Historical Perspective: Attendance Is Still Strong for Major League Baseball

Updated on May 18, 2020
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Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.

Nearly 22,000 people attended a Monday night game in Cincinnati in 2019.
Nearly 22,000 people attended a Monday night game in Cincinnati in 2019.

There’s a pervasive myth that Major League Baseball is struggling with attendance.

Indeed, there was a drop-off in attendance from 2018 to 2019 of 1,176,520 fans, which works out to 39,217 per team, if it was a simple matter of an across-the-board problem. But the bulk of that loss came from a handful of teams. In fact, 16 of the 30 teams had an attendance gain from 2018 to 2019, including the hapless Miami Marlins who managed to draw 198 more fans than the previous year.

Things weren’t very good in Toronto and Seattle, which both lost more than half-million fans. San Francisco was nearly as bad with 448,000 fewer fans than in 2018. Detroit, Washington, and Baltimore all had drop-offs of more than a quarter of a million fans. So things did look bleak there.

But the opposite was true in Philadelphia where the signing of Bryce Harper helped them draw 569,000 more fans. Minnesota, San Diego, and the Mets all increased attendance by more than 200,000.

Attendance 2018 & 2019

Team
2018 Total
2018 PG
2019 Total
2019 PG
Total Diff
PG Diff
LA Dodgers
3,857,500
47,043
3,974,309
49,066
116,809
2,023
St. Louis
3,403,587
42,020
3,480,393
42,968
76,806
948
NY Yankees
3,482,855
42,998
3,304,404
40,795
-178,451
-2,203
Chicago Cubs
3,181,089
38,794
3,094,865
38,208
-86,224
-586
LA Angels
3,020,216
37,286
3,019,012
37,272
-1,204
-14
Colorado
3,015,880
37,233
2,993,244
36,954
-22,636
-279
Boston
2,895,575
35,748
2,924,627
36,107
29,052
359
Milwaukee
2,850,875
35,196
2,923,333
36,091
72,458
895
Houston
2,980,549
36,797
2,857,367
35,276
-123,182
-1,521
Philadelphia
2,158,124
26,644
2,727,421
33,672
569,297
7,028
San Francisco
3,156,185
38,965
2,707,760
33,429
-448,425
-5,536
Atlanta
2,555,781
31,553
2,655,100
32,779
99,319
1,226
NY Mets
2,224,995
27,469
2,442,532
30,155
217,537
2,686
San Diego
2,168,536
26,772
2,396,399
29,585
227,863
2,813
Minnesota
1,959,197
24,188
2,294,152
28,323
334,955
4,135
Washington
2,529,604
31,230
2,259,781
27,899
-269,823
-3,331
Arizona
2,242,695
27,688
2,135,510
26,364
-107,185
-1,324
Texas
2,107,107
26,014
2,132,994
26,333
25,887
319
Cincinnati
1,629,356
20,116
1,808,685
22,329
179,329
2,213
Seattle
2,299,489
28,389
1,791,720
22,120
-507,769
-6,269
Toronto
2,325,281
28,707
1,750,144
21,607
-575,137
-7,100
Cleveland
1,926,701
23,786
1,738,642
21,465
-188,059
-2,321
Chicago White Sox
1,608,817
19,862
1,649,775
20,622
40,958
760
Oakland
1,573,616
19,427
1,662,211
20,521
88,595
1,094
Detroit
1,856,970
22,926
1,501,430
18,536
-355,540
-4,390
Pittsburgh
1,465,316
18,316
1,491,439
18,413
26,123
97
Kansas City
1,665,107
20,557
1,479,659
18,267
-185,448
-2,290
Baltimore
1,564,192
19,311
1,307,807
16,146
-256,385
-3,165
Tampa Bay
1,154,973
14,259
1,178,735
14,552
23,762
293
Miami
811,104
10,014
811,302
10,016
198
2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
69,671,272
 
68,494,752
 
-1,176,520
 

Attendance Near Historic Highs

The fact is that baseball attendance remained at near historic highs in 2019. The average attendance per team was more than double what it had been 50 years earlier. The differences in attendance numbers from 1969 to 2019 are startling.

