opening weekend at the box office. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it yet, there are no spoilers ahead— this is the sports section, after all.
Tickets to the latest “Avengers” movie sold out almost instantly, forcing movie theaters across the country to find creative solutions to fit even more showings of “Endgame” into the already-packed theaters. If you went to see the movie this weekend, or if you’re planning to go later this week, you’ll be hard pressed to find an empty seat in the whole auditorium.
If you’ve gone to Oracle Park to watch a San Francisco Giants’ baseball game recently, you likely found the exact opposite to be true.
Earlier this month, the Giants’ attendance reached its lowest point in nine years, dropping to 28,625 fans on a Monday night game against the San Diego Padres.
This was the first time they’ve recorded less than 30,000 tickets sold since May 27, 2010—two days before they called up now-veteran catcher Buster Posey.
Yet, the Giants are not alone in the trend of decreased attendance. Across the league, 12 of the 30 teams will pull in fewer fans in March and April than they did last year, according to USA Today Sports. While the league average has remained relatively similar to the March and April period in 2018—with less than a one percent decrease—massive attendance cuts are a huge issue for many organizations.
The most significant drop-off has been for the Toronto Blue Jays, who saw a 33 percent slide in average attendance—from 27,142 to 20,451— during the same period last year.
San Francisco ranks third in terms of the largest average attendance dips, losing 6,578 fans per game on average—a 17 percent drop. That’s basically the same as if the Giants decided not to sell tickets to half of the upper deck every game.
While large percentage drops are attractive statistics to demonstrate the issue, some stadiums won’t experience these same statistics because they simply have less fans coming to their games to begin with.
For example, the Giants’ average attendance so far this year is 32,700, down from 38,965 for the entire 2018 season.
However, smaller market teams—such as the Miami Marlins— are only averaging 9,951 fans per game this year. Organizations such as Miami might not see dramatic drops in attendance percentages, yet attendance is clearly still a major issue.
Based on these numbers, it would take an entire three-game series to get the same number of fans in Miami as it would for one game in San Francisco.
More importantly, the less than one percent drop in average attendance mentioned earlier comes on top of a four percent decrease in 2018—the largest season to season decline in a decade.
In the past, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has insisted poor weather is to blame for lower turnouts early in the season, but much nicer weather this season combined with similar numbers could point to this issue being wider and more permanent than the league initially expected.
In general, attendance decreases throughout a season as well as between seasons are due to two factors: overall team success and individual star power.
When pre-season analysis projects a team to lose more games than they’ll win and finish at the bottom of their division, fans are less likely to show up to the ballpark. While weekend games may still see high turnouts, especially during the summer months, weekday games tend to struggle significantly.
This trend mostly remains consistent throughout the season as well. For example, if a team starts off poorly, but pulls themselves into the playoff race in the second half of the season, ticket sales will increase and vice versa.
The other factor that plays a major role is individual star power. Big-name players such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have a tremendous impact on the number of fans at the games—both home and away. As a prime example, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a $330 million contract this year. Since then, they have averaged 37,280 fans per game—an incredible 44 percent gain from 25,811 at this point last year.
Although big stars may provide a much-needed attendance boost in a couple stadiums across the league, the overall downward trend persists. If the MLB wants to fix this issue, they need to think up some innovative solutions.
They can always try new ways to get fans in the door based on various attractions at the ballpark itself— such as promotions, giveaways and improved facilities. However, based on the impact star players can have on the home fanbase, what baseball really needs is a new approach to how it promotes star players.
The MLB might consider taking a lesson from Marvel: the more stars involved the better. Marvel has done it with big-name actors and multisuperhero movies—now it might be time for the MLB to create their own superstars.
Contact Kyle Lydon at klydon@scu. edu or call (408) 554-4852.