April in Minor League Baseball is always an uphill battle: cool temperatures across the country usually makes for small crowds and less-than-optimal enthusiasm. Now that we’re into May, we’re seeing the big crowds most front-office types expect for the rest of the season.
Take, for example, the Frisco RoughRiders (Class AA; Texas League), drawing the third-largest crowd in franchise history Friday night, with 11,897 fans packing sold-out Dr Pepper Ballpark against the San Antonio Missions.
The RoughRiders’ five largest crowds and 10 of the top 12 have come since 2015, RoughRiders’ General Partner & CEO Chuck Greenberg’s first full season leading the franchise. Friday’s attendance was the largest of the season and the most since 11,915 fans turned out to Dr Pepper Ballpark on May 8, 2015. The top three crowds, interestingly enough, are against San Antonio.
“Tonight at Dr Pepper Ballpark represented the best of what a fun, affordable night out with the Frisco RoughRiders has to offer, and we’re thrilled that one of the largest crowds in the 15-year history of the franchise was on hand to make it even more special,” Greenberg said in a press statement. “The remarkable fact that the five largest crowds, and ten of the top 12, in team history have been recorded since the beginning of the 2015 season underscores the tremendous affinity that fans from all over the Metroplex have for the RoughRiders and we’re excited to continue to build many more special nights at the ballpark.”
Similarly, the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) drew their largest crowd of the season yesterday, with 10,534 fans at BB&T Ballpark. At the end of the six-game homestead, the Knights welcomed sell-out crowds in four of the six games.
And then there is the Tim Tebow effect in the Low-A South Atlantic League, where the New York Mets farmhand is drawing crowds both on the road and at the Columbia Fireflies home, Spirit Communications Park. In Hickory, the Crawdads sold out four games with the Fireflies in town, attracting 17,500 fans for the series at L.P. Frans Stadium. He’s also drawn above-average crowds in Augusta and Rome, and in Lakewood the BlueClaws have sold out two of the four home games in a series beginning May 13. The Fireflies lead the Sally League in attendance with 100,834, for an average of 5,307 fans per game. That’s up from 3,785 fans per game in 2016.
As it turns out, MiLB had a pretty good April when compared year to year, attracting 6,090,368 fans through the end of April, a 5.3 percent increase over April 2016. Here’s the press release:
The 11 full-season leagues and 136 clubs that began play in April averaged 3,986 fans a game. By comparison, in 2008, when Minor League Baseball set its all-time record for yearly attendance (43.2 million), Minor League Baseball averaged 3,850 in April.
“Minor League Baseball clubs have put a great deal of effort into creating some great promotions to draw fans to the ballpark early in the season, and the six million fans who visited our ballparks last month are a testament to that,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “Again, this year, our clubs have done a nice job of keeping their prices at a point where Minor League Baseball games are one of the more affordable family entertainment options around.”
In raw numbers, April attendance in 2017 was 432,004 more than the total for April, 2016 (5,658,364) in just 33 more dates. Minor League Baseball saw 28 more games rained out in April of 2017 (102) than April of 2016 (74).
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp of the Southern League experienced a 73 percent increase in average April attendance over 2016, going from 4,349 in April 2016 to 7,534 in April 2017. The Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League posted a 36 percent increase in average April attendance, going from an average of 3,839 in April 2016 to an average of 5,209 in April 2017.