Monday, October 02, 2006

Major League Baseball – 2006 Attendance Trends

Major League Baseball established a single season attendance record for the third consecutive season Saturday, surpassing the 75 million mark for the first time in baseball history. Clearly the naysayer’s who continue to suggest baseball is a dead and dying sport hasn’t been paying attention. Clearly those who believe allegations directed at many of the games marquee players in regard to the use of performance-enhancing drugs haven’t been paying attention. Baseball is hotter then ever.

"Major League Baseball is more popular today than it has ever been in its long history," said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. "Setting a new attendance record for a third consecutive year is a remarkable accomplishment. The record signifies the great passion that fans all over the country have for our great game."

Both the New York Yankees and New York Mets are heading to the post-season. ‘Big Apple’ Major League Baseball enjoyed its greatest single attendance year. The Yankees regular season attendance topped 4.2 million. The Yankees drew more than 4 million fans for the second consecutive season. The Mets, winners of the National League’s eastern division with 3,379,551. All told, the Yankees and the Mets sold more than 7.5 million tickets to 162 games. Last year the Mets and the Yankees drew a combined 6.87 million fans. The Yankees won the AL East in 2005. The Mets finished fourth in the NL East winning 83 games. New Yorkers have a many choices they can make with their disposable dollars. A winning team in Flushing led to the Mets for an increase of 700,000 fans in 2006 over the 2,782,212 they drew in 2005.

Los Angeles may not be home to a National Football League franchise; but Lotus Land is home to two very successful Major League Baseball teams at the box office. The Dodgers sold 3,758,421 this year, establishing a single season Dodgers attendance record. The Los Angeles Angels sold more then 3.4 million tickets. The Big Apple may have sold more tickets in 2006, but in selling more than 7.1 million tickets in 2006, Southern Californian’s seriously supported their baseball franchises. In 2005 when combined the Dodgers and Angels surpassed 7 million tickets sold.

In their third year at Petco Park, the San Diego Padres made the playoffs for the second straight season. Through the Padres first three years at Petco, the franchise has sold more than 85 percent of their available ticket inventory. The Padres won 87 games in their first year at Petco, ending up in third place in the NL West. The Padres won the NL West in 2005, winning five fewer games before getting bounced by the Cardinals in the NL Divisional Series. In making the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Padres understand the honeymoon period (support when a team moves into a new stadium) is shorter than ever.

The Milwaukee Brewers opened Miller Park in 2001. Miller Park has a capacity of 43,000. The Brewers hosted the MLB All-Star Game in 2002. In Miller Park’s inaugural season the Brewers sold 2,811,041 tickets, averaged 34,704 fans per game and played to 81.7 percent of Miller Park’s capacity. The honeymoon was over quickly for the Brewers and fans buying tickets to Brewers games to experience what it was like to attend a game at Miller Park.

Despite hosting baseball’s mid-summer classic in 2002, the Brewers experienced one of the biggest single season attendance drops in Major League Baseball history in 2002. The Brewers sold 1,969,153 tickets, averaged 24,310 fans per game and experienced an average attendance drop of nearly 25 percent -- playing to 57.2 percent of Miller Park’s capacity. The Brewers were a terrible team on the field in the years preceding their move to Miller Park and haven’t won more than 81 games (they finished at 81/81 in 2005), since the 1992 season. Brewers’ fans have been forced to endure 14 consecutive seasons of losing baseball. Brewers’ fans are proof sports fans won’t get fooled again.

The Brewers 2006 attendance -- 2,335,643 fans, an average of 28,835 fans per game, playing to 68.0 percent of capacity. The Brewers increase in attendance – not the teams’ on field presence, appears to have more to do with new ownership than anything else. Los Angeles investment banker, Mark Attanasio, purchased the Brewers for $180 million from Bud Selig’s family just before the start of the 2005 season. Attanasio has worked at curing the Brewers image. It remains to be seen if he’ll be successful, but Attanasio already knows unless he delivers a competitive product he’ll have serious issues selling tickets.

The Pittsburgh Pirates moved into PNC Park at the start of the 2001 season. The Pirates enjoyed their first year in their new ballpark, selling 2,428,661, an average of 30,742 fans per game or 80.1 percent of PNC Park’s capacity. Strikingly similar to the attendance problems the Brewers had in their second year at Miller Park, the Pirates, in 2002 sold 1,784,988 tickets, an average of 22,594 fans or 58.9 percent capacity of their stadium’s capacity. The Pirates share one more important distinction with the Brewers. The last time the Pirates had a winning record, 1992. The Pirates won 96 games that year. In 1993 the Pirates won 75 games. Since then they have offered their fans nothing more then losing records for 14 consecutive seasons. Coincidently the last year the Pirates had a winning record and made the playoffs – 2002 – the last year Barry Bonds played in a Pirates uniform.

The days of the ‘Big Red Machine’ have long left the Cincinnati Reds organization. The Reds moved into the Great American Ballpark in 2003. In the teams’ last at Riverfront Stadium, the Reds sold 1,784,988 tickets in 2002, an average or 22,594 fans per game or 58.9 percent of capacity in 2002.

The following year, Great American Ballpark’s first season, the Reds sold 2,355,259, averaging 29,077 fans per game or 69.1 percent capacity. Before the Reds moved into their version of a ‘ back to the future ballpark’ in 2003; every MLB franchise that moved into a ‘retro-baseball-stadium’ sold more than 80 percent of their available tickets in the teams’ first year in their new fan friendly ballparks, before the Reds 2003 season. The Reds won 96 games in 1999, but failed to make the playoffs that year. The Reds won 85 games in 2000. While the Reds flittered with the St. Louis Cardinals in July and August for the NL Central lead this year, the Reds again will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start Tuesday. The Reds sold 2,134,472 tickets in 2006 an average of 26,351 fans per game or 62.7 percent of the Great American Ballpark’s capacity. Why the lower attendance figures in the Great American Ballpark’s first year, when compared to other franchises, baseball fans in Cincinnati expect more for their team.

Major League Baseball continues to fail miserably in Florida. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays finished 29th in MLB attendance, their brothers to the south, the Florida Marlins dead last in 2006. In the last six MLB seasons, the Marlins and Devil Rays finished in the bottom five each year, and would have held the two lowest attendance totals in five of the last six seasons, if not for the dreadful Montreal Expos holding that distinction in their last four seasons in Montreal (2001 through 2004).

Both franchises sold less than 40 percent of their available ticket inventory this year. The Devil Rays decade of terrible baseball (the D-Rays have the worst record in baseball over the ten years they’ve been a “major league” team), managed to sell 1,369,031 tickets this year, averaging 16,901 fans per game or 38.6 percent of capacity. The Marlins who ‘managed’ to sell out their last game of the season Sunday against Philadelphia, pushing their 2006 season total to 1,165,120, averaging 14,384 fans per game, or 38.8 percent.

Ownership issues aside for both franchises, the Marlins and D-Rays play in two of the worst baseball faculties ever conceived. The D-Rays are stuck with the terrible Tropicana Dome and the Marlins have little if any political support for their new stadium plans. Dolphins Stadium is a football, not a baseball facility.

If Pittsburgh and Milwaukee are examples of bad baseball + a fan friendly baseball stadium = bad attendance, the Marlins and the D-Rays are bad baseball + bad stadiums = the worst attendance in baseball over the last six years.

Bud Selig did his best to bully Montreal out of Major League Baseball forcing the team of relocate to Washington. If Selig has any real courage of his convictions he’ll send the same message to both the Marlins and the D-Rays ownership, get your houses in order or get out of town. Six years of terrible attendance, enough is enough MLB – Florida may love Spring Training, but the good citizens of the Sunshine State are not supporting anything other then the Grapefruit League.

The Houston Astros opened Enron Field in 2000, selling out the ballpark during the teams’ first two years. Enron the company was gone before the start of the 2002 season, the ballpark was renamed Minute Maid Park. After two consecutive seasons strong attendance numbers, Astros attendance fell by 10 percent for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. In 2004 the Astros attendance rebounded, 3,087,872 tickets sold, averaging 38,121 fans per game or 93.1 percent of Minute Maid Park’s capacity. The Astros hosted the MLB All-Star Game in 2004. A slight dip in 2005 2,762,472 tickets sold, averaging 34,530 fans per game or 84.3 percent of capacity. The Astros won the National League pennant last year. Finally eliminated yesterday when they lost to the Braves in Atlanta, in 2006 an increase to 3,022,763 tickets sold, averaging 37,318 fans per game or 91.1 percent capacity. In the last eleven seasons the Astros had a losing record one year (2000, their last in the Astrodome when they won 72 games).

Astros owner Drayton McLane has been a good owner. He’s invested in his team, signing key players like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. McLane sending a strong message to Astros fans ~he as an owner is going to do whatever he reasonably does to win~. Never underestimate how important consumer confidence is in selling tickets to sports events.

Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks offered Alex Rodriguez the largest contract ever presented to an athlete playing in a North American sports league, signing A-Rod to a 10-year, $252 million contract before the start of the 2001 season.

The Rangers won the American League Western title in 1999 winning 95 games. A year later (the year before A-Rod) the Rangers won only 71 games in 2000. The Rangers sold 2,800,147 in 2000 and 2,774,501 in 1999. A-Rod was a member of the Rangers for three seasons 2001 through 2003. The Rangers were no better with A-Rod then without Rodriguez. The Rangers won 73 games in 2001, 72 games in 2002 and 71 games in 2003 Rodriguez’s last season in Texas before the Rangers traded a player they never could afford to the Yankees.

There wasn’t any A-Rod affect in terms of the teams’ attendance. In 2001 the Rangers sold 2,831,111 tickets (an increase of less than 30,000 over the 2000 season), 2,352,397 tickets in 2002 and 2,094,394 in 2003 A-Rod’s last year as a Texas Ranger. In 2004, the Rangers won 89 games and sold 2,513,687 tickets, won 79 games in 2005 and sold 2,525,259 tickets and winning 80 games this year, selling 2,831,021 tickets. Winning is always important in selling tickets. It does appear in a market like Dallas, signing a marquee player like Alex Rodriguez isn’t what sports fans in Dallas want from their team.

In a football driven market (Texas) it’s essential the Rangers understand what their stakeholders want (the ticket buying public) and that doesn’t include big name players with gigantic contracts. A-Rod may be traded by the Yankees if he fails to deliver in the post season, but if he is traded any interested team better place close attention how little A-Rod meant to selling tickets in Texas.

If the Yankees try and trade Rodriguez, any interested team should carefully consider the impact a player of Alex Rodriguez’s stature will have on their teams’ attendance. In a market as big as New York fans only care about winning. In the Dallas/Fort Worth market sports fans take a lot closer look at who is wearing the home team uniforms.

In the coming days SBN’s Insider Report will examine each Major League franchise’s 2006 attendance, looking back at attendance trends over the last six years.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom