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Major League Baseball attendance continues to fall

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The owners meetings wrapped up today and, while there wasn’t much in the way of actual decisions and high-level news to speak of, Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal says that, according to Rob Manfred, attendance is down 7% this year compared to last year.

While earlier in the season some of this falloff could be chalked up to bad weather, the weather has improved but the attendance has not. Fisher says Manfred “signals [a] new concern that are other issues [are] at play besides rain/cold.”

There wasn’t much followup on that and I’ve not seen any reporting with expanded comments from Manfred on this score, but I don’t think we should really be surprised.

At present there are ten teams — one third of the league — with double digit deficits in divisional races. For most of them it was pretty obvious this would be the case well before the season began due to tanking or rebuilding or whatever you want to call it. Everyone expected them to be bad and they are bad, so why would people want to go see them? Major league front offices seem hellbent on cutting salaries and fielding quad-A teams, so they should probably expect minor league attendance too.

Meanwhile, ticket prices remain pretty dang high, even for the tanking teams. Indeed, heading into this year, total MLB attendance has fallen in five of the past six years, while ticket prices have held steady or have gone up. You don’t need a Masters in economics to understand that if your product is becoming less attractive and you’re losing customers, keeping your prices steady or even raising them is not going to bring you more customers.

I suspect Major League Baseball has chosen to ignore the realities of the supply-demand curve because, despite fewer customers, revenues have continued to rise. They’ve done so because MLB has worked hard to develop revenue streams that are independent of attendance alone. On one level this is good. Financial diversification is a good thing! But as MLB chases dollars from places other than ticket-purchasing fans — places such as corporate sponsorships and partnerships, which  have exploded across the baseball landscape in recent years — they don’t have to be as attentive to the fans as they might otherwise be. And I don’t think they have been, again, based on ticket prices aimed at average fans, as opposed to wealthy fans.

Which, hey, if that’s what MLB wants to focus on, they can focus on it. It’s their business and the money seems to be pretty good these days.

Still, at some point you have to think about the future, do you not? To ask whether or not the kid who might get into a game on a cheap ticket today might not buy 100 tickets a few years down the road. To ask whether, to lure that kid in, more teams ought to try putting a respectable product on the field rather than make promises of better teams years down the line, when that kid may have moved on to other things. To ask whether, in the meantime, those ticket prices couldn’t be a little lower to make up for that inferior product and to deal with all of those other things which compete for would-be fans’ attention. To ask whether the concentration on revenues over getting butts in the seats might not hurt Major League Baseball more down the road than they seem to think it will.

Marlins, Giants get into heated beanball war

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You may have heard that Giants closer Hunter Strickland broke his hand punching a door in frustration after Monday night’s subpar performance. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result. Strickland came in to protect a 4-2 lead but ended up giving up three runs. The tying run was knocked in by Lewis Brinson on a single to right field. Brinson moved to third base on a go-ahead single by Miguel Rojas, which prompted manager Bruce Bochy to take Strickland out of the game.

On his way to the dugout, Strickland started chirping at Brinson. Much like Bryce Harper and Strickland, Brinson and Strickland have a bit of a history. Last Thursday, Brinson handed Strickland a blown save with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Brinson was happy to help his team tie the game, pumping his fast and saying, “Let’s go” at no one in particular. That rubbed Strickland the wrong way. Everything seems to rub Strickland the wrong way.

During Tuesday night’s game, Giants starter Dereck Rodriguez threw at Brinson with the first pitch, a 92 MPH fastball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher issued warnings to both benches. Manager Don Mattingly came out to argue, suggesting that his team hadn’t done anything wrong so it was unfair to essentially take the inside part of the plate away from his pitchers. On his way back to the dugout, Mattingly could be seen saying, “You’re next” to catcher Buster Posey.

The Giants scored twice in the bottom of the second against Dan Straily to extend their lead to 3-0. Posey came to the plate with a runner on first base and one out. Straily hit Posey with a 91 MPH fastball on the first pitch, prompting ejections of both Straily and Mattingly. Posey was hit on the arm. If the pitch had come in a bit lower and hit Posey on the wrist or hand, Posey might have had to go on the disabled list for a couple months. Or if the pitch had hit Posey a couple of inches higher, in the head, then who knows what would have happened.

Things calmed down from there, thankfully. The two clubs have one more game against each other in San Francisco on Wednesday and that will be the final time they meet this season. If anything further is going to happen — and hopefully, nothing happens — then it will come tomorrow.

Straily will almost certainly be facing a suspension and a fine, as will Mattingly. It’s less clear if Rodriguez and/or Bochy will be reprimanded for throwing at Brinson, even though it was fairly obvious the pitch was intentional. Regardless, the punishments amount to just one missed start for the pitchers, which isn’t nearly enough of a detriment to deter beanball wars.