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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.

Manny Machado called for interference with Orlando Arcia

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Fresh off our “Manny Machado didn’t hustle” post, here’s one about him trying a little too hard. Machado was called for interference in the bottom of the fourth inning during Monday night’s NLCS Game 3 against the Brewers at Dodger Stadium. It was actually Machado’s second attempt to interfere with Orlando Arcia during the game.

In the bottom of the second, Machado led off with a single. Cody Bellinger followed up by hitting a grounder to second baseman Travis Shaw, who fed to Arcia. Machado slid towards Arcia enough to disrupt the play, allowing Bellinger to reach first base safely. The Brewers didn’t challenge, in part because Arcia didn’t attempt a throw.

Fast forward to the bottom of the fourth. Machado again leads off and again reaches base, this time with a walk. Bellinger hits another grounder. First baseman Jesús Aguilar snags the ball and fires to Arcia covering the second base bag. Machado slides into second base and reaches out with his right hand to mess with Arcia’s throw to first base. It succeeds, as Arcia’s throw skips past first base towards the dugout. Brewers manager Craig Counsell challenged the call, alleging slide interference (the “Chase Utley rule”). The umpires reviewed the play and agreed that Machado did indeed interfere with Arcia, so Bellinger was called out. What made Machado’s effort even worse is that Bellinger would’ve reached easily regardless, so there was no need to interfere with Arcia.

The Dodgers trail the Brewers 1-0 through the first half of the game. The Brewers got their run early thanks to an RBI double by Ryan Braun off of Walker Buehler in the top of the first. Jhoulys Chacín has pitched excellently for the Brewers thus far.