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October 8, 2012

Bizball

Inside 2012 MLB Attendance, Plus Postseason TV Ratings Update

by Maury Brown

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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:

Year

Paid Attendance

% (+/-)

2000

72,748,970

---

2001

72,530,213

-0.30%

2002

67,858,176

-6.44%

2003

67,688,994

-0.25%

2004

73,022,969

7.88%

2005

74,925,821

2.61%

2006

76,078,766

1.54%

2007

79,503,175

4.50%

2008

78,591,116

-1.15%

2009

73,364,441

-6.65%

2010

73,053,807

-0.42%

2011

73,451,522

0.54%

2012

74,859,268

1.92%


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:

Club with New Ballpark

Opened

Avg

Miami

4/4/2012

27,400

Washington

3/22/2008

29,005

Cincinnati

3/31/2003

29,077

Pittsburgh

3/31/2001

30,839

Detroit

4/11/2000

31,280

Milwaukee

4/6/2001

34,704

San Diego

4/8/2004

37,243

Houston

4/7/2000

37,730

New York Mets

3/29/2009

38,941

Minnesota

4/12/2010

39,798

Philadelphia

4/3/2004

40,626

San Francisco

3/31/2000

40,930

St. Louis

4/10/2006

42,588

New York Yankees

4/4/2009

45,918


In terms of total attendance, the Phillies (once again) topped the charts at 3,565,718, or over 100 percent of Citizen Bank Park’s capacity. To those that look at the standings and ask how that’s possible, paid attendance comes largely in the offseason prior. Since the Phillies performed well in 2011, it would make sense that season ticket sales during the 2011-12 offseason would be good. While the club’s average paid attendance declined 3.12 percent (115,000 fewer in total), the number of tickets sold remained solid. That is sure to change next season when sales figure to drop given the disappointing 2012 season that just unfolded.

The Texas Rangers are the other big attendance story of 2012. The club finished third behind only the aforementioned Phillies and the Yankees. When you consider that in the last year former owner Tom Hicks owned the club (2009) they ranked 17th, it’s a good sign. The sobering news will be the disappointing loss to the Orioles in the AL wild card play-in game. It’s also highly possible that it was Josh Hamilton’s last game as a Ranger, as well. As with the Phillies, expect Texas’ attendance to dip in 2013, though not nearly as dramatically.

In a sign that fans really do care who owns their team, the Los Angeles Dodgers increased attendance this as fans anticipated the end of the Frank McCourt era. With a seating capacity of 56,000, the Dodgers have by far the largest seating capacity in all of the majors. So while Dodgers Stadium only averaged 73.3 percent of capacity, they still drew almost 390,000 more fans than last season (389,107, to be exact).

As mentioned, the Astros took a beating at the gate with the league’s largest decline. How bad was it? The club drew 459,283 less this season than 2011. When you consider that Houston’s attendance dipped 11.34 percent from 2010 to 2011 (264,474 in total paid attendance), it’s concerning. The club, who has stripped the player payroll down to the bone, enters the AL West in 2013, where spending in free agency has been rampant due to new local television deals (Angels and Rangers).

Speaking of the Angels, it seems the Albert Pujols signing didn’t exactly turn out as planned. Not only was he supposed to help in the standings, pushing them past the Rangers (he didn’t, and they missed the playoffs entirely), Pujols was supposed to be marketing gold for Arte Moreno and the Angels. The club still ranked in the top 10 (seventh overall) but looked on as attendance declined 3.3 percent, amounting to 104,551 fewer tickets sold. While just over 3 percent doesn’t sound that bad, consider this: it was down last season as well (2.6 percent). With the poor showing this season, expect the drop to continue in 2013.

Some other attendance tidbits:

  • The Orioles, who hadn’t been in the playoffs since 1997, managed to raise attendance 17.91 percent (274,174 more total paid tickets).
  • The Pirates, whose attendance increased 21.77 percent from 2010 to 2011, saw continued growth this season (7.8 percent).
  • Cleveland, who halfway through the season looked like they could be contenders only to fall to earth, also saw attendance sag (again). At an average of 19,797, only the Rays (19,255) drew worse. With the hiring of Terry Francona, ticket sales in the offseason should see a bump. Now, whether Francona can do what Manny Acta couldn’t (win in the second half of the season) is the question.
  • The Mets, who also overachieved early on in 2012, saw attendance dip nearly 7 percent which, given that ownership didn’t get the Madoff scandal behind them until early in the season, was to be expected. Since 2010 (the second year after Citi Field opened), attendance has sagged 11 percent. That could continue to go down or start to climb back up depending on what Sandy Alderson and ownership do about retaining R.A. Dickey and David Wright this off-season.
  • The Twins attendance bubble has officially burst after a brief honeymoon period when Target Field first opened. With two consecutive poor showings in the standings, attendance dropped 12.37 percent from last season.

