Declining MLB Attendance Leads to Shrinking Stadiums

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Getty Images/Joe Robbins

Major League Baseball experienced a four percent loss in attendance in 2018, but that was just part of the steady decline seen over the last few years.

As a result, new stadiums are shrinking.

In a piece for USA Today, sports writer Gabe Lacques noted the falling attendance of several MLB teams.

Lacques reported that the Red Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, Yankees, and Dodgers have been lucky to keep their fans. “All have sold at least 87% of their 2019 ticket inventory and drawn at least 2.6 million fans every season this century.”

But that isn’t true for most of the league’s other teams.

“Right now, 15 teams are on pace to draw fewer fans than a 2018 season that saw a 4% overall drop,” Lacques wrote, “with September likely to mirror an ugly April at the gate, it wouldn’t be surprising if up to 20 teams’ attendance declined.

“In the median ballpark, 53% of seats were empty,” Lacques wrote.

With attendance falling, many teams have slashed ticket prices to try and fill seats. As Lacques reports, the Tampa Bay Rays resorted to selling tickets for $5 apiece. Later they slashed that low price even more to $2 per ticket. And after suffering a 17 percent drop in attendance, the San Francisco Giants also had a fire sale with tickets priced at $5 per seat.

Sensibly, with all this pressure on incoming revenue, new stadiums are coming online or hitting the drawing board with fewer and fewer seats, Lacques wrote.

Since 1989, every MLB team has entered a new stadium, and most are smaller than their predecessors.

For instance, the Braves’ SunTrust Park has 41,000 seats, 12,000 fewer than the stadium it replaced, Turner Field. The Rangers are set to open the 40,000-seat Globe Life Field next year and will leave behind their current 49,000-seat stadium. The Cleveland Indians are also expected to reduce the size of their existing park. And the Oakland A’s may even have a stadium as small as 34,000 seats soon. This is all a far cry from the 50,000 plus capacity commonly assumed in the last century.

New ballparks are also looking to add more specialty features in food and comfort to make the smaller crowds more welcome, Lacques said. But whatever Major League Baseball does to keep their entertainment edge, smaller crowds are becoming the expected norm.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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