MLB Attendance So Far and a Call for Doubleheaders

At its best, baseball is an outdoor, summer sport. In order to fit 162 games and the playoffs into the calendar, Major League Baseball is forced to start in late March or early April and end in late October or early November when the weather is less likely to cooperate. Attendance is up roughly 500 fans per game in the early part of the season, and the fans have turned out in Kansas City and San Diego after a playoff run and an acquisition-rich offseason, respectively. MLB has publicized shorter games, although it is not clear what kind of effect that would have on attendance. All teams, especially those in the northern half of the country have been able to take advantage of good weather, and MLB should do its best to get fewer games played when the weather is not best for baseball.

Here is a graph showing average per game attendance through Sunday’s games, per Baseball-Reference.

AVERAGE+MLB+ATTENDANCE+BY+TEAM+THROUGH+MAY+2+2015

The top six teams are the same as the leaders last season, with the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees flip-flopped. The bottom four are also the same, with the Cleveland Indians sinking below the Tampa Bay Rays. The Kansas City Royals were the sixth lowest drawing team last year despite their playoff run, but the energy from last season has boosted the Royals into the top half of attendance through one month of the season. Here are the top risers and fallers in terms of per game attendance compared to last year through the same number of games, per Baseball Reference.

DIFFERENCE+IN+MLB+ATTENDANCE+VS+2014

The Royals have increased attendance over last year by 60% with the fervor generated by the Royals postseason run to the World Series carrying over into 2015. Major acquisitions for the Padres and Chicago White Sox also preceded decent jumps at the gate while the big selloff in Atlanta and very low expectations in Philadelphia and Texas might be keeping fans away from the ballpark.

The hot starts for the Houston Astros and New York Mets are likely beneficial in terms of k generating fans in general, as we saw last year with the Royals, in-season wins do not have a great effect on the number of fans that attend in any given year. The graph below shows a scatter plot for wins and attendance over the past four seasons.

AVERAGE+MLB+ATTENDANCE+BY+TEAM+AND+WIN+TOTALS+2011-2014

For those four seasons, r was just .33. Wins in the previous season had a greater correlation to attendance with r equaling .41. Wins might be helpful in bringing fans to games, but so is the weather. Despite the excitement of the early season games after a winter away from baseball, attendance tends to grow as the season moves forward. Last year, the average attendance per game at the end of the year was approximately 1,500 fans higher than the average through this point in the season. April weather hurts attendance more in cold weather areas before attendance picks up in the summer. Here is a graph showing the difference in attendance in 2014 between this point in the season and end of the season totals.

DIFFERENCE+IN+MLB+ATTENDANCE+FROM+2014+TOTALS+AND+APRIL+2014

Some of the increases and decreases could be due to in season competitiveness, but almost all of the big gainers are in cold-weather areas regardless of ability to win and the biggest drops occur in areas where the weather is generally very good at the start of the season. MLB started this season one week later than it has in the past, and outside of the Chicago Cubs postponing the second game of the season after their Opening Night debacle, there were no other postponements during the first two weeks of the baseball season.

Starting the season one week into April instead of at the very end of March or first few days in April could be a benefit for teams in terms of attendance and fans who wish to attend more games when the weather is better. The unfortunate effect of that form of scheduling is playing World Series games in November with the Fall Classic set to begin on October 27th this year. Increased attention is on MLB during the World Series and it is not clear whether the potential for a public relations issue due to snow or other bad weather in the World Series is worth the possibility of increased attendance and potentially better weather for the games that are played in April.

One potential, but underused solution for the weather problem at the beginning and end of the schedule are day-night doubleheaders. Day-night doubleheaders do occur from time to time, but they are generally used to make up previously postponed games. Very rarely are they scheduled before the season. Last season, the Chicago Cubs played a day-night doubleheader against the Washington Nationals on June 28th. This doubleheader was scheduled before the season in order to avoid a game on June 29th due to the expected congestion from Chicago’s Pride Parade. Both games were fairly well attended, with the two game average of 34,019 well exceeding Chicago’s April average of 30,646 and also above the season average of 32,742. The games were played on a Saturday in the summer when attendance is expected to be higher than normal, and losing the Sunday game probably cost the Cubs some fans, but if that game were to replace a cold, April game, the Cubs and their fans likely would have benefited.

There are several barriers to scheduling day-night doubleheaders. Assuming the day-night doubleheaders are held on Saturdays in the summer, a day off would likely be needed on the following Monday. Having two games on the same day creates some issues for the team with clearing out the stadium and then preparing it for action again as well as the employees who would need to work longer days or necessitate additional staffing.

The burden on the players is also greater, and prior to the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, day-night doubleheaders could not be scheduled without special circumstances and the permission of the players’ union. Under the current CBA, teams are allowed to schedule one day-night doubleheader per season, and teams are allowed an extra roster spot on those days, but no teams take advantage of that rule. Even if every team scheduled one doubleheader, that is two days the season could be shortened. An additional allowed home game per team would take almost a week off the season and allow the playoffs to start at the beginning of October even with this season’s late start date. This would be a difficult transition for players as they negotiate the arduous summer, but keeping the current 162-game, multiple-round postseason model employed by MLB while playing games when the sport is most enjoyable should be prioritized.

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Shingo's Cheeseburgers
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Shingo's Cheeseburgers

The White Sox bump is purely due to an increase in season ticket holders (I’ve estimated they had a 2k-3k increase in STHs last offseason) and based on the April weather and on field play I think if you compared the ‘butts-in-seats’ attendance numbers between 2015 and 2014 they would be very little change.