April 17, 2018


Jeff Passan sees a potential MLB problem. In his latest column, he sees a pattern of attendance drop-off in large numbers, notwithstanding the horrible national weather.

After a weekend records for game  postponements, attendance is down precipitously, enough that one league official expressed concern that this isn’t simply a manifestation of the weather but something deeper and more troublesome for the game.
“I’m worried,” and executive told Passan. “The tanking scares me.”

Inside front offices all spring, officials wondered whether the significant number of teams that neither spent in free agency nor harbored realistic notions of contention would have a tangible, negative effect on fans attending games. The early numbers are chilling.

Compared to last season at this juncture, the Boston Red Sox are down about 2,500 fans a game. For the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, it’s nearly 5,000. The Cleveland Indians’ average crowd has dropped more than 5,000, the Texas Rangers’ more than 7,000 and the Pittsburgh Pirates more than 7,500. The Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals each are in the 8,000-fan range, and the Miami Marlins are pushing 10,000. The most severe is the Baltimore Orioles, who have played six games at home and are at almost 16,000 fewer per.

Even if some are obviously weather-related, the numbers are nevertheless staggering. The average crowd of 27,532 over the 221 MLB games played this season is about 2,700 fans per game lower than last year through the same point. Over the course of a full season, that would amount to a drop of more than 6.5 million fans.

Now, the last time the league suffered through an April with more postponements than this was 2007. Over the first 225 games that season, the average crowd was 29,888. By the end of the year, that number leaped to 32,704 per game for a total of more than 79.5 million, still the largest attendance figure in the game’s history.

However, last season drew only 73 million fans.  A projected decline of 6. 5 million would be a 8.9 percent decline in attendance. Or at least $325 million in lost gate revenue to the owners.

Weather may have been an early factor. But the high cost of attending games and younger children not playing the sport as much due to school, video games and other entertainment options are other factors to consider. The King of American Sports, the NFL, saw a large decline in TV ratings. Some attributed it to the anthem protests. Others thought it was because parents have stopped allowing their children to play contact football because of concussions. If kids don't play the games they watch on TV, they will likely not watch those games as adults.