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