Mother Nature Can No Longer Be Blamed for the MLB's Poor Attendance Record

(Photo courtesy of tbo.com)

America’s favourite pastime is becoming a thing of the past as its attendance record continues to slide.

In the 2017 regular season, the MLB overall attendance record fell below 73 million for the first time since 2010. So, here we are, talking about the decline in the popularity of baseball, a topic that has been tread over many times.

Think about it, if you were to tune into a regular season game and had a look at the stands, more often than not, you’d see a plethora of empty seats. Who cares? With 162 games to play through, it would be delusional to expect teams to average a sellout crowd.

Despite the empty seats, the MLB survives; however, the sharp decline in attendance in the 2018 season definitely raises some red flags. As per the Wall Street Journal, attendance has dropped by 6.7%, the biggest drop since the year after the strike in 1995. As of June 16, the league was averaging 27,483 per game compared to 29,402 at the same point last season. The typical response is to shrug it off, after all, the MLB finds ways to persevere.

Poor weather in April is a contributing factor, with a total of 37 games being postponed. It grabbed the attention of MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, who stated: “We are concerned there's something to it more than weather.”

If this issue is catching the MLB Commissioner off-guard, it is something worth delving into.

Tanking is the Trend

Many factors contribute to the rise and fall of attendance numbers, but the glaring issue that cannot be ignored is the number of non-competitive (and flat-out tanking teams) that exist.

Since 2014, only one team has finished the regular season with at least 100 losses: the Minnesota Twins. In this season alone, 4 teams are on pace to lose at least 100 games. On top of that, 8 teams are 14 or more games behind their respective divisional leaders.

Not surprisingly, Miami (-15 games back), Toronto (-16.5), Kansas City (-18.5) and Baltimore (-29) have witnessed some of the biggest attendance declines. Specifically, the Toronto Blue Jays are down -11,382 in attendance per game and down a total of -421,139 compared to this point last season, while the Miami Marlins are down -10,257 per game and down a total of -359,006. Pretty daunting figures that Manfred prays is down to the weather. He still believes, “We’re having a great season in terms of races and competitive teams, and we’re hoping with weather like we have in New York today we make some of that ground up.”

Sorry, Commissioner, but I respectfully disagree.

In the history of baseball, there have never been more than five teams to finish below .400 in a single season. Conversely, four teams—the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and Mariners—are on pace to win 100 games, which would also be a major-league record.

It is sucking the life away from any suspense in the American League, unless you care about where each team is seeded in the playoffs. The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Astros have practically punched their tickets to the playoffs, with playoff probabilities of at least 96%, according to FanGraphs.

The gap between the contenders and pretenders is too large to sweep under the carpet and teams are starting to realize this. There is an increasing number of struggling organizations who have chosen to tear down their rosters and embark on a full-fledged rebuild. This strategy undoubtedly can be effective, as the last two World Series champions, the Astros and Chicago Cubs, demonstrated.

Unfortunately, going this route has had a significant impact at the box office for a number of teams. Attendance at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is down 29.2% through this time last year, following a winter where they traded their ace, Gerrit Cole, and their most popular player, 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen.

The Royals have seen a 23% drop-off at Kauffman Stadium after losing a host of players, including first baseman, Eric Hosmer, and outfielder, Lorenzo Cain.

After trading Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, Marlins attendance is officially down almost 50%.

All of this points to one thing: too many teams become irrelevant and their fans are tuning out not even halfway through the season. As much as Manfred wants to introduce changes to speed up the game, blatant problems with the competitiveness of the league must be addressed.

I mean, putting a runner on 1st in extra innings? Really, is that the answer? I don’t think compromising the integrity of the game is going to lure anyone into ballparks any time soon, Mr. Manfred.

Until the league finds a way to condemn clubs that throw in the towel or reward competitive ones, fans will continue to be repelled from attending games.

Baseball is Getting Worse

Are tanking teams all to blame for this slip in attendance? Of course not. There is no getting around the fact that the entertainment value of baseball has become lackluster, creating uneventful games no fan would bother paying money for. Let’s look at some stats to back this up:

(Image courtesy of USA TODAY)

Players are striking out more than ever and for the first time in MLB history - they are on pace for more strikeouts than hits.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have the lowest batting average (.227) in all of baseball, with 135 more strikeouts than hits, and they’re in first place in the NL West. The Milwaukee Brewers have been shut out a major-league-leading 10 times, produced a paltry .316 on-base percentage, have grounded into more double plays than any team in the NL and they’re in first place in the NL Central, as per USA TODAY.

These are the best teams in the league we’re talking about here, playing sub-par ball. Imagine what it would be like to be a fan of any of the 8 teams more than 14 games back of their divisional leaders.

Games are simply bereft of any action, with strikeouts, walks, and defensive shifts becoming all too common. Maybe it is just a temporary lull and hitters will eventually learn how to beat those pesky shifts, but the MLB needs to come up with answers.

The entertainment value of baseball is seemingly at an all-time low this decade and fans have better ways to spend their money than by watching abject baseball.

Is there any wonder as to why attendance is down? It’s crystal clear, Mr. Commissioner.