As Major League Baseball begins the second half of its season tonight, a new forecast suggests that the league’s attendance woes are not expected to rebound in 2019.
Attendance across the league is projected to finish at 68.8 million fans by season-end, according to a proprietary attendance-modelling formula from Two Circles, WPP’s sports property-facing agency. If equaled, that figure would represent the league’s fourth-consecutive annual decrease in league-wide attendance, a decline of 1.3% year-over-year.
When MLB concluded its first-half on July 7, average attendance was down by 534 per game, according to Two Circles. While the agency projects that decline will actually lessen in the second half, the data suggests the league’s teams will average 28,365 per game at the end of the season, compared to an overall average of 28,837 in 2018. MLB’s average peaked at 32,785 in 2007, and was above 30,000 as recent as 2015, when the season-long average was 30,517. However, that figure has declined in each of the last three seasons.
Speaking with the Associated Press on May 30 about the league’s attendance, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said: “Given the explosion of entertainment alternatives and the growth of the secondary market, it is not surprising that season ticket sales can be challenging,”
However, not all is doom and gloom for MLB – the data compiled by Two Circles indicates a few silver linings for the league.
First, 15 of the league’s 30 teams are expected to show year-over-year attendance growth. The Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates top that list, all projected to have double-digit growth at 34%, 17% and 14%, respectively. The flip-side to that is that several of the league’s big market teams are expected to see drops, thus offsetting any gains seen by smaller market teams like Minnesota. For example, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers are projected to have the biggest attendance decreases, all at more than 16% declines year-over-year – losing, between them, a combined 1.9 million attendees in 2019 compared to 2018.
Ticket revenue for MLB is projected to increase league-wide by $19 million compared to 2018, according to Two Circles, thanks to average ticket price increases of 2.1% – representing an increase from $32.29 in 2018 to $32.99 in 2019. Two Circles said that had average ticket prices remained static, overall ticketing revenue would likely have fallen by $29 million.
Sam Yardley, Two Circles senior vice president, consulting, said that several factors seem to be contributing to MLB’s attendance decline, including length of games, games having to be scheduled in unfavorable weekday slots, and a struggle for relevance compared to other sports.
However, Yardley said the league should be encouraged by the growth being shown across several of its markets, especially regarding the innovative approaches that some of the teams had taken to counteract the attendance trends. For example, the Minnesota Twins had a $5 flash sale that produced crowds of over 30,000 in three of the team’s four games, as well as its largest single-game attendance since 2016.
Yardley said some of the other teams that have embraced changes to their ballparks or to their ticketing structure to better serve fans’ current needs have also seen growth, such as Oakland – which should be encouraging for other teams across MLB.
“The way people are consuming baseball is changing,” Yardley said, noting it ranges from wanting a more social environment at the stadium to wanting different structured ticket-plan options that allow them to sit in different locations as opposed to tied to one seat for 81 games. “There is evidence of teams changing to suit that – but so far it is only a few teams.”