The five biggest stories behind MLB’s 2019 attendance projections
Major League Baseball (MLB) attendances are a hot sports industry topic.
Last season, they dropped below 70m for the first time in 15 years, and earlier this month we released projections that they’ll reach 68.8m by 2019 season-end – a 1.3% decrease on 2018.
For many, this has added fuel to the argument that declining attendances are an indicator of baseball’s declining influence in North America. We, however, think differently: there’s a growing appetite for live experiences and through more intelligent product design and pricing – and more effective customer marketing – the league and its teams can grow their appeal, get more new fans into the ballpark, and get more existing fans coming back for more. As a result, this will drive long-term revenue growth.
Total MLB Regular Season Attendance (2009-2019)
The projected decline for 2019 is a confluence of factors – driven predominantly by a select number of big market teams performing poorly, and smaller-market teams doing well. We’ve gone deep into our data to see exactly what it shows about the health of baseball in key markets – and the steps needed to boost attendance growth.
1) Biggest name faller: San Francisco Giants
Poor on-field performances are taking their toll on the eight-time World Series winners. The impact of losing 98 games in 2017 and 89 in 2018 – and sitting rock-bottom of NL West at All-Star break – is that according to our projections, average Giants home attendances will fall 16% on 2018 to 32,561 in 2019. This will take the team from the fourth best-attended team in 2018 (average attendance of 38,965) to the 12th in 2019.
Alongside results, ticket prices are likely to be a major factor in these sustained attendance decreases. Giants attendances peaked during 2011, the season after their first World Series title since 1954, when they averaged 41,819 fans per game. According to Team Marketing Report, the average ticket price was $25.04 in 2011; this has risen to $38.82 in 2019, an average year-on-year increase of 5.6% over the last eight years.
Teams may be tempted to counter attendance declines with price rises to keep revenues growing or stable – however this can become a vicious cycle, with ever-increasing prices eventually causing an ever-increasing number of fans to stay away, particularly when on-field performance is poor.
2) Cardinals retake position as America’s second-most attended team
In 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals will retake their position as the second most-attended team in MLB according to our projections – their average attendance hitting 42,686 thanks to a year-on-year increase of 2%. The Cardinals were overtaken by the Yankees in 2018.
The Cardinals are a big attraction in MLB having performed consistently well since winning the World Series in 2011. However, they have also invested in the fan experience at Busch Stadium (ranked the third best MLB ballpark by Forbes in 2018) to capitalise on their run of form. This has included Budweiser Terrace, a multi-level social space for pre-game and in-game entertainment.
Side note: we predict the LA Dodgers will remain by far the most attended team in MLB – the team increasing its average attendance by a projected 4% in 2019 to hit 49,327 a game. That means the Dodgers will have 6,500 more fans at every game than any other MLB team in 2019.
Average MLB Team Attendance (2019 – projected)
3) What’s the future of baseball in the Sunshine State?
For the second season in a row, the two least-attended teams in MLB will be the Florida-based Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins according to our projections. The Marlins’ average attendance is projected to fall to 9,421 in 2019, meaning they will be the first team to end the season with an average attendance below 10,000 since 2004.
Why? The Marlins have failed to secure a play-off spot since 2003, and traded many of their best players before the start of the 2018 season. Stadium location is also playing a role in drawing fans: Marlins Park was built in Little Havana, where median household income is around $8,000 per year lower than the Miami average1. Meanwhile the Rays’ Tropicana Field continues to be difficult to access from the city of St. Petersburg, the second-largest city in the Tampa Bay area.
That said, stadium moves are on the long-term agenda for both, and they have also been looking to innovate to drive short-term attendance growth: the Marlins, for example, lowered season-ticket prices ahead of 2019 season (by up to 25%), and have created new ‘Millennial’ seating sections, including lower-cost barstool seating and standing-room only areas.
4) Phillies, Rockies and Braves showing long-term growth
The Phillies are projected to be the ninth-best-attended team in 2019 with an average attendance of 35,708 – a 34% year-on-year increase (the highest increase in the league). Two seasons ago they were the 24th best-attended team in the league.
The Rockies, meanwhile, will be the sixth best-attended team in 2019. The Rox have risen up the attendance rankings over the least four years (they sat 14th in 2015). This is equally the case for the Braves, who are projected to claim the 10th most-attended-team-spot in 2019. In 2015, the Braves were the 24th most attended team in the league.
Growth for the three has been delivered thanks to investment in both players and product. For the Phillies, blockbuster players like Bryce Harper, while the Rockies and Braves both reached the post-season in 2018, the latter winning NL East.
From a product perspective, the Phillies and Braves have revamped the concourses at their ballparks with new and informal food and beverage offerings. The Flex Ballpark Pass introduced by the Rockies – a discounted package allowing fans to reserve a bank of 24 digital passes – is also a representative of how ticketing can be adapted to reflect new expectations around flexibility and ease of access.
There’s something for everyone at Coors Field!
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) December 29, 2018
5) Challenging times for Blue Jays, Tigers and Royals
The Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are demonstrating the most consistent long-term attendance decline.
The Blue Jays will be the 20th-best-attended team in 2019 (average attendance of 21,681) – having been the third-best-attended in 2016. According to our projections, they will have 12,823 fewer fans per game attending in 2019 than in 2015.
The Tigers are projected to experience a 16% year-on-year decrease on 2018, taking them to the 26th most attended team in MLB. For the Royals, meanwhile, our projections show that in 2019 there’ll be 14,438 less fans in attendance at games at The K compared to 2015 – pushing the Royals down to the 27th most attended team in the league. They were the 10th most attended team in 2015.
To drive long-term attendance growth, teams need to identify and engage with their target audiences, understand what experiences would bring them to games and adapt their proposition – their in-park experience and ticket packages – accordingly.
Baseball – and ticketing businesses more broadly – also needs to move from a heavy sales-led ticketing approach (pounding the phones to sell season tickets) to a digital-marketing-led approach, using personalised, data-driven communications to create a highly-engaged fanbase.
- City-Data (2016)