Lindholm: Major league attendance trends, 1950-2013

From Scott Lindholm at Beyond the Box Score on February 10, 2014:

Attendance data prior to 1950 is spotty, and the Great Depression and World War II had impacts on attendance that wouldn’t accurately reflect fan interest. Baseball in the 1950s had outstanding players like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford and countless others, but it didn’t translate into game attendance. Westward migration in population intensified after WWII, and increasingly old ball parks in bad parts of eastern cities lost their appeal. In short, the average fan was looking at baseball and found it wanting.

A brief look at the attendance of the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers shows why two of those teams departed for the West Coast. The Yankees won 6 World Series, played in 2 others–and saw their average attendance decrease from 27,000 a game to 20,000 from 1950 to 1959. By the time the Giants and Dodgers left they were both drawing fewer than 15,000 fans a game. 14 of the 20 World Series teams of the 1950s were from New York and people weren’t attending their regular season games.

Expansion in the 1960s helped, but not much. The Dodgers saw an immediate spike in attendance upon relocating to Los Angeles but the Giants, while seeing a bump, didn’t have as dramatic an increase. New teams and relocations provided brief surges but did little to move overall average attendance. Pitching was at its heights with players like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, base stealing began to be incorporated into the game again, but still attendance stayed relatively flat throughout the decade.

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Originally published: February 10, 2014. Last Updated: February 10, 2014.