Historical Perspective: Attendance Is Still Strong for Major League Baseball - HowTheyPlay - Sports
Updated date:

Historical Perspective: Attendance Is Still Strong for Major League Baseball

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

Team2018 Total2018 PG2019 Total2019 PGTotal DiffPG 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

Team1969 Total1969 PG2019 Total2019 PGDifference

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

Team1969 Total1969 PG1979 Total1979 PG1989 Total1989 PG1999 Total1999 PG2009 Total2009 PG2019 Total2019 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.

Related Stories

proposal-for-a-renegade-baseball-league

Proposal for a Renegade Baseball League

While Major League Baseball would never make such radical changes, I have a proposal for a renegade baseball league played under different rules. I outline the differences in rules from MLB, along with why the listed rules would be worth implementing.

baseball-a-changing-landscape

Strike Three: Baseball Is Dead

Baseball has declined in popularity, and that will have a long-lasting effect on the culture at large. Years from now, a young child will ask, "Grandpa, what was baseball?"