Fans are staying home and attendance is down across the board for Major League Baseball a trend that is now bordering on troubling for the league. With the season almost over, former Miami Marlins president David Samson said the league needs to wake up to the issues behind the drop in fans at the ballpark.
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Of the 30 teams that compromise MLB, 17 have seen a decline this year in attendance. It is a concern overall for a sport that has seen a drop in attendance each year since 2015.
The Toronto Blue Jays, down 7,063 fans per game through 75 home games, are the biggest loser at the turnstile this year. They are one of 11 teams that have seen average home game drops in attendance of four digits this year.
Saying that it isn’t panic time yet, Samson did admit that there are obvious issues MLB is encountering even as he cautioned that things are far from dire for the sport.
“No such thing as a permanent trend in professional sports,” Samson told FoxBusiness.com. “That said, to turn around attendance, MLB will have to stop being mired in traditions and realize substantive changes must be made."
The commissioner is aware that some rules, which might help speed up the game, need to be changed he said. But he has had a difficult time getting 23 votes, which is the number needed out of 30 teams to pass rule changes.
Attendance in places like Miami, where attendance is 9,753 per game through 78 home games, the lack of attendance is critical. Including Miami, there are six teams that average fewer than 20,000 fans a game.
And while the Oakland Athletics have one of the lowest attendances in the league, they have seen some gains this year. Their average of 20,055 is up 5.9 percent over last year, which is encouraging news for a team that is one of the most exciting in baseball this year. The attendance issue in Oakland may be more related to a bad stadium situation, which is less than ideal.
Samson said relocation of the struggling teams is not ideal and is the opposite of what baseball wants to be doing at this point. Expansion is the priority for MLB.
Two teams, however, are worrisome for Samson.
“Tampa, because they have no new ballpark and no real plan in place, is MLB’s greatest concern at the moment. Oakland is second in the concerned line,” Samson said. “Without new ballparks, those teams will have to relocate and MLB does not have four viable relocation markets. They would much prefer to expand by two teams because there would be a huge financial benefit to the current owners. In addition, the expansion allows for realignment which is a priority for MLB.”
Some markets this year are doing well. While over half the league is in an attendance dip, some teams like the Philadelphia Phillies (up 7,405 fans per game through 78 games) are seeing a surge. The Phillies spent heavily this offseason, bringing in stars like Bryce Harper on mega-contracts.
It isn't a fatal drop for baseball, says Samson. But it isn't good.
"No risk of death, just pain," Samson said. "And the potential decline in asset values and labor unrest."