With Major League Baseball’s Championship Series almost upon us, the attendance numbers for the regular season were released last week and, to the surprise of no one, they’re not very good.
According to SportsBusiness Daily, the league suffered a 4.1 percent drop in attendance from last year, with a total attendance of 69.67 million – and that includes the two extra division tiebreaker games played as well. It’s the fifth decline in attendance in the last six seasons for the league and the first time since 2003 that MLB was unable to hurdle the 70 million marker. Of course, not all individual teams suffered during the down season.
For the fifth straight year, the Los Angeles Dodgers topped attendance numbers, with 3,857,500 fans walking through the gates of Dodgers Stadium, for an average of 47,043 per game – up 1.2 percent from 2017. Other notable winners included the New York Yankees, who saw a 7.9 percent increase, the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, who saw the largest increase at 24 percent and the Philadelphia Phillies, who saw a 13.3 percent increase. On the other side of things, the Miami Marlins were a runaway for the worst attendance in 2018 and it’s not even close. The Marlins averaged just 10,014 in attendance, drawing 811,104 for the season – down 50.9 percent. That’s right, the franchise didn’t even crack one million attendees this season. It was the first time since the Montreal Expos in 2004 that a team failed to hit the one million mark and that team relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Nationals the very next season.
Some other clubs lacking in attendance this season were the Pittsburgh Pirates, down 20.7 percent, the Baltimore Orioles, down 19.9 percent, and the Kansas City Royals, down 25.9 percent. Keep in mind, all of the aforementioned teams were essentially out of the playoff hunt by the All-Star break, so that has a sizable impact on these declines.
As SportsBusiness Daily also noted, Minor League Baseball experienced a 3.3 percent decline, stating an unusual amount of rainouts, paired with cold weather, played a part.
But that’s not to say fans aren’t still watching America’s Pastime on television.
According to a recent feature on Forbes’ website, ratings for MLB games in primetime on regional sports networks, also known as RSNs, were up just slightly from the previous year, with an increase of almost two percent. Baseball ranks first in cable primetime in every U.S. MLB market except Miami – we’re noticing a trend here. Some of the local ratings winners include the St. Louis Cardinals’ 8.05 rating, the Boston Red Sox’s 7.26 rating and the Cleveland Indians’ 6.85 rating. Some of the local losers include the Chicago White Sox’s 0.68, the Oakland Athletics’ 1.07 rating and the Marlins’ 1.08 rating. Baseball has really evolved into a local sport over the last two decades and the television ratings mirror that. Sure, ESPN’s MLB telecasts saw a two percent bump from last year but it still isn’t remotely close to the audience ESPN used to bring in years ago.
It’s no big secret that the National Football League reigns supreme these days and if baseball isn’t careful, it could find itself in some serious trouble sooner rather than later.