Major League Baseball has taken a big hit this year — in league-wide attendance that is.
MLB attendance has dropped to its lowest average in 15 years, down 6.6% from this time last year and 8.6% overall, according to Stats LLC. The league could see its first season since 2003 with average attendance below 30,000.
While there are no statistics readily available on how much this drop is actually costing the league, a quick calculation — based on annual league-wide attendance rates, the 2,430 games played each season, and an average price of $76 per ticket — estimates a loss of nearly $355 million on ticket sales alone.
Normally, MLB attendance is pretty consistent, wavering no more than 1.9% in either direction. The sport hasn’t experienced an attendance drop of more than 6.7% in a single season since 1995 following the player strike, which canceled the 1994 World Series.
While rain and unusually cold weather plagued the first half of the season and has been the cause of nearly 36 postponements to date, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league is “concerned that there’s something to [low attendance rates] more than weather.”
Competitive balance, more strikeouts, and team rebuilds could all play a role in the dwindling attendance.
“We’re hoping that we rebound here in the second half of the season,” said Manfred at the conclusion of baseball’s quarterly owners meetings Thursday. “We’re having a great season in terms of races and competitive teams.”
However, the gap between the winning and losing teams seems to keep growing, making the thrill of a competitive ballgame less likely.
According to the Wall Street Journal, there are currently six teams — the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins and Texas Rangers — with winning percentages below .400, or the same number of sub-.400 teams there were from 2014 through 2017 combined.
Historically speaking, there have never been more than five teams to finish below .400 in a single season. On the other hand, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and Mariners are having their best seasons yet, all on pace to reach a major-league record and win 100 games.
The predictable victors have led to an increasing number of roster breakdowns and full-fledged team rebuilds by the struggling organizations. But, while infusing the star power of Eric Hosmer to the last-place San Diego Padres slightly bumped up local attendance rates, significant trades — such as the loss of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen — negatively impacted attendance rates at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, down 29.2% since last year.
In his news conference Thursday, Manfred reported that the MLB is considering ways to produce a more “fan-friendly” schedule in 2019, which could feature two-game weekend series between rivals, among other changes.