MLB attendance projected to drop for 4th straight season: Here's why

Attendance at Major League Baseball games is on track to decline for the fourth straight season in 2019 as the league contends with growing competition from other entertainment options, according to a sports marketing firm.

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Roughly 68.8 million fans are projected to attend MLB games through the end of the 2019, according to proprietary attendance-modeling from Two Circles, a subsidiary of advertising firm WPP. That total would represent a decline of 1.3 percent compared to last season, when total attendance closed at 69.7 million.

Despite the projected drop in attendance, ticket revenue is expected to raise by $19 million league-wide due to a slight increase in ticket prices. The average MLB ticket costs $32.99 in 2019, compared to $32.29 last season.

“Though ticketing revenue is up, increasing ticket prices is only a short-term fix to the sport’s longer-term structural challenges,” said Two Circles senior vice president Sam Yardley. “There’s a growing appetite for live experiences across North America, and as a family-friendly spectacle that mixes high-quality sport with entertainment around the stadium, MLB teams have a huge opportunity to increase attendances and grow game day revenues as a result.”

MLB’s attendance woes are attributable to several factors, including the length of baseball games, the rise of on-demand entertainment options, unfavorable weekday scheduling and other pro sports with more recognizable athletes. League officials have explored a variety of ways to speed up the pace of play, including limits on mound visits and other stoppages.

MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred addressed sagging attendance figures in May, arguing that the trend is explainable in part by the rise of the secondary ticket market, which has sapped interest in season ticket packages.

“Given the explosion of entertainment alternatives and the growth of the secondary market, it is not surprising that season ticket sales can be challenging,” he said.

Baseball can lure fans back by experimenting with new ways of marketing the experience of attending a game, according to Yardley. With offers such as seat upgrades and concession stand deals, MLB teams can provide fans with value beyond the game itself.

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Some teams have already begun renewed outreach efforts. The Minnesota Twins offered a flash sale for $5 tickets for games in May and sold 20,000 seats within a day, while the Oakland A’s have sought to upgrade the fan experience at their aging home stadium by replacing traditional seats with theater boxes, drink-rail seats and other amenities.

Both teams are on pace to see higher attendance in 2019.

“Before and after games should be around engagement - everything from pitching matchups to gate access info beforehand, through to fan surveys and targeted winback offers afterwards,” Yardley said. “Typically MLB teams are heavy on sales resource and light on digital marketing, so that’s where we see a gap currently.”