The current economic recession has proven that professional sports are not immune to swings in the economy. Every team has their own personal attendance pattern based on the success of the team, success of other professional sports team in the city, new ballparks, and a myriad of other factors. However, it has been a long time since we have seen essentially every team suffer a simultaneous drop in attendance. So far this year, MLB games are averaging 29,082 fans per game, which is about 66% of capacity. This is down from the past two seasons, which averaged 32,516 (72% capacity) and 32,770 (72% capacity) respectively. Not only is this a 12% drop in the number of bodies in the ballpark, but an even greater decrease in revenues. It is the premium seats and corporate boxes that are going unsold, which are a main source of revenue for major league teams.
Two of the main offenders are the Yankees and Mets, which is especially curious considering teams that build new ballparks generally realize an increase in attendance, known as the Honeymoon period. However, these teams gravely overestimated how much fans would be willing to pay to watch a ball game, which has led to entire empty sections. The Yankees are down 8,500 per game, while the Mets have suffered a 4,500 decrease per game.
While this decrease in attendance probably will not deter the free-spending New Yorkers, there is another team that is in much bigger trouble. The Detroit Tigers have seen their attendance plummet to 28,126 from 39,538 only a year ago. The demise of the auto manufacturer’s has hit the Detroit area very hard, and even the best team in hockey, the Red Wings, are not immune to attendance problems. With one of the highest payrolls in baseball, I would not be surprised to see owner Mike Ilitch shed some salary this summer. This is very unfortunate as the Tigers have come out strong this season, and are leading the AL Central by 1.5 games.
Some other teams of note:
Washington Nationals: Down 8,300
Atlanta Braves: Down 6,800
Houston Astros: Down 5,700
Colorado Rockies: Down 5,500
However, I am not all about doom and gloom here at MLB Insights. The World Champion Philadelphia Phillies are up 1,200 for obvious reasons. The bandwagon is filling up in Kansas City with the Royals averaging an extra 2,400 per game, although this should regress amidst the teams eight game losing streak. Strong performances in the Lonestar state have led to a 2,800 per game increase for the Rangers. It would be great to see that franchise finally win a playoff series and shed the stench of the A-Rod contract.
We can only hope that the economy is on the road to recovery and fans are able to once again afford tickets to the sport they love. If we can take one positive from this, it is that other than the Yankees, the recession helped bring free agent contracts back under control. Only in 2008 would the guy who broke the single season saves record get $12 million per year, not a whole lot more than BJ Ryan got two years prior.