BOB: Attendance numbersby Brian Borawski
October 14, 2009
The final attendance numbers are in, and just the way MLB spun this one was kind of humorous. It wasn’t the lowest take at the box since 2004; it was the fifth-most tickets sold in a season ever. About 5 million fewer tickets were sold in 2009 than in 2008—that’s definitely not a trend you want to see. Still, with the economic backdrop, it could have been a lot worse. If you take into account the decreased capacity, then the numbers look a little nicer.
For the first times since 2002, the New York Yankees didn’t win the attendance crown. When you combine a smaller ballpark with $2,500+ seats, it makes for a rough year, and the Yankees fell to 3,719,358. That was still good to lead the American League though, and they were just one of two teams to average more than 45,000 tickets sold.
The Los Angeles Dodgers led MLB in attendance in 2009. Their 3,761,669 tickets sold were the second most for the Dodgers with fewer than 100,000 tickets separating 2009 and the record they set in 2007. The Dodgers probably benefited from their quick start, and a big push in the playoffs this year might allow them to break their record next year despite the bad economy.
Coming in at number three are the Philadelphia Phillies. Riding their World Series win, the Phillies were one of just two teams to set an attendance record in 2009 with 3,600,693 tickets sold. They sold out 73 of their 81 games including 42 in a row to end the season. The Boston Red Sox finished eighth with 3,062,699; they were the other team to set a record. The Red Sox have 550 straight sellouts. The Phillies and the Red Sox were also the only two teams to top 100 percent in capacity, so they’re cramming as many standing-room-only fans into the ballpark.
Rounding out the top five are the St. Louis Cardinals at number four and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at number five. The Cardinals sold 3,343,252 as they made the playoffs. The newest version of Busch Stadium also continues to be a draw, at least as long as the Cardinals continue to win. The Angels finished with 3,240,386, and they were the last of five teams to average 40,000 a game.
Two teams finished with records in 2009 compared to seven in 2008 and nine in 2007. Nine teams sold more than 3,000,000 tickets in 2009 compared to 10 in 2008. Finally, 19 teams topped 2,000,000 compared to 23 in 2008 and 24 in 2007.
For the first time since 2004, a team from Florida wasn’t at the bottom of the attendance list. It’s been either (and mostly) the Florida Marlins since then with the Tampa Bay Rays being at the bottom once. This year's number 30? The Oakland Athletics. They finished with 1,408,783 and were just one of three teams to average fewer than 20,000 a game. They also had the worst capacity with 39.8 percent. The Marlins didn’t move up too much because they went from just 30th to 29th. They edged the Athletics and finished with 1,464,109. You might see the Marlins start moving up the list as the Florida economy improves and the Marlins get closer to opening their new ballpark.
For the first time since the 2001 San Francisco Giants, a National League team led MLB in road attendance. Coming in at number one were the Chicago Cubs. They finished number two last year and benefited from top-10 finishes by a couple of their division rivals. The Yankees finished second after falling all the way to number five in 2008. It’s also worth noting that the Cubs average road attendance of 34,931 would have put them in sixth place in both 2008 and 2007.
It’s tough to tell where we go from here. The economy appears to be at a turning point if you believe all of the heads on television, but there’s still some definite weakness. While I don’t think they’ll dip that much, they could test the 70,000,000 mark in 2010 as people are going to have to make their season ticket decisions in the next couple of months.
Brian Borawski is a member of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee and writes about the Detroit Tigers at his own website, TigerBlog. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail.