Dollars & Sense: Attendance Down, Expanded Replay Moving Forward Slowly

Some weeks, there are major developments in the business of baseball — like a team signing a new local TV contract. Some weeks, there are little developments on the big developments. My posts tend to focus on the big developments, but that leaves you in the dark on the little developments, unless those little developments become big developments down the road.

Dollars & Sense keeps you up to date on the smaller stories that are important but may not justify a separate post. Today, we have news on attendance through the first quarter of the seasons and expanded in replay in 2014.

Attendance Down In First Quarter Of the Season

Attendance across the league is down 3% compared to attendance through the first quarter of the 2012 season. Bud Selig blames the bad early-season weather in some markets.

We’ve had 21 games postponed this season due to rain, snow and cold, as many in all of last season. But bad weather doesn’t account entirely for the attendance drop. Some of the teams that usually find themselves at the top of the attendance rankings have seen attendance nosedive this year. And the there’s the Marlins. Take a look at these numbers (home games through May 15 in parentheses):

Team 2013 Average attendance thru 5/15 2012 Average attendance thru 5/15 % Change
Yankees 37,438 (21) 40,710 (19) -8%
Red Sox 32,516 (23) 37,560 (20) -13%
Phillies 37,495 (20) 44,937 (18) -17%
Marlins 18,410 (18) 29,808 (16) -38%
Diamondbacks 27,028 (23) 27,704 (19) -2%

Some of the decline for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies could be weather related, but certainly not all of it. In fact, the Yankees have seen their TV ratings plummet 39% over the same period last season. With many of the team’s big stars out with injuries, fans haven’t tuned into the team this season, even though the Yankees are in first place in the AL East.

Note the slight attendance drop for the Diamondbacks, too. Weather isn’t a concern in Phoenix with the retractable roof on Chase Field. Attendance is up in always-sunny Los Angeles for both the Angels and the Dodgers, although the Angels have seen a big drop just from April to May. An awful start will do that.

So Selig may be right, in part, but it seems something else is going on with attendance in the first quarter of the season. As the weather warms and kids start their summer vacations, we should see a bump, but it may not be enough to keep attendance on pace to meet 2012 numbers.

Expanded Instant Replay Still on Schedule for 2014, Or is It?

MLB owners are meeting this week, which gave Joe Torre an opportunity to provide an update on the league’s move to expanded instant replay. As Vice President of Baseball Operations, Torre chairs a committee charged with devising an expanded-replay plan for the league. Tony LaRussa and Braves President John Schuerholz also serve on the committee.

Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated explained what the committee is considering:

The Collective Bargaining Agreement reached in 2011 allowed for an expansion of the system to include fair/foul and catch/trap calls. After testing the camera-based Hawkeye System (used in tennis) and the radar-based Trackman system (used in golf telecasts) at the two New York ballparks and in the Arizona Fall League last year, the league decided to wait another year, in large part due to the desire for a more comprehensive system that could aid with safe/out calls on the basepaths.

Torre admitted on Thursday there’s a growing interest in expanding replay to include safe/out calls on the bases. One particularly egregious call by umpire Jeff Nelson during last season’s ALCS highlighted the need for more video review. The Yankees’ Robinson Cano tagged out the Tigers’ Omar Infante but Nelson ruled him safe. The Tigers then scored two runs that inning and the game. Torre told the Associated Press:

That really caught my eye and caught my attention with the fact that there was more conversation about that instead of the game itself. There’s no question we’re considering much more than the trap play and fair/foul. But again, one of the decisions we have to make is how much of this do we want to do without really disrupting and putting people to sleep?

In addition to the breadth of instant replay, Torre’s committee is considering whether to have designated replay officials at each game or in a central location, like in the NHL, and whether umpires should wear headsets. The committee is working toward a presentation at the next owners meeting on Aug. 14-15.

It’s good to see Torre’s committee taking it’s time to get it right. No matter what the owners ultimately approve, there will be detractors once the new system is in place, so thorough, thoughtful planning is a must. Still, the owners and players agreed in 2011 to expand replay to include fair/foul calls and caught/trapped calls. A year and a half later, that agreement has not been implemented. In the meantime, bad calls are made, calls which affect the outcome of games. They’re aired over and over on the highlights shows and in GIFs that zoom around the internet. Players are miffed. Managers are miffed. Fans are miffed. And the integrity of the game takes a hit.

Get it right, Mr. Torre, but get it done in time for next season.

 

We hoped you liked reading Dollars & Sense: Attendance Down, Expanded Replay Moving Forward Slowly by Wendy Thurm!

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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Anon21
Guest
Anon21

Thrilled to hear that there’s recognition at the highest levels of the sport that there is a need for replay that includes safe/out calls on the bases. If we’re being honest, we will acknowledge that most Major League umpires do an outstanding job most of the time. But certain plays, because of the angle or because of the speed with which the play unfolds, leave the umpire in the position of being forced to guess. Some of those guesses will inevitably be wrong, and as Wendy says, that detracts from the integrity of the game.

My personal pet project would be to have review performed “de novo,” as it were, as explained by Ilya Somin here: http://www.volokh.com/2009/12/02/why-instant-replay-should-be-like-de-novo-appellate-review/ . No presumption that the initial call was correct; you go get the best evidence you can from the replay, and then you make what looks like the correct call based on the preponderance of that evidence, if it’s not entirely clear. Only when the video evidence confirms the umpire’s initial call or when the video evidence is completely unhelpful should the initial call be upheld.