Major League Baseball’s overall average of 26,854 through Wednesday is 1.4% below the 27,242 through the similar point last season, which wound up below 30,000 for the first time since 2003.
Nineteen of the 30 teams have seen their average fall from a similar point last year, with the largest drops in Toronto (6,963), San Francisco (6,463), Baltimore (3,839) and Detroit (3,686).
Large rises have taken place for Philadelphia (10,383), Oakland (4,027), San Diego (3,465) and the Chicago White Sox (2,311). The Phillies signed Bryce Harper and the Padres added Manny Machado.
“A lot of it comes down to competition. Fans want to know their teams are doing everything they can to compete for a championship every year,” union head Tony Clark said. “I see every empty seat as a missed opportunity. Experiencing a game and seeing players perform in person creates a bond with baseball; our industry needs to find ways to convert those empty seats into lifelong fans.”
MLB’s average peaked at 32,785 in 2007 – the last year before the Great Recession and the next-to-last season before the New York Yankees and Mets moved to smaller stadiums. The average was at 30,517 in 2015 before sliding for three straight years, and last season’s final figure of 28,830 marked a 4% drop, the overall number hurt by unusually cold and wet weather early in the season.
Manfred points to other metrics that please MLB: Games top prime-time cable ratings in 24 of 25 markets and MLB.tv streaming is up 8.5%. He views increases for the Phillies, Padres, Athletics and White Sox tied to team performance.
Florida remains a problem on both coasts.
Despite a sparkling, eight-season-old ballpark with a retractable roof, Miami is averaging 9,554 in Derek Jeter’s second season as chief executive – below the 9,582 average for Triple-A Las Vegas in its first season at a new 10,000-capacity stadium.
Tampa Bay plays in one of the most outmoded facilities in the major leagues and drew 5,786 against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, the smallest home crowd for the Rays, who started play at Tropicana Field in 1998.
“The more people there are, the more energy there’s going to be,” Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “No matter what crowd you’re playing in front of, you have to get motivated.”
A quartet of last-place teams have seen swaths of empty seats.
Miami is on track to have the lowest home attendance in the National League for the seventh straight season. Tampa Bay is at the bottom of the AL for the fifth consecutive year.
“Any time you’re seeing less people show up to the ballpark, I think you’re wondering why and you’re wondering how you can change that,” said Miami first baseman Neil Walker, accustomed to big crowds from his time in New York. “You’ve got to assume that it has a little bit to do with it being expensive to come to the ballpark.”
Having traded many veterans, the Orioles are 28th in the majors at 16,263. Baltimore topped 2 million in 21 of its first 25 seasons at Camden Yards, exceeding 3 million nine times. But the Orioles drew 6,585 against Oakland on April 8, the lowest in the ballpark’s 28-season history except for a 2015 game closed to the public at a time when the city was plagued by rioting.
“I wish fans were here. When we played in Wrigley, the energy level was off the charts,” first-year Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I’m hoping that someday soon that will be the case here.”
Cincinnati’s crowd of 7,799 against Milwaukee on April 1 was the lowest for a Reds home game since 1984 at Riverfront Stadium. That same day, Toronto drew 10,460 against the Orioles, the smallest attendance at the Rogers Centre since 2010.
San Francisco drew 28,030 vs. Pittsburgh on April 10, the Giants’ lowest home crowd since 2010.
Kansas City’s crowd of 10,024 against the Twins on April 2 was the lowest at Kauffman Stadium since 2011. Minnesota drew 11,465 against Toronto on April 17, the lowest figure in Target Field’s 10-season history.
“As a kid, I loved more than anything to go to the ballpark and I loved nothing more than playing baseball,” Walker said. “But I think a lot of people are just – they want action now. They don’t want to be totally consumed with a game maybe that’s just not timed.”