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MLB Attendance Dip: Permanent or an Anomaly?

Major League Baseball logoMLB attendance is down some 6.6 percent this season when compared to 2017, and while early-season numbers aren’t always a bellwether, the dip is causing some concern in MLB circles.

So far this season MLB attendance is at 27,328 per game before last night’s games, and that’s down 6.6 percent from 2017 at the same point in the season. To be sure, bad weather has played a part in that dip; 36 games have been postponed in 2018, and perhaps starting the season in late March (as opposed to a week later in April, the traditional opening date in recent years) wasn’t the best of ideas. Indeed, that earlier opening date may also be leading to MLB fatigue: we’ve been living and breathing baseball since Valentine’s Day, and the end of the season is barely in sight.

On a macro level, some teams are seeing big drops, like Toronto (down 29 percent), Pittsburgh (down 6.7 percent) and Oakland (down 10.9 percent). From the Wall Street Journal:

That might be why [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred admitted that the league is “concerned that there’s something to it more than weather.”

“We’re hoping that we rebound here in the second half of the season,” said Manfred, speaking at the conclusion of baseball’s quarterly owners meetings Thursday on an 80-degree, sun-soaked afternoon at MLB headquarters in New York. “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.”

The theory pushed by the Journal is that losing teams are struggling to draw, citing Pittsburgh and Kansas City as examples. But that’s not necessarily the case. The Atlanta Braves were set for a bigger 2018 as opposed to 2017 before the team emerged as a winner, and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to be a top MLB draw despite poor on-field performance. And the Cleveland Indians are down significantly despite leading their division this season. Manfred says the schedules may be tweaked in 2019; while we’ll still see a March launch, we may see some other changes:

In his news conference Thursday, Manfred said MLB is considering ways to produce a more “fan-friendly” schedule in 2019, which could feature two-game weekend series between rivals, among other changes.

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