October 8, 2012
Inside 2012 MLB Attendance, Plus Postseason TV Ratings Update
With the 2012 regular season in the books, it’s time to look at how clubs did at selling tickets. Yes, they call it “attendance,” but it’s really “paid attendance,” a showing of tickets sold and rarely reflective of actual butts in the seats. The league’s 30 clubs drew 74,859,268 over 2,423 games this year: an increase of 2 percent. While this wasn’t as good as I projected before the season started, it was the league’s largest year-to-year growth since the 2007 season total rose 4.6 percent over 2006. Nine clubs drew more than three million in paid attendance this season, while 13 clubs eclipsed the 2.5 million mark. In addition, this is the second consecutive season that total attendance increased over the previous year and marks the highest attendance since 2008. When things are all said and done, 2012 will rank as the fifth-best single-season in MLB history in terms of attendance.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that attendance between 2010 and 2011, while technically up, was basically the same. The league sold 397,715 more tickets last year than 2010, or an increase of less than one percent. Let’s call that what it is: flat. In fact, over the last four years, the league has seen attendance pretty much remain flat. When you factor in new ballparks for the Mets, Yankees, Twins, and Marlins over the period, this tells us that either the sour economy still holds its grip on America’s discretionary income or MLB’s true “golden era”, as Selig likes to call it, was really 2004-2008 when attendance soared. Still, the league has to be happy; last year, the Dodgers’ attendance cratered during Frank McCourt’s tenure, and there were a considerable number of rainouts. This season, rainouts weren’t as high, and with the two additional Wild Card teams added in, the races for a postseason berth were more compelling.
Here is the breakdown of attendance for MLB since 2000:
Of MLB’s 30 clubs, more than half the league (16 teams) experienced attendance decreases; 14 saw attendance increases. Increases ranged as high as 44.16 percent (the Marlins—more on that in a bit), to as low as 2 percent (the Rays, who still ranked last in paid attendance). Decreases ranged from as high as 22.22 percent (the Astros, during their last season in the National League and coming off back-to-back seasons of more than 100 losses), to as low as 0.29 percent (the Giants, who wound up winning the NL West).
As mentioned, the Marlins celebrate the largest year-over-year increase in the league this year at 44.16 percent thanks to their brand-spanking new ballpark in Miami and being hyper-aggressive on the free agent market, landing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buerhle. While, that’s good for the Marlins and the league in some respects, at an average of 27,400 per game, it will go down as the worst average paid attendance for a new ballpark opening since 2000. Here’s the listing of the 14 clubs who opened a new ballpark over that period, their opening date, and the average attendance, sorted worst to best: