Analysis, Baseball, Fan Data, Sports Data, Sports Fan Data

MLB Stadium Attendance: Is America’s Pastime Experiencing a Decline in Popularity?

Stadium attendance is, of course, the oldest form of fan interest and occurs whether a game is televised or not. So, as we contend in our previous post, in-stadium attendance is ultimately the highest fidelity signal available for measurement. Each stadium has a fixed capacity and standing room only ticket sales are rarely sold with the exception of the Dallas Cowboys after the construction of their home venue in 2009. Even with standing room tickets, Cowboys stadium capacity is capped at 105,000. Because one body fits in one seat on almost all cases, attendance is thus a reliable benchmark to compare television viewership. (We acknowledge that not everyone who bought a tickets makes it to the game and many teams count promotional tickets—many of which go unused—in their reported attendance numbers, but we assume that most teams that do not sell out every game do this to roughly similar degrees which makes for a bit a noise in the data, but otherwise doesn’t completely destroy our model.)

Since the boys of summer are in full swing—excuse the pun—and the MLB All-Star game is fast approaching, MLB attendance is our next exploration of fan interest. See the table below:

MLB Attendance Table
Year Attendance Capacity Attendance % Average Standard Deviation Minimum Median Variance
2015 73,977,057 104,036,342 71.11% 30,468 9,670.9 8,701 30,808 93,900,000
2016 73,240,061 104,041,743 70.39% 30,165 9,779.1 8,766 30,318 95,600,000
2017 72,573,089 103,356,597 70.22% 30,039 9,785.4 2,596 30,102 95,800,000

As the data in the table above suggest, league-wide MLB stadium attendance appears to be showing a trending decline over the past three seasons, from 70.1% in 2015 to 70.02% in 2017. Average game attendance has also declined during each of the past three seasons, from 30,468 in 2015 to 30.038 in 2017, as has median game attendance—30,808 to 30,102—in the same period. Perhaps the number most suggestive of a decline in interest is that the lowest attended game—between the Cardinals and Pirates on August 20, 2017, hosted just 2,596 spectators, whereas the lowest attendance games in 2016 and 2015 were 8,766 and 8,701, respectively.

What’s more, week over week variance—the total fluctuation in attendance for each individual game compared to the mean—increased each of the last three years. One possible reason for more extreme attendance may be because casual fans flock to well-known teams (e.g., Yankees, Red Sox) or teams that are playing very well (e.g. 2017 Dodgers). It is also possible that those shifting financial habits have led consumers away from splurging on tangible goods toward experiential luxury such as attending a professional baseball game. Given the choice, perhaps consumers would rather spend a year’s worth of cable bills on game tickets. Either way, interest in baseball in-person and on television has been declining. Stay tuned for our next post concerning individual team attendance.