Here is the entire league compared to last season:

RK

TEAM

2012
TOTAL

2012 AVG

2011 RK

2011
TOTAL

AVG

RK (+/-)

Total Diff

% Change from '11 to '12

1

Philadelphia

3,565,718

44,021

1

3,680,718

45,440

0

-115,000

-3.12%

2

NY Yankees

3,542,406

43,733

2

3,653,680

45,107

0

-111,274

-3.05%

3

Texas

3,460,280

42,719

10

2,946,949

36,382

7

513,331

17.42%

4

San Francisco

3,377,371

41,695

3

3,387,303

41,818

-1

-9,932

-0.29%

5

LA Dodgers

3,324,246

41,040

11

2,935,139

36,236

6

389,107

13.26%

6

St. Louis

3,262,109

40,272

6

3,093,954

38,196

0

168,155

5.44%

7

LA Angels

3,061,770

37,799

5

3,166,321

39,090

-2

-104,551

-3.30%

8

Boston

3,043,003

37,567

8

3,054,001

37,703

0

-10,998

-0.36%

9

Detroit

3,028,033

37,383

13

2,642,045

32,617

4

385,988

14.61%

10

Chicago Cubs

2,882,756

35,589

9

3,017,966

37,258

-1

-135,210

-4.48%

11

Milwaukee

2,831,385

34,955

7

3,071,373

37,918

-4

-239,988

-7.81%

12

Minnesota

2,776,354

34,275

4

3,168,107

39,112

-8

-391,753

-12.37%

13

Colorado

2,630,458

32,474

12

2,909,777

35,923

-1

-279,319

-9.60%

14

Washington

2,370,794

30,010

20

1,940,478

24,877

6

430,316

20.63%

15

Atlanta

2,420,171

29,878

15

2,372,940

30,037

0

47,231

-0.53%

16

Cincinnati

2,347,251

28,978

16

2,213,498

27,327

0

133,753

6.04%

17

NY Mets

2,242,803

28,035

14

2,378,549

30,108

-3

-135,746

-6.89%

18

Miami

2,219,444

27,400

28

1,520,562

19,007

10

698,882

44.16%

19

Arizona

2,177,617

26,884

18

2,105,432

25,992

-1

72,185

3.43%

20

Baltimore

2,102,240

26,610

26

1,828,066

22,568

6

274,174

17.91%

21

San Diego

2,123,721

26,218

17

2,143,018

26,457

-4

-19,297

-0.90%

22

Pittsburgh

2,091,918

26,148

22

1,940,429

24,255

0

151,489

7.80%

23

Toronto

2,099,663

25,921

25

1,818,103

22,445

2

281,560

15.49%

24

Chicago White Sox

1,965,955

24,271

21

2,001,117

24,705

-3

-35,162

-1.76%

25

Kansas City

1,739,859

21,748

27

1,724,450

21,289

2

15,409

2.16%

26

Seattle

1,721,920

21,258

23

1,896,321

23,411

-3

-174,401

-9.20%

27

Oakland

1,679,013

20,728

30

1,615,324

20,191

3

63,689

2.66%

28

Houston

1,607,733

19,848

19

2,067,016

25,518

-9

-459,283

-22.22%

29

Cleveland

1,603,596

19,797

24

1,840,835

22,726

-5

-237,239

-12.89%

30

Tampa Bay

1,559,681

19,255

29

1,529,188

18,878

-1

30,493

2.00%

POSTSEASON TELEVISION TIDBITS
Since we’re in the throes of the postseason, here are a couple of notes on the television front that might interest you.

As we all know, this year marks the first time that there are two Wild Card play-in games. TBS’s exclusive, live doubleheader coverage of Major League Baseball’s first-ever wild card games on Friday averaged a 3.7 overnight rating, per Nielsen. The network’s telecasts, marking the start of the 2012 MLB postseason, were up 12 percent compared with an average 3.3 overnight rating for the entire Division Series last year. When compared to the first day of the 201 postseason (Texas vs. Tampa Bay, ALDS Game 1: 2.3 overnight rating), the Wild Card games were up 61 percent.

After the final numbers came in, coverage of the Wild Card play-ins averaged 4,608,000 total viewers, up 61 percent over last year’s 2,866,000 viewers for the first day of the MLB postseason. The average 3.0 U.S. household rating for the Wild Card doubleheader was an increase of 58 percent over last year’s 1.9 rating for the first day of the postseason.

The numbers the following day were a bit trickier to decipher. After all, on the first day of the postseason, the league’s broadcast schedule pitted the games against NCAA College Football games. According to TBS and Nielsen, MLB’s games averaged 3.9 million total viewers for TBS’ exclusive coverage of the first-ever Wild Card and Saturday night’s Division Series doubleheader—an increase of 26 percent compared to the first two days of the MLB postseason last year. The corresponding 2.5 U.S. rating, based on Nielsen Fast Nationals, is up 25 percent over last year’s 2.0 rating.

The network’s coverage of Saturday’s Division Series doubleheader—Detroit vs. Oakland at 6 p.m., followed by Cincinnati vs. San Francisco at 9:30 p.m.—averaged 3.1 million total viewers, up eight percent when compared to the first day of the Division Series last year (2.9 million total viewers).

Locally, TBS’s coverage of the Athletics/Tigers generated a 19.2 metered market rating in Detroit and a 7.9 rating in the Bay Area. The Reds/Giants telecast delivered a 17.0 metered market rating in Cincinnati and a 12.6 in the Bay Area.

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

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