Getty Images

Baseball had its worst attendance in 16 years

89 Comments

Eric Fisher of Sportsbusiness.com reported this morning that Major League Baseball had its worst attendance in sixteen years in 2019. Total attendance was 68.49 million, which is down 1.7% from 2018 and represents the sixth decline in attendance in the last seven seasons. Attendance is down a whopping 14% from its height in 2007.

While there are many reasons for the attendance decline, it’s hard not to lay a hefty amount of the blame on an increasing number of teams simply not trying to win. There were four 100-loss teams in 2019 and six more teams lost at least 90 games. Most of that losing was due to rebuilds which have not prioritized spending money or winning at the major league level. All of that bad play led to extreme competitive imbalance and almost non-existent pennant races. Given that baseball ticket prices apparently only go up from year to year, never down, it’s not surprising at all that the demand for the increasingly expensive product that is a major league baseball game has sunk.

As we’ve noted in the past, however, it’s not something Major League Baseball seems all too concerned about.

Even with the attendance decline of the past several seasons, Major League Baseball and its clubs continue to rake in money. Indeed, in 2018 Major League Baseball set a new record for revenue. It did this despite selling fewer tickets by increasingly relying on sources of income that, unlike ticket sales, have little or no dependence on clubs putting entertaining and competitive baseball teams on the field. Sports economists refer to such revenue as coming from “non-player sources,” which is a fancy way of saying from side deals, such as selling BamTech for a massive windfallpartnering with casinosKorean conglomerates and various other corporate partners that pay Major League Baseball a lot of money. At the same time some “player revenue” like TV deals to broadcast games come with massive payouts and very long terms, sometimes lasting decades. That means that cable networks are paying billions to clubs who have no immediate concern for winning to maintain TV ratings. Meanwhile, as all that revenue goes up, player payrolls are trending downward, with even wealthy, high-revenue teams like the Boston Red Sox cutting payroll, leading to increases in profitability.

All of which means that, for the time being, the decline at the box office is one that Major League Baseball can weather. But as I wrote last January, I question whether they can weather it forever.

Baseball making money is not some inevitable and immutable rule of the cosmos. At some level, the deal is that competitive sports teams will try to win and fans will pay good money to support said efforts. When the owners of said teams break that deal, why should the fans hold up their end of it? Eventually, if they do not, a great deal of that side money is gonna start to go away too.

If that happens, and if baseball wonders why it got into the jam in which I am concerned it will one day find itself, it will want to ask itself why people stopped showing up at the ballpark.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

10 Comments

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”