Allow me to interrupt coverage of the world’s most boring Division Series playoff round to opine for a minute on attendance. Maury Brown over at the Biz of Baseball analyzing the 2008 attendance numbers, and the findings, at least to me, are interesting.
The 2008 Major League Baseball regular season is the second highest attendance mark in history, drawing 78,624,324, falling just 1.14 percent below last year’s record of 79,502,524 in paid attendance, a sign that baseball’s popularity remains exceptionally strong. While the figure is the second best ever, forecasts at the beginning of the season were for a total attendance in excess of 80 million. Still, the strong attendance figure comes at a time when the economy has been hit exceptionally hard, gas prices impacted travel, and the weather wreaked havoc at open-air stadiums, lowering walk-up ticket purchases…
Next season, MLB will most likely not reach this year’s attendance figure. With both the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field coming online with reduced seating capacities than the outgoing facilities, attendance for the two strongest attended teams will drop.
Still, MLB has always focused on revenues, and next year should be no exception. While attendance dropped sllightly this year, revenues were up from $6.075 billion to $6.5 billion this year. Even with the expected 2009 decrease in attendance, and concerns about the economy prevailing into next year, expect revenues to remain flat or slightly above this year’s figure.
It’s remarkable that baseball has managed to sustain such lofty attendance numbers over the last few seasons. With the economy in the tank, people are seemingly finding solace in the 81-game home schedule.
What’s interesting about this year’s attendance numbers, as Brown notes, is that they mostly follow team success. While the two Florida teams both enjoyed good seasons, they were the outliers, drawing relatively fewer fans than other good teams. But in general, the teams that won drew more fans that the teams that didn’t win.
No where was this more evident than in Washington, DC. While the Nationals moved into a new stadium — once a guarantee of lofty attendance figures — the team lost 102 games. They enjoyed an attendance increase over their final 2007 numbers at the RFK Stadium pit, but they had the smallest home attendance for a team in a new ballpark since Camden Yards ushered in a Golden Age of stadiums. People just don’t want to see bad teams play.
Next year, attendance numbers are bound to go down. Neither the Yankees nor the Mets can actually meet their 2008 attendance numbers. The Yanks will probably draw around 4.238 million fans next year, which would be capacity for the new stadium and a few thousand fewer than this year’s totals. The Mets, on the other hand, decided to cut the size of their new stadium by over 12,000 seats. The most the Mets can draw is 3.645 million fans. Why a team in a metropolitan area the size of New York’s would opt to cut capacity by so much is well beyond me.
In the end, though, baseball is alive and well. Fans are flocking to games, and no one is predicting the demise of our National Pastime.