In 2019, the Miami Marlins finished dead last in attendance with 811,302, the only team to not reach 1 million. As pathetic as that number sounds these days, in 1969 that attendance would have been better than eight other teams. Tampa Bay finished last in the AL in attendance in 2019 with 1,178,735; in 1969 that would have been fourth-best in the AL, a little ahead of the Yankees. In 1969, only 12 of the 24 teams topped 1 million in attendance and only the Mets topped 2 million fans.

Even in 1979, the Marlins’ and Rays’ totals would not have been the worst in their respective leagues. In 2019 every team that was in existence in 1969 had better attendance than 50 years ago except Detroit, which had 76,000 more fans following their ’68 World Series championship than last year.

Startling Contrast Between 1969 and 2019

Baltimore is a perfect example of how things have changed in the past 50 years.

Baltimore won 109 games in 1969 and dominated the league but barely managed to draw more than a million fans (1,062,069). During that season, the Orioles drew more than 30,000 fans seven times – including opening day and three doubleheaders – and seven other times topped 20,000 (one doubleheader). But 33 times, more than a third of their home games, they failed to bring even 10,000 fans through the gates. In their final five games on the way to their winningest season in history, they failed draw 10,000 to any game and didn’t even combine for 10,000 in their final two home games. (The next season they won 108 games and drew 5,000 fewer fans than in ‘69.)

So let’s contrast that to the 2019 Orioles who won less than half the total of games than their 1969 counterparts—their 54 wins were second-to-last in the American League—but they drew nearly a quarter-million more fans (1,307,807). They drew 40,000 on opening day and drew 30,000 three other times. But they topped 20,000 17 times and had less than 10,000 in attendance only 13 times. They had nearly 40,000 in combined attendance for their final two home games.

Another case in point: In 2019, I attended a game in Cincinnati on a Monday night. The attendance that night was 21,895. It ranked 38th in the Reds' home game attendance numbers. In 1969 they played only 10 game with an attendance higher than that, which included opening day, the final home game of the season and three doubleheaders. Their highest attendance for a Monday night game that season was 16,687.

This mirrors the continued increase in fan attendance throughout the past 50 years. In 1969, the average attendance per game was a hair over 14,000; in 2019, it was 28,187. The 2019 attendance is just slightly less than it was 20 years ago, in 1999, when 28, 876 was the average attendance. In 1989, it was 26,198.

Attendance 1969 & 2019

Team
1969 Total
1969 PG
2019 Total
2019 PG
Difference
NY Mets
2,175,373
26,529
2,442,532
30,155
267,159
Boston
1,833,246
22,633
2,924,627
36,107
1,091,381
LA Dodgers
1,784,527
22,031
3,974,309
49,066
2,189,782
St. Louis
1,682,783
21,035
3,480,393
42,968
1,797,610
Chicago Cubs
1,674,993
20,427
3,094,865
38,208
1,419,872
Detroit
1,577,481
19,475
1,501,430
18,536
-76,051
Atlanta
1,458,320
18,004
2,655,100
32,779
1,196,780
Houston
1,442,995
17,815
2,857,367
35,276
1,414,372
Minnesota
1,349,328
16,658
2,294,152
28,323
944,824
Montreal/Washington
1,212,608
14,970
2,259,781
27,899
1,047,173
NY Yankees
1,067,996
13,350
3,304,404
40,795
2,236,408
Baltimore
1,062,069
13,112
1,307,807
16,146
245,738
Cincinnati
987,991
12,197
1,808,685
22,329
820,694
Washington/Texas
918,106
11,335
2,132,994
26,333
1,214,888
Kansas City
902,414
11,005
1,479,659
18,267
577,245
San Francisco
873,603
10,785
2,707,760
33,429
1,834,157
Oakland
778,232
9,608
1,662,211
20,521
883,979
Pittsburgh
769,369
9,498
1,491,439
18,413
722,070
Cal/LA Angels
758,388
9,363
3,019,012
37,272
2,260,624
Seattle/Milwaukee
677,944
8,268
2,923,333
36,091
2,245,389
Cleveland
619,970
7,654
1,738,642
21,465
1,118,672
Chicago White Sox
589,546
7,278
1,649,775
20,622
1,060,229
Philadelphia
519,414
6,413
2,727,421
33,672
2,208,007
San Diego
512,970
6,333
2,396,399
29,585
1,883,429

Attendance Spiked in 2000s

The reason people are concerned about the supposed declining attendance is because it is coming down from a spike that started roughly 20 years, reaching a peak in 2007 of 32,704 fans per game. From 2004 through 2016, average crowd size was 30,000 or more.

What explains this spike in attendance? New ballparks, for one. From 1994 to 2017, we’ve seen 20 new stadiums (actually 21, since the Braves are on their second new one in that span). These stadiums, thanks to the popularity of Camden Yard in Baltimore, are built with fan interest in mind, with great sight lines and now, of course, with a plethora of modern amenities and activities that even people who don’t care for baseball can enjoy.

Another reason is the increase in home runs. While many traditionalists decry the amount of homers, it turns out chicks (and fans in general) really do dig the long ball. Ask almost any fan about their on-field memories of a game they attended and they’re likely to tell you who they saw hit a home run.

Surprisingly, I also think the length of games has added to the attendance. Sure, that’s the opposite of what everyone will tell you, but when you consider that many fans drive an hour or more to get to a game and shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets, parking and food, they don’t want an experience that lasts less than two hours. Sports writers will tell you that the length of games is a major deterrent to fans but I have never once heard a fan complain that their entertainment dollar went farther. Sports writers want short games because they’re at work—a shorter game means they get off the clock sooner.

One more thing about the new stadiums: They all have plenty of corporate boxes and other special seating options, making it more attractive for companies to buy tickets and make them available to employees and clients. All of that adds to the attendance numbers. Most teams have also now added partial season ticket options to give fans more opportunities to attend.

Selected Attendance Over the Past 50 Years

Team
1969 Total
1969 PG
1979 Total
1979 PG
1989 Total
1989 PG
1999 Total
1999 PG
2009 Total
2009 PG
2019 Total
2019 PG
LA Dodgers
1,784,527
22,031
2,860,954
35,320
2,944,653
36,354
3,095,346
38,214
3,761,655
46,440
3,974,309
49,066
Philadelphia
519,414
6,413
2,775,011
34,259
1,861,985
22,987
1,825,337
22,535
3,600,693
44,453
2,727,421
33,672
NY Yankees
1,067,996
13,350
2,537,765
31,330
2,170,485
26,796
3,292,736
40,651
3,719,358
45,918
3,304,404
40,795
Cal/LA Angels
758,388
9,363
2,523,575
31,155
2,647,291
32,683
2,253,123
27,816
3,240,386
40,005
3,019,012
37,272
Cincinnati
987,991
12,197
2,356,933
29,462
1,979,320
24,436
2,061,222
25,137
1,747,919
21,579
1,808,685
22,329
Boston
1,833,246
22,633
2,353,114
29,414
2,510,012
30,988
2,446,162
30,200
3,062,699
37,811
2,924,627
36,107
Kansas City
902,414
11,005
2,261,845
27,924
2,477,700
30,589
1,506,068
18,826
1,797,891
22,196
1,479,659
18,267
Montreal/Washington
1,212,608
14,970
2,102,173
25,953
1,783,533
22,019
773,277
9,547
1,817,226
22,435
2,259,781
27,899
Seattle/Milwaukee
677,944
8,268
1,918,343
23,683
1,970,735
24,330
1,701,796
21,272
3,037,451
37,499
2,923,333
36,091
Houston
1,442,995
17,815
1,900,312
23,461
1,834,908
22,377
2,706,017
33,000
2,521,076
31,124
2,857,367
35,276
Baltimore
1,062,069
13,112
1,681,009
21,279
2,535,208
31,299
3,433,150
42,385
1,907,163
23,545
1,307,807
16,146
Chicago Cubs
1,674,993
20,427
1,648,587
20,353
2,491,942
30,765
2,813,854
34,739
3,168,859
39,611
3,094,865
38,208
Detroit
1,577,481
19,475
1,630,929
20,387
1,543,656
19,057
2,026,441
25,018
2,567,165
31,693
1,501,430
18,536
St. Louis
1,682,783
21,035
1,627,256
19,845
3,080,980
37,120
3,225,334
40,317
3,343,252
41,275
3,480,393
42,968
Texas
918,106
11,335
1,519,671
18,761
2,043,993
25,234
2,771,469
34,216
2,156,016
26,617
2,132,994
26,333
San Diego
512,970
6,333
1,456,967
17,987
2,009,031
24,803
2,523,538
31,155
1,919,603
23,699
2,396,399
29,585
San Francisco
873,603
10,785
1,456,402
17,980
2,059,701
25,428
2,078,399
25,659
2,862,110
35,335
2,707,760
33,429
Pittsburgh
769,369
9,498
1,435,454
17,722
1,374,141
16,965
1,638,023
20,223
1,577,853
19,480
1,491,439
18,413
Toronto
 
 
1,431,651
17,675
3,375,883
41,678
2,163,464
26,709
1,876,129
23,162
1,750,144
21,607
Chicago White Sox
589,546
7,278
1,280,702
16,211
1,045,651
13,071
1,338,851
16,529
2,284,163
28,200
1,649,775
20,622
Minnesota
1,349,328
16,658
1,070,521
13,216
2,277,438
28,117
1,202,829
14,850
2,416,237
29,466
2,294,152
28,323
Cleveland
619,970
7,654
1,011,644
12,489
1,285,542
15,871
3,468,456
42,820
1,766,242
21,805
1,738,642
21,465
Seattle
 
 
844,447
10,425
1,298,443
16,030
2,916,346
36,004
2,195,533
27,105
1,791,720
22,120
NY Mets
2,175,373
26,529
788,905
9,621
2,918,710
36,033
2,725,668
33,650
3,168,571
39,118
2,442,532
30,155
Atlanta
1,458,320
18,004
769,465
9,740
984,930
12,467
3,284,897
40,554
2,373,631
29,304
2,655,100
32,779
Oakland
778,232
9,608
306,763
3,787
2,667,225
32,929
1,434,610
17,711
1,408,783
17,392
1,662,211
20,521
Colorado
 
 
 
 
 
 
3,481,065
42,976
2,665,080
32,902
2,993,244
36,954
Arizona
 
 
 
 
 
 
3,019,654
37,280
2,128,765
26,281
2,135,510
26,364
Tampa Bay
 
 
 
 
 
 
1,562,827
19,294
1,874,962
23,148
1,178,735
14,552
Miami
 
 
 
 
 
 
1,369,421
17,118
1,464,109
18,075
811,302
10,016
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
27,229,666
1,134,569
43,550,398
1,675,015
55,173,096
2,122,042
70,139,380
2,337,979
73,430,580
2,447,686
68,494,752
2,283,158

Attendance Remains Strong

So why has it been in a downturn the past couple of seasons? I think part of it is simply a correction—the anomaly had been the 13 seasons prior to 2017. Some of the teams that had drawn well during that time, like Toronto, haven’t been near a World Series for several decades and are falling off the pace.

Plus, a lot of the stadiums are already nearly full on a nightly basis. Thirteen teams averaged more than 30,000 fans per game last year; three of them topped 40,000. The Dodgers averaged 49,000 per game in 2019 in a stadium with a capacity of 56,000. The Red Sox averaged 36,100 in a park that hold less than 38,000. The Cardinals averaged just 2,000 below their seating capacity. Those teams couldn’t add much more toward an increase.

So while it’s true that the attendance has gone down the past couple of years, if you asked any executive in 1969—or 1979 or 1989—if they would accept today’s numbers they would have enthusiastically said yes.

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