Mains: Breaking down the attendance breakdown

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on October 10, 2018:

As I’m sure you’ve heard, attendance across Major League Baseball was down this year.

Now, it’s entirely possible that this isn’t a concern for some teams. Let’s say you’re the Giants. Last year, San Francisco drew an average of 40,786 fans per game. This year, it fell to 38,965, a decline of 4.5 percent. That decline is going to be the headline. But let’s say—I’m making this up, just as a hypothetical example—the Giants raised average ticket prices by 6.0 percent. That’s probably part of the cause for the decline; the games became too expensive for some people. As a result, the people showing up at the ballpark were, on the margin, slightly wealthier. So maybe they spent, on average, 5.0 percent more per head on concessions than fans did in 2017. And with fewer people at the ballpark, the team didn’t need as many ushers, concessions workers, and postgame cleaners.

The point is, it isn’t hard to see how a team experiencing a decline in attendance could actually make more money than it did when the ballpark was more full. A lower gate may not be a good long-term strategy—potential lifetime fans don’t get introduced to the game—but it can work in the short term. But let’s ignore that for now, since the teams aren’t going to release the financial data we’d need to judge its veracity. Instead, let’s look at attendance by itself, not its ripple effect on other aspects of a team’s operations.

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Originally published: October 10, 2018. Last Updated: October 10, 2018.