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The good (Blue Jays), bad (Yankees) and downright ugly (A's) of MLB attendance this season

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Major League Baseball franchises won’t face many harder sells than trying to move tickets early in the 2022 season.

After two years that saw fans barred and then limited due to the pandemic, followed by a 99-day lockout that kept the sport out of sight and mind for more than three months, the game returned tardy and to a flurry of grim weather in the Midwest and Northeast.

Yet if this is the low point, the game weathered the storm relatively well.

A USA TODAY Sports analysis of the first 12 home dates for all 30 franchises reveals that attendance is down only slightly overall – just 1.3% compared to the first 12 dates of 2019, the last year in which a similar sample was available. A closer look at individual franchises shows perhaps even more encouraging signs: Seventeen of 30 teams – led by the Toronto Blue Jays’ whopping 59% gain from early 2019 – saw significant attendance gains or remained relatively flat, with eight of those teams experiencing gains or drops of 4% or less.

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Many losses have been significant.

Two fans have the upper deck to themselves during a recent A's game at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland.
Two fans have the upper deck to themselves during a recent A's game at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland.

The already struggling Oakland Athletics have lost a league-high 58% of their average base, as their threat to vacate the city for Las Vegas while trading off stars further repels fans. The Washington Nationals, robbed by COVID-19 of the chance to reap the benefits of their 2019 title, are down 27% from early 2019 amid a third consecutive challenging season.

Yet perhaps the most telling group is a half-dozen largely major-market teams who are down between 6% to 12%, led by the Chicago Cubs, who made nominal reductions in season-ticket prices after a 2021 purge of homegrown stars. An April 25 crowd of 25,005 on a Friday night against the Pirates was the smallest at Wrigley Field in a non-pandemic year since 2013. That, perhaps, is an indication the club’s competitive indifference the past two years no longer flies after the team famously broke a 108-year championship drought in 2016.

“They have kind of outpriced themselves,” Max Waisvisz, a partner in Chicago-based Gold Coast Tickets, told USA TODAY Sports. The Cubs’ ticket prices and overall “fan experience” ratings perennially land at or near the top of all major league teams; Waisvisz said his company gave up a quartet of $300 seats this year due to softening demand.

“People use the secondary market as a dumping ground. (Cubs owner Tom Ricketts) thinks he can sell tickets by putting a minor-league team on the field, and then try to build it back again through draft picks.”

The Cubs, along with every team, will see attendance pick up as weather warms and schools let out for the summer. Yet April crowd counts represent a meaningful metric, revealing how far the floor has dropped for struggling teams – and risen for upstarts.

USA TODAY Sports examines who’s up and who’s down – and what it all means – for all 30 markets through their first 12 home dates:

Blue Jays (+59%)

Average: 31,516

Smallest crowd: 20,468

What it means: Since Opening Day 2019, the Blue Jays have welcomed a superstar in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., spent $260 million on George Springer and Kevin Gausman and traded to fill in the gaps. Toronto noticed.

Marlins (+32%)

Average: 13,589

Smallest crowd: 6,224

What it means: Don’t get too excited: Miami averaged 10,287 in its first dozen 2019 dates. Like the on-field product, building a fan base is meticulous here.

Tigers (+27%)

Average: 21,282

Smallest crowd: 10,522

What it means: An encouraging upswing after the $140 million signing of Javy Baez and arrival of Spencer Torkelson followed six consecutive losing seasons.

White Sox (+25%)

Average: 20,610

Smallest crowd: 11,242

What it means: One of just two teams to gain attendance during a partially-open 2021 campaign, the White Sox still have plenty of gate and performance upside.

Padres (+23%)

Average: 37,643

Smallest crowd: 25,359

What it means: Still the only game in town and on track to draw 3 million fans for the first time since Petco Park’s inaugural 2004 season.

Braves (+19%)

Average: 37,344

Smallest crowd: 30,362

What it means: Year 6 of Truist Park should be its best-attended following a World Series title and the growing popularity of the adjacent Battery.

Orioles (+20%)

Average: 20,302

Smallest crowd: 7,427

What it means: The early total is bumped by a Yankees visit, though “1992 pricing” to celebrate Camden Yards and free tickets for kids seems to be paying off.

Royals (+19%)

Average: 16,247

Smallest crowd: 8,969

What it means: Seven crowds of at least 15,000, compared to just two over similar 2019 stretch.

Reds (+15%)

Average: 17,857

Smallest crowd: 9,192

What it means: Biggest challenges may still remain, with worst team in majors trying to attract fans after club president’s “Where else you going to go?” dare.

Dodgers (+4%)

Average: 49,058

Smallest crowd: 38,888

What it means: They drew crowds of 52,000 on consecutive Monday and Tuesday nights in April, which is really all you need to know.

Mets (+4%)

Average: 30,851

Smallest crowd: 23,413

What it means: Will Steve Cohen’s huge acquisitions pay for themselves? If the 20-10 Mets keep winning, they might.

Twins (+0.3%)

Average: 17,521

Smallest crowd: 11,803

What it means: Carlos Correa didn’t exactly break the box office, but Twins fans remain resolute through cold, snow, pandemic and lockout.

Mariners (+0.3%)

Average: 24,936

Smallest crowd: 9,374

What it means: Slow start may threaten ability to make significant gains with dynamic young team.

Rockies (+0.1%)

Average: 33,282

Smallest crowd: 20,403

What it means: Is it the legalized cannabis? The bevy of IPAs on tap? The mile-high air? Two years of pandemic, the trade of a franchise player, the public mistrust of ownership and management and yet the Rockies are an attendance machine. What a market.

Giants (+0.01%)

Average: 32,544

Smallest crowd: 22,562

What it means: Nearly identical to 2019 pace (32,547 through 12 games), but now must confront just the second season in Oracle Park history missing both Barry Bonds and Buster Posey. Will a team bereft of box-office heroes still draw?

Astros (-1%)

Average: 32,145

Smallest crowd: 23,797

What it means: Personnel turnover and an ugly scandal haven’t slowed the on- or off-field success.

Cardinals (-4%)

Average: 38,970

Smallest crowd: 32,215

What it means: The attendance floor and the early eye test both suggest the market for a Cards ticket is softening a bit.

Red Sox (-6%)

Average: 32,027

Smallest crowd: 27,679

What it means: Ticket scarcity is typically the rule at Fenway Park. A struggling team that can’t score may test that theory after two decades of nearly uninterrupted success.

Rays (-9%)

Average: 13,524

Smallest crowd: 7,290

What it means: Exciting, successful team fights headwinds of poorly located stadium, relocation talk, unconfirmed revenue deficit. Repeat until at least 2027.

Angels (-9%)

Average: 32,767

Smallest crowd: 16,132

What it means: The club found its low point: A Tuesday afternoon April game against Miami drew the smallest crowd since the Angels won the 2002 World Series.

Yankees (-9%)

Average: 35,895

Smallest crowd: 25,068

What it means: Huge stadium means secondary-market options abound, as Waisvisz, who brokers Yankee tickets out of Chicago, notes. “I have 16 $30 bleacher tickets for today’s game,” he says, “selling for $5 each.”

Rangers (-11%)

Average: 24,493

Smallest crowd: 15,862

What it means: It’s a bit alarming that Year 2 of climate-controlled Globe Life Field can’t keep pace with the final year of Globe Life Ballpark – even after the Rangers spent more than $500 million on free agents.

Cubs (-12%)

Average: 31,191

Smallest crowd: 25,005

What it means: The softening Cubs market arrived last summer, when the club enjoyed large summer crowds once attendance restrictions lifted, only to see them sag – eight gates of 25,000 or less – following the trades of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez.

Guardians (-18%)

Average: 13,863 (through nine home dates, due to rainouts)

Smallest crowd: 8,345

What it means: Add poor weather to general indifference that could not be overcome with a name change and the long-term signing of Jose Ramirez.

Pirates (-21%)

Average: 12,256

Smallest crowd: 8,331

What it means: The seventh season without a playoff berth comes with owner Bob Nutting failing to commit significant dollars to free agent signings, giving divisional peers like Milwaukee a head start.

Brewers (-22%)

Average: 27,390

Smallest crowd: 20,790

What it means: While demand has softened relative to a 2019 season coming off an NLCS trip, the Brewers remain a mid-market wonder, outdrawing the White Sox, Mariners and Rangers and nearly equaling the Phillies.

Phillies (-24%)

Average: 28,961

Smallest crowd: 20,127

What it means: Tough to match Year 1 of the Bryce Harper era, but this year’s stagnant numbers show the club must win fairly big and not rely on owner John Middleton’s annual gift of winter trinkets – which this year included Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos.

Diamondbacks (-26%)

Average: 20,217

Smallest crowd: 15,138

What it means: A distressed market, where only the sunbirds rooting on the Padres, Giants and Dodgers keep the turnstiles moving with any predictivity.

Nationals (-27%)

Average: 20,550

Smallest crowd: 11,720

What it means: Attendance already dipped from 2.5 million to 2.2 million in 2019, when the club won the World Series – followed by two injury-wracked seasons that saw many of their charismatic stars traded away. Now, the Lerner family is exploring a sale of the team.

A’s (-58%)

Average: 7,283

Smallest crowd: 2,488

What it means: A strip-mined roster competing in an antiquated facility before fans disillusioned by threats to move to Las Vegas unless public money is spent on the owner’s pet condo project? Yeah, this is what you get.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB attendance news: Good (Blue Jays), bad (Yankees) and ugly (A's)