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MLB attendance down another 1.4 percent

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NEW YORK (AP) The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins drew 12,653 Wednesday night – combined.

Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Tampa Bay set stadium lows this year. Kansas City had its smallest home crowd since 2011, and Toronto and San Francisco since 2010. The Marlins’ average attendance is less than Triple-A Las Vegas.

Major League Baseball’s overall average of 26,854 through Wednesday is 1.4% below the 27,242 through the similar point last season, which wound up below 30,000 for the first time since 2003.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred attributes this year’s drop to fewer season tickets but emphasizes day-of-game sales are up 6%.

“Given the explosion of entertainment alternatives and the growth of the secondary market, it is not surprising that season ticket sales can be challenging,” he said. “The clubs are responding to this challenge with creative and effective approaches. For example, sales of subscription tickets are double what they were a year ago. And the Twins recently had a $5 flash sale that produced crowds of over 30,000 in three of four games, and the largest single-game attendance since 2016.”

Nineteen of the 30 teams have seen their average fall from a similar point last year, with the largest drops in Toronto (6,963), San Francisco (6,463), Baltimore (3,839) and Detroit (3,686).

Large rises have taken place for Philadelphia (10,383), Oakland (4,027), San Diego (3,465) and the Chicago White Sox (2,311). The Phillies signed Bryce Harper and the Padres added Manny Machado.

“A lot of it comes down to competition. Fans want to know their teams are doing everything they can to compete for a championship every year,” union head Tony Clark said. “I see every empty seat as a missed opportunity. Experiencing a game and seeing players perform in person creates a bond with baseball; our industry needs to find ways to convert those empty seats into lifelong fans.”

MLB’s average peaked at 32,785 in 2007 – the last year before the Great Recession and the next-to-last season before the New York Yankees and Mets moved to smaller stadiums. The average was at 30,517 in 2015 before sliding for three straight years, and last season’s final figure of 28,830 marked a 4% drop, the overall number hurt by unusually cold and wet weather early in the season.

Manfred points to other metrics that please MLB: Games top prime-time cable ratings in 24 of 25 markets and MLB.tv streaming is up 8.5%. He views increases for the Phillies, Padres, Athletics and White Sox tied to team performance.

Florida remains a problem on both coasts.

Despite a sparkling, eight-season-old ballpark with a retractable roof, Miami is averaging 9,554 in Derek Jeter’s second season as chief executive – below the 9,582 average for Triple-A Las Vegas in its first season at a new 10,000-capacity stadium.

Tampa Bay plays in one of the most outmoded facilities in the major leagues and drew 5,786 against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, the smallest home crowd for the Rays, who started play at Tropicana Field in 1998.

“The more people there are, the more energy there’s going to be,” Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “No matter what crowd you’re playing in front of, you have to get motivated.”

A quartet of last-place teams have seen swaths of empty seats.

Miami is on track to have the lowest home attendance in the National League for the seventh straight season. Tampa Bay is at the bottom of the AL for the fifth consecutive year.

“Any time you’re seeing less people show up to the ballpark, I think you’re wondering why and you’re wondering how you can change that,” said Miami first baseman Neil Walker, accustomed to big crowds from his time in New York. “You’ve got to assume that it has a little bit to do with it being expensive to come to the ballpark.”

Having traded many veterans, the Orioles are 28th in the majors at 16,263. Baltimore topped 2 million in 21 of its first 25 seasons at Camden Yards, exceeding 3 million nine times. But the Orioles drew 6,585 against Oakland on April 8, the lowest in the ballpark’s 28-season history except for a 2015 game closed to the public at a time when the city was plagued by rioting.

“I wish fans were here. When we played in Wrigley, the energy level was off the charts,” first-year Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I’m hoping that someday soon that will be the case here.”

Cincinnati’s crowd of 7,799 against Milwaukee on April 1 was the lowest for a Reds home game since 1984 at Riverfront Stadium. That same day, Toronto drew 10,460 against the Orioles, the smallest attendance at the Rogers Centre since 2010.

San Francisco drew 28,030 vs. Pittsburgh on April 10, the Giants’ lowest home crowd since 2010.

Kansas City’s crowd of 10,024 against the Twins on April 2 was the lowest at Kauffman Stadium since 2011. Minnesota drew 11,465 against Toronto on April 17, the lowest figure in Target Field’s 10-season history.

“As a kid, I loved more than anything to go to the ballpark and I loved nothing more than playing baseball,” Walker said. “But I think a lot of people are just – they want action now. They don’t want to be totally consumed with a game maybe that’s just not timed.”

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

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SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.