MLB attendance continues to drop following worst season since 2003

Jason Owens

Two months into the season, MLB attendance numbers have been tallied. The news is not good for baseball.

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the average attendance for MLB games this season is 26,854 through Wednesday. That marks a 1.4 percent drop from last year’s tally of 27,242 at the same point of the season.

2018 was the first season since 2003 that average attendance for MLB games dropped below 30,000, according to AP.

Images of empty seats at stadiums popping up on social media are becoming increasingly common as bad baseball and poor facilities are proving tough draws to lure people to pay for parking, tickets and exorbitant ballpark concessions over the course of a 162-game season.

Florida baseball not a draw

Two Florida teams are among the biggest culprits in the attendance issue, for different reasons.

The Miami Marlins have one of baseball’s newest and most modern facilities. But after the team gleaned tax dollars to build the stadium that opened in 2012, a pair of ownership groups have engaged in a firesale that exiled young talent like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

Scenes like this from Marlins Park are not uncommon. (Getty)
Scenes like this from Marlins Park are not uncommon. (Getty)

The Marlins field one of the worst teams in baseball, and fans aren’t showing up. AP noted that Miami’s average attendance of 9,554 this season is a notch below that of the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators, who draw 9,582 fans per game.

Rays fans not supporting a winner

The Tampa Bay Rays have a different problem. They field a playoff contender in the AL East featuring one of baseball’s most exciting young pitching staffs anchored by reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell.

But they play in one of baseball’s worst facilities, the cavernous Tropicana Field — an outdated dome built in 1990 designed as a multi-purpose facility that doesn’t cater well to baseball. That the stadium being in St. Petersburg instead of Tampa Bay doesn’t help.

Despite fielding a competitive team, the Rays drew an all-time low attendance of 5,786 for Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The previous low number came in 2017 when a hurricane was in the forecast.

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Not just a Florida problem

But the Florida teams aren’t the only problems. According to AP, 19 of the 30 MLB teams have seen attendance dwindle this season, with the biggest average drops coming from the Toronto Blue Jays (6,963), San Francisco Giants (6,463), Baltimore Orioles (3,839) and Detroit Tigers (3,686).

The Orioles, Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals have all seen single-game attendance lows they haven’t posted in years or decades in some cases, according to AP.

Not even Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems to be enough of a draw to get fans in Toronto to the ballpark. He wasn’t called up until late April, so maybe the Blue Jays will see a boost moving forward.

Some teams seeing an uptick

It’s not all bad news. AP reports that the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox have all seen significant jumps in attendance with the Phillies drawing an average of 10,383 more fans in the first year of the Bryce Harper era.

It goes to show that teams that compete and provide a compelling ballpark experience have upside for drawing fans.

But as the game struggles to gain the attention of younger fans in a sport that increasingly sees long stretches of play with no action, declining interest is a real problem.

Lucrative TV contracts have ensured the financial health of the game for the near future. But baseball finds itself in a real battle to get fans to the ballpark.

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