The average attendance at a major league baseball game in 2018 was 28,830. Not so long ago, that would have been considered good. That has been reported as a drop of 4 per cent from the previous season and it is 14.4 per cent down from a high of 32,785 in 2007, or right before what the big banks and the un-regulators are calling the Great Recession. Six teams—Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore, Minnesota, and the Chicago White Sox drew their smallest attendance since they opened their newest home ballparks.
No one wants to mention the fact that many people have been priced out of going to a big league game but I believe that it has to be a fact. Of course, for many others it is not a problem. You can see them sitting there up close to the action, feeding their faces and playing with their phones. Are these really baseball fans or just the people who can afford the “baseball experience”? I don’t know, but it makes me wonder. What I do know for sure is that it is a far different crowd than I would see when I lived in the San Francisco of the 70s, either at Candlestick Park or Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. In 1973, just over one million tickets were sold for the Oakland A’s season as they won the second of three World Championships in a row. Those were the A’s with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris, Vida Blue, and Catfish Hunter. The Giants finished third in the National League West that year and claimed a little less than 900 thousand sold tickets to see the likes of Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Chris Speier, and Bobby Bonds. Their average attendance was just over 10,000 so we could bring our own food and beer and buy a cheap seat and then move to a better one after everyone got settled. We had fun. The only bummer was traffic after the game (we weren’t stoned before the game) but we did not pay $30 to park the car.
It may ultimately be good for the game if some of the money goes out of it. Now, what the owners and their commissioner consider “good for the game” are ticket sales, television money, and sales of gear. The bills do need to get paid, but what I am thinking of as good for the game are things that maintain competitive balance, advance quality of play, and make the game more attractive to young players and old farts like me who would like to attend once in a while.
It is perhaps coincidental that strikeouts topped hits this season for the first time ever and batting averages sunk to the lowest level since 1972. Launch angle enthusiasts and those who feel sexual excitement over 3 and 2 counts and pitching changes might want to consider the real thrills involved in things like triples, squeeze plays, and stolen bases. Late inning rallies can actually be more fun than all of the machinations involved with making sure you’re ahead after six innings.
There are many, many fun and exciting players out there today: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte, and on and on. Beyond the economic problems, the game needs a bit of a jolt. Right now, it is dangerously close to a basketball game dominated by the blowing of whistles.