Major League Baseball struggles to get attendance back to pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Blame it on the lingering effects of the pandemic, resentment over the lockdown or economic fears.

Major League Baseball is struggling to fill the stands at pre-COVID levels as the sport enters the final 2 1/2 months of its first season since 2019 without capacity restrictions.

MLB reached the All-Star break with an average attendance of 26,409. That’s down 5.4% from the 2019 All-Star break — which was 10 days earlier than This year.

League officials remain encouraged and point to recovery.

“We’re back to 94 to 95 percent of where we were before the pandemic,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said. “We are therefore very pleased with the progress we have made on the attendance side, rebounding strongly from a situation that threatened the very core of our operation as an industry.”

Attendance is up more than 70% compared to the end-of-season average in 2021, when only Texas started at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% by July 2. MLB played its abbreviated 2020 regular season without spectators.

While average MLB attendance had fallen every year since 2015, most declines were less than 2%. Average attendance was over 30,000 for 14 consecutive seasons from 2004 to 2017, but has not reached that mark since.

“Attendance has been down about 1% per year – year after year – for about 15 years,” said Victor Matheson, an economics professor from Sainte-Croix specializing in sports economics. “Major League Baseball attendance peaked in 2007 and has been falling pretty steadily year over year for over a decade. What we would normally expect after about three years is a drop of about 3% of attendance.

Bob Heaning, a 48-year-old fan from Cranford, New Jersey, said he used to attend about a dozen New York Yankees games a year. He has only attended three games this season, has tickets to two more games and does not plan to attend any more.

Heaning said he stopped going there as often because he bought a house last year and is staying home more often, but he also thinks the high price of games can keep people away. fans. That could prove especially true this year, as inflation prompts more people to spend more cautiously.

“I think people are maybe more worried,” Hearing said. “There’s not as much disposable income.”

Matheson said MLB relies more than other professional sports leagues on out-of-town fans. This makes MLB particularly vulnerable to issues that could reduce tourism.

“If travel is disrupted, either by high gas prices, or expensive plane tickets, or just general travel disruptions, it could make a big dent,” Matheson said.

Charles Lindsey, an associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management, noted that single ticket sales remain strong, but season ticket sales have declined. He said the NBA faced a similar problem this season.

Lindsey cited inflation as the main cause and said the pandemic may have contributed to a lesser extent.

“But these are common factors in all kinds of recreational experiences,” Lindsey said. “And a lot of recreational entertainment – ​​restaurants, travel – a lot of those areas are back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Lindsey thinks dissatisfaction with the lockdown may have caused some fans not to renew their subscriptions. He also speculated that some franchises may have cut staff during the pandemic and paid for it with reduced ticket sales.

The teams were particularly affected in the grouped sales.

Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Brewers, told a Milwaukee Press Club meeting last month that the team’s group ticket sales normally total about 600,000 a year. Schlesinger estimated the total would be around 400,000 this season.

He noted that some companies are still working remotely and therefore have fewer group outings, and that fewer schools than usual have taken rough trips.

“The group’s activities have not returned to near normal levels, which frankly is not surprising,” Schlesinger said.

Oakland’s attendance is down nearly 55% from its 2019 All-Star break level. The Athletics have cut payrolls significantly amid concerns over the future of the franchise in the Bay Area as they search for a new stadium.

Other teams with attendances down at least 15% from the 2019 break include Arizona (26.7%), Pittsburgh (20.8%), Washington (19.7%), Philadelphia ( 17.9%), Cincinnati (17.8%), Cleveland (16.3%), LA Angels (15.1%) and Kansas City (15.1%).

The only teams with attendance up from their 2019 break averages are Toronto (48.5%), San Diego (29.4%), Miami (23.3%), Atlanta (19.1%) , Seattle (12.7%), the Chicago White Sox (9.5%), Detroit (6.9%) and the New York Mets (4.8%).

99 day lockdown this year was not settled until March 10, resulting in a revised schedule.

“It absolutely affected the cadence of our ticket sales, both our game tickets and our bands,” Schlesinger said. “We were trying to sell group tickets in an environment where I couldn’t tell you exactly when our season was going to start or what our home schedule would be like.”

It’s a hurdle teams won’t face in the upcoming offseason, giving MLB reason to be optimistic.

“If you had told me in 2020 that we would be 95% back to 2019 levels in two years, I would have accepted this deal 100 times out of 100,” Garden said.

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