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Why MLB Attendance Dropped Below 70 Million For The First Time In 15 Years

Maury Brown
This article is more than 2 years old.

Rain, cold, a whole lot of losing and two teams adjusting how they counted tickets made for a down regular season at the gate for Major League Baseball in 2018.

Based on official numbers from the league, attendance was 69,625,244 over 2,415 dates, or an average of 28,830 per game. The league saw the per-game average attendance drop 4% compared with 2017’s average attendance of 30,042 (on 2,419 dates for a total of 72,670,423). The total attendance number for 2018 was the league's first below 70 million since 2003.

All told, 13 teams saw attendance increases, compared with 17 with declines.

“Attendance this year dipped by about 4% – a decrease we believe is primarily connected to the historically bad weather we faced back in the spring,” the league said in a statement it sent to me. The league added that April’s schedule included a record 28 postponements and 102 games played in temperatures under 50 degrees.

The season ended with 54 postponements – the most since 1989 – with 26 on weekends, when teams typically draw their highest numbers.

At one point in April, overall attendance was down more than 10% compared with 2017, meaning there was a considerable amount of clawing back. The league benefited from the two tiebreaker games played on Monday at Wrigley Field and Dodgers Stadium that saw an additional 86,266 in attendance between them.

But there were other reasons for the downturn.

The two largest drops in attendance came by way of the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. In both instances, the clubs had adjusted how they would approach paid attendance.

The Marlins used a different reporting procedure this year around ticket sales; they said as much at the beginning of the season and let Commissioner Manfred and the league know about their plans. The league believes it was the right thing to do.

About a quarter of the league's 4% decline stems from the Marlins’ change alone.

For the Blue Jays, the drop was due to how they released tickets to resellers.

“As we progressed in our business model, we didn’t think it was advantageous to have 50% of our tickets controlled by the secondary market,” Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said as the season was getting underway.

Not all the declines can be attributed to cold weather, rainouts and the changes by the Marlins and Blue Jays. Big-market teams in the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox and Astros performed well in the standings.

The flip side: The league saw some truly bad baseball. For the first time in the league’s history, eight teams finished with 95 losses or more, and three of them (Orioles, White Sox and Royals) lost more than 100.

In addition, for the first time in the league’s history, there were more strikeouts (41,207) than hits (41,019). This marked the 11th straight season that strikeouts increased from the season prior, and the league batting average was .248, the lowest since 1972.

And while batters were trying to swing for the fences, there were 5,585 home runs, down 9% from the 6,105 dingers in 2017.


Forbes research
Year MLB Total % (+/-)
1995 50,469,236 0.90%
1996 60,097,381 19.10%
1997 63,168,689 5.10%
1998 70,372,221 11.40%
1999 70,139,380 -0.30%
2000 72,635,095 3.60%
2001 72,267,544 -0.50%
2002 67,859,176 -6.10%
2003 67,568,397 -0.40%
2004 73,022,969 8.10%
2005 74,702,034 2.30%
2006 76,042,787 1.80%
2007 79,503,175 4.60%
2008 78,588,004 -1.20%
2009 73,367,659 -6.60%
2010 72,568,780 -1.10%
2011 73,415,359 1.20%
2012 74,859,268 1.97%
2013 74,028,227 -1.11%
2014 73,739,622 -0.39%
2015 73,760,020 0.03%
2016 73,159,044 -0.81%
2017 72,670,423 -0.67%
2018      69,625,244 -4.19%


Top five in total attendance:

  1. Dodgers - 3,857,500
  2. Yankees - 3,482,855
  3. Cardinals - 3,403,58
  4. Cubs - 3,181,089
  5. Giants - 3,156,189

Bottom five in total attendance:

  1. Marlins - 811,104
  2. Rays - 1,154,973
  3. Pirates - 1,465,316
  4. A’s - 1,573,616
  5. Orioles - 1,564,192

Biggest increases in attendance from 2017:

  1. Astros: +576,878
  2. Yankees: +327,917
  3. Brewers: +318,424
  4. Phillies: +252,770
  5. Mariners: +164,044

Biggest declines in attendance from 2017:

  1. Blue Jays: -878,605
  2. Marlins: -771,910
  3. Royals: -555,263
  4. Tigers: -464,629
  5. Orioles: -464,232
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2020 National Sportswriter Of The Year nominee. Other prior written work of mine can be found at Variety, USA Today, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs.

2020 National Sportswriter Of The Year nominee. Other prior written work of mine can be found at Variety, USA Today, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs. Freelance work can be found at the Portland Business Journal and New York Times. My work has been sourced for analysis and commentary in the NY Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Washington Times, CNN/Money, MarketWatch, Crain's Business NY, Crain's Detroit Business, Crain's Business Chicago, The Deal, the Rocky Mountain News, Fox News, New York Daily News, Sports, the NY Sun, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Tribune, Toronto Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sports Review, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, St. Petersburg Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, San Jose Mercury News, the Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, Sports Fantasy Monthly magazine, USA Today Sports Weekly, and more. I look forward to your comments and can be followed on Twitter via @BizballMaury