On Monday we posted attendance figures for the 2022 summer collegiate season, which ended Sunday. Here’s some perspective and some interesting backgrounds on some of the numbers posted.
So many people in the baseball industry launched the season looking for signs of normalcy after a rough 2021. If you’re a regular reader of Ballpark Digest, you’ll see stories regularly peppered with references to signs of normalcy for over a year now. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but let’s not forget how many summer-collegiate teams began 2021 play under some sort of operating restrictions. Between these restrictions, an iffy economy and health concerns about COVID-19, 2021 presented some challenges, which manifested in depressed attendance levels.
As it ends up, with no operating restrictions and less concern about COVID-19, 2022 summer collegiate attendance numbers looked a lot more like they did in 2019 than they did in 2020. Most teams and leagues came back after 2020 and 2021 shutdowns, and as a result we saw plenty of bumps in attendance. The Canadian teams in the West Coast League pursued a limited, northern schedule in 2021, while much of the Western Canadian Baseball League also skipped the 2021 season or scheduled play on a limited basis.
If you have not checked out the numbers, take a second and do so before reading the rest of this article:
Here are some notes on this year’s numbers:
- The Madison Mallards are back as champs, both in total attendance and per-game attendance. Madison had been tops on every summer-collegiate per-game and total attendance list we’ve compiled since a 2008 launch, a streak that ended in 2021 when the Savannah Bananas topped the per-game attendance stats. (Madison still topped the list of total attendance.) For the Bananas, the Coastal Plain League games are just part of what the team offers: the Bananas also play Banana Ball games both at Grayson Stadium and on the road. The Banana Ball attendance numbers don’t count in our rankings. There are Banana Ball games scheduled for August and September in Savannah, and we’ve been promised another Banana Ball World Tour in spring 2023.
- Most of the Independence League teams were departures from the Expedition League, so our 2022 Independence League team numbers are comparisons to the 2021 Expedition League numbers. In the end, the Expedition League season ended a month early, in the beginning of July, with the circuit down to two teams.
- The former MiLB leagues transitioning to summer-collegiate ball, the Appalachian League and the MLB Draft League, saw some continued success in 2022. The MLB Draft League paced all the summer-collegiate circuits with 2,850 fans per game. We can’t compare to 2021—the Trenton Thunder mostly hosted Triple-A ball then in terms of Buffalo Bisons games, and the West Virginia Black Bears didn’t report numbers, per the MLB Pressbox states site. But those 2,850 fans per game was almost twice as much as the second-place Cape Cod League. The Appalachian League was down some 6 percent over 2021, but we saw some teams way up (Kingsport, Greeneville) and some way down (Pulaski, Bristol). Similarly, we saw growth for former MiLB teams Clinton LumberKings and Burlington Bees (both up 9 percent) in the Prospect League, while former MiLB teams Vermont Lake Monsters were up 22 percent, and the Norwich Sea Unicorns were up 63 percent in the Futures League.
- While the improved overall numbers were reason for optimism, it’s no secret that that revenues rebounded, but not to 2018-2019 levels. Sponsorships still lagged, but the greater impact to the bottom line was a decline in group outings. Groups are the bread and butter of the baseball industry at every level, and COVID-19 restrictions/concerns depressed group outings in 2022, especially at the start of the summer. For 2023, teams will have months to sell group outings under less cloudy circumstances.
- Another issue that depressed revenues: supply-chain issues and the resulting uncertainty at the beginning of the season impacted promotions. It wasn’t unusual for merchandise to be stuck in ports, though that issue was more prominent in the pro world.
- Despite these revenue issues, some teams managed to roar back with a big 2022. The Okotoks Dawgs (WCBL) had a monster comeback, drawing 113,825 at 4,216 fans per game. The team took advantage of down time to implement a slew of Seaman Stadium (shown above) upgrades, including new drink rails running the entire length of the ballpark seating bowl; a mobile ordering concession system and streamlined point of sale (POS) system; a new and improved online ticketing system; a high-quality broadcast network; three new pergolas to hospitality patios; and a two-level level hospitality section in homage to the original Dawgs Youth Team and private donors named “Kore 4 (+14) Corner.”
- Another notable update for 2022: The Bethesda Big Train (Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League dedicated a sculpture at Shirley Povich Field of two icons of Washington sports—journalist Povich interviewing Walter Johnson. The sculpture was done by Toby Mendez, who turned the Heroes of Birdland into bronze at Camden Yards and sculpted Teammates at Fenway.
- The MLB Draft League adopted a pro-am format for the 2022 season. It is a unique setup, to be sure. Instead of combing through rosters and box scores to determine which games featured pro players and under what circumstances, we are including MLB Draft League games through the end of the traditional summer-collegiate season.
- We saw some notable rebrandings for 2022: Springfield Sliders to Springfield Lucky Horseshoes (with the team’s home, Robin Roberts Stadium, voted as best summer-collegiate venue in our annual Best of the Ballparks fan vote), Florence RedWolves to Florence Flamingos, Asheboro Copperheads to Asheboro Zookeepers, Green Bay Booyah to Green Bay Rockers, and Battle Creek Bombers to Battle Creek Battle Jacks. Making their full debuts in 2022: Kamloops NorthPaws, Edmonton Riverhawks, Springfield Drifters, Nanaimo NightOwls, Sylvan Lake Gulls, Gem City (Laramie) Bison and North Platte Plainsmen.
Photo courtesy Okotoks Dawgs.