Cubs Jump into Top Five in MLB Attendance

The early part of the Major League Baseball season presents an interesting paradox when it comes to interest and attendance. Fans have waited all winter for real live baseball, and Opening Day comes with big crowds and pageantry. After Opening Day, crowds tend to thin out a bit as people come to terms with the long season, and in many places, weather that is still less than hospitable to baseball. Comparing attendance this season to attendance at this time last season shows a still-healthy game with a few teams having made major jumps after successful seasons a year ago.

When looking at per-game attendance so far this season, it should come as no surprise that the usual names remain atop the board, per Baseball Reference.

MLB TEAM ATTENDANCE PER GAME THROUGH MAY 16 2016

The Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, and New York Yankees were the top four in attendance last season — in that order — and those same four teams continue their grip on the attendance lead this year. The Chicago Cubs have swapped spots with the Los Angeles Angels while the Toronto Blue Jays have taken an edge over the Boston Red Sox. The bottom five teams are the same as the end-of-the-season numbers last year, although in a different order, as Tampa Bay Rays finished the end of the season last while Oakland A’s were ahead of the Chicago White Sox and the Miami Marlins.

As discussed in the opening paragraph, the beginning-of-the-season numbers are not necessarily reflective of how a team will do over the course of the year. Cold-weather teams tend to see their numbers increase as do teams that are competitive. Meanwhile, some warm-weather and domed teams along with non-competitive teams see their attendance fall. The chart below illustrates the difference between last year’s numbers at this time of year compared to the end of the season.

2015 ATTENDANCE CHANGE FROM MID-MAY TO END OF SEASON

On average, the team per-game attendance average has climbed by nearly 1,500 fans. The Phillies all but gave up on the season last year, causing a big drop. Last year’s early-season enthusiasm for a Padres club that made big offseason moves quickly wore off. Those two clubs are the only ones to have lost more than 1,000 fans per game, while half the league has gained that much. Toronto’s 2015 campaign appears to have created a huge jolt for attendance. The same is true for newly-contending Houston. Many other clubs have simply benefited from warmer weather — and, in the case of the Cubs, finishing the bleachers partway through the season.

While in-season success can help teams with attendance, often the bigger, sustained push is felt the next year. Kansas City experienced a big jump in attendance last season, jumping up by about 9,000. As the chart above shows, little of that happened in-season, but rather as a product of their surprising 2014 run to the World Series. Kansas City’s successful repeat run to the World Series, this time ending with a victory, has helped attendance again. The graph below shows change in attendance from this point in the season last year to this point in the season this year.

MLB TEAM ATTENDANCE CHANGE FROM THIS POINT LAST SEASON (1)

Kansas City has seen a healthy increase of about 2,500 fans, but that’s only good enough for sixth place on this list. Of the top five teams to post gains, four went on surprising playoff runs last season. The Toronto Blue Jays have continued the big push they saw at the end of last season. The Astros have benefited, at least in attendance, from coming into the season with bigger expectations. The same is likely true for their counterparts in Texas, the Rangers.

The Chicago Cubs, benefiting from more seats and a team that refuses to lose, are posting big numbers so far. At the end of the current season, their disparity will not look quite as big, but they’re still looking at an increase of 2,000 to 3,000 fans per game. After losing the 2003 National League Championship Series to the Marlins, the Cubs drew over 3 million fans every year through 2011. After two straight fifth-place finishes in 2010 and 2011, however — which were followed by three more fifth-place finishes — the Cubs failed to draw 3 million fans for five straight years. Only construction prevented them from 3 million fans last season, and this season they should have no problem beating that mark.

The Angels have seen an increase so far this year, but they’re mostly taking back attendance they lost at the beginning of last season aren’t the only team to experience that sort of swing from year to year — although most of that is on the negative side so far this season. The Padres have given back all the gains they had at the beginning of last season, suggesting that, while an exciting offseason might provide an initial boost, the most important thing to do for a team to get attendance is to win.

Cincinnati had decent gains at the beginning of last season, perhaps in part due to excitement surrounding their role as hosts of the All-Star Game, but have given back those gains and then some after a terrible season and a poor outlook this year. Baltimore and Detroit are going to need to win after a difficult season last year, while Milwaukee is in for a tough season as they rebuild. Oakland still has stadium problems, while the National blew a big chance last year to get some momentum.

Most of the teams in the middle have little to worry about. Slight changes for clubs which already feature high attendance figures — so, for clubs like the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Giants — are of little concern. The Mets might have been hoping for a bigger boost after their great 2015 season, but perhaps they will see a bigger increase as the season wears on. Despite signing Zack Greinke, the Arizona Diamondacks have yet to see a big boost. The Yankees have one of the highest marks for attendance, but this is the second straight season they have lost more than 1,000 fans early in the season. Last season, no Derek Jeter was an excuse. This season, despite making the wild card last year, they have less of a reason for the drop, but it’s possible there simply isn’t quite the same amount of enthusiasm as there once was for an aging team.

Overall, attendance is on par with last season with just 11 fewer fans per game compared to this point in the season last year. Over the last six seasons, just one new stadium has opened, in Miami, but attendance has remained steady. That’s an important note, as there won’t be many new stadiums in the next five years either — although the Braves should see a considerable boost next season with a new stadium and hopefully, for Braves fans, a mostly new team. While television money rolls in, attendance is still incredibly important to revenue. As is usually the case, fans come for a good product and winning is the most important ingredient.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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free-range turducken
6 years ago

Great, another Craig Edwards Cubs puff piece 😉