Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Slightly Fewer Butts in Seats

As I mentioned earlier this year, we may not really be able to see how the current economic downturn impacts the game until next year, but in the meantime, Maury Brown notes that, unless we have a major surge in the final weeks, overall attendance is going to drop for the first time in five years:
As of Saturday, Sept. 6, average attendance for the league is at 32,614, down from 32,757 on the same date last year, or a 0.44 percent decline. The drop in paid attendance (tickets sold, not turnstile clicks) comes as both Yankee and Shea Stadiums see their swansongs, and a new ballpark opened in Washington, D.C. . . .

. . . The biggest declines from last year to this come from the Rangers (-20.58 percent), Padres (-13.75 percent), Athletics (-13.42 percent) and Mariners (-12.10 percent).
The Padres, A's, and Mariners have unexpectedly miserable seasons to thank for the majority of their drop off. Less clear is why the Rangers -- who have played decent ball and have unleashed Hamilton-mania upon the unsuspecting populace -- are so far off last year's pace. My guess: gas prices. Things are really spread out in Texas, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Rangers fans have the longest average drive to get to the ballpark out of every Major League team. Even Anaheim probably has a more centralized fan base by virtue of there being competition to the north (the Dodgers) and the south (Padres).

Maury does note, however, that the drop in attendance is not exactly a harbinger of dire days for Major League Baseball:
Even if MLB doesn’t break the attendance record, it will be close and will most likely be the second highest attendance figure of all time. When you look at how well the All-Star Game went, and other business aspects, the odds are that even if attendance were down a smidgen at the end of the season, revenues will be up. MLB will certainly crow about that even if they don’t chest thump on attendance.
But you know what? To see how the economy is really impacting the game, I'd be more curious to see numbers on cable/satellite game packages and other things -- maybe online merch sales? -- besides ticket sales. Why? Because as many have noted, actual crowds at games are skewing richer these days, leaving the working stiffs to consume their baseball in other ways. My guess: while ticket sales may be somewhat more resilient than expected, other revenue streams -- especially those catering to people with lower incomes -- are drying up quicker.


Amos said...

They should also analyze the amount of concessions sold. I bet that prototypical family of four is sneaking in sandwiches a little more often, and limiting little Johnny and Suzy to one soda and only a dinky souvenir like keychain instead of a jersey.

Michael said...

All is well in Wrigley, I can tell you that much.

Though I was amazed when I went to a Baltimore-Rays game on April 30. I was able to walk up to Camden and purchase first-row left-field line seats. For $27 each.

Anonymous said...


As I've pointed out a few times here, the A's drop is not entirely due to the product on the field, but the perceived entertainment value of that product.

The A's actually raised prices drastically over the past few years, almost 100% in 10 years for better seats. The team is not good, won't be good anytime soon, and has no stars that draw casual fans.

Yet ticket prices remain absurdly high compared to entertainment alternatives, whereas some teams have actually lowered their prices on selected seats. The A's will have to do this also.

California as a whole has unemployment approaching 7%, with counties bordering the Bay Area over 10%. Back in the late 90's when Giambi and Miggy were exciting hopes at the Mausoleum, the crowds grew from an average of 16,000 to 26,000 at the peak of the Big 3 era. They are down to 20,000 now, but more tellingly, as this horrendous losing, post ASG period stretches to the last weeks of the season, crowds look closer to 10,000 actually in the stands.

I'm sure the A's aren't alone with this. But they don't have the tourist crowds the Giants do (look at the Giants crowds now that school is back in session-very sparse.)

Pete Toms said...

Haven't read Maury's piece yet ( I will ) but I think maybe more important than attendance is the increasing amount of "discounted" tickets that were made available this season. It's not how many tickets you sell it's the revenue per game that matters. I.E. Red Sox & Cubs can't draw huge crowds but they do boffo business because the tickets are worth a lot more.

Last I read, numbers on RSNs were strong.

RoyceTheBaseballHack said...

You are spot-on about Rangers' attendance, Shyster. The Stadium is 30+ hard, traffic-clogged miles from every mid-to-affluent burb most of their seats would be filled from. And in this area, we are all forced to drive a lot to begin with. Loading up the Suburban and driving in from Plano, Frisco, Lewisville or Mesquite is an expensive endeavor. Also, there is a lot of road construction around the stadium, which makes a bad drive even worse. I understand TV and radio viewing/listening for them in the area is way, way up for the year, though.