BOB: MLB Attendance Breakdownby Brian Borawski
October 09, 2008
The final attendance numbers are in, and while MLB failed to set a new record this year, the final figures are nothing to scoff at. Tickets sold came in at 78,614,880; this is off of last year’s record of 79,503,175, but it’s still the second-highest total in the history of baseball. Seven teams set franchise records, 10 teams topped the 3 million mark, and all but seven teams went over 2 million in attendance on the season. The National League, with the help of the league-leading New York Mets, set a league record with an average attendance of 34,201.
There’s little surprise that the New York Yankees were at the head of the class. They finished with a team and American League record 4,298,543 tickets sold in the final season at Yankee Stadium. With eight consecutive increases in attendance, you almost wonder why they want a new ballpark, but the increase was a combination of the history of success of the franchise as well as fans trying to get in to ensure they have a shot at tickets at the new ballpark.
Similarly, the New York Mets, in their final season at Shea Stadium, led the way in the National League. They became the fourth team to top the 4 million mark with 4,042,045; that shatters the record set last year by the club. The Chicago Cubs also set a franchise record, and their 3,300,200 tickets sold marks the single largest single-attendance mark for any venue or team in the city of Chicago. The Boston Red Sox set a club record for the ninth-straight season; their consecutive sell out record is now at 469 and counting.
The Detroit Tigers, despite their horrible season, set a franchise record for the second-straight season. Advance ticket sales really helped out their total, and they set season ticket sales records in December after their blockbuster trade with the Florida Marlins that netted them Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. The Milwaukee Brewers, who made the playoffs for the first time since 1982, topped 3 million for the first time. Rounding out the record breakers were the Philadelphia Phillies, who set a franchise record 3,422,583 tickets sold.
The Tampa Bay Rays not only changed their name and uniforms, but their 97 wins was the most ever by a team that had the worst record in baseball the year before. Their 1,811,986 tickets sold may have still been near the bottom, but this was an impressive 30.4 percent increase over the year before and the second-highest total in franchise history. They also sold out more games (eight) than in any other season. The eight sellouts matched the total number of sellouts the Rays had in their entire history.
Left out of the press release was the final numbers on a disappointing season at Nationals Park. I couldn’t find the final numbers, but while the Nationals did show a solid increase on the year before, it was the lowest attendance total of a team with a new ballpark since the “Camden Yards” era began in 1992. It goes to show you that you can make a nice ballpark, but if the product on the field isn’t worth watching, people won’t show up.
The New York, Chicago and Los Angeles metropolitan areas drew a combined 21,121,245 fans. This was a staggering 26.9 percent of the major league total; it goes to show you how much weight those big markets have in the league.
Minor League Baseball wasn’t left in the dust, and unlike MLB, they did set a new attendance record this year with 43,263,740. This tops last year's total of 42,812,812. Is this going to be a growing trend? With the economy in a rough spot, people are going to be looking for value and in my opinion, minor league baseball is one of the greatest bargains out there. They cater more to the family and you get a more relaxed atmosphere for a fraction of the price. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that MLB will have a tough time meeting this year’s total, much less break their 2007 record, while the minors should post their sixth-straight record-setting season in 2009.
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.