Arthur: MLB teams are tanking attendance

From SABR member Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus on May 3, 2019:

It’s early in the 2019 season, but between a juiced baseball and shifts in performance all around the diamond we’ve already seen major changes rippling through the game. One trend that hasn’t changed, however, is baseball’s small but steady decline in attendance. Through the end of April, overall league attendance is down by about 300 fans per game, or 144,619 in total according to Baseball-Reference’s numbers. And tanking may be to blame.

On its own, a one percent decline in attendance is hardly worth getting upset about — except that this year’s small dropoff, if it continues, would be the fourth straight season of fewer tickets sold. If not for a brief and insignificant 0.03 percent increase in 2015, MLB would be on it’s seventh consecutive season of attendance declines. Within the context of this multi-year trend, flagging attendance stops seeming like a one-year glitch and starts to become concerning.

There’s no clear explanation for why attendance is in decline, although theories abound. Last year saw the biggest dip in attendance yet, but MLB dismissed it as a consequence of bad weather. This year’s numbers — with better weather and worse gate receipts — call that notion into question. According to research by Craig Edwards at FanGraphs, attendance is likely to recover somewhat later in the year, but not enough to reverse the long-term decline.

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Originally published: May 3, 2019. Last Updated: May 3, 2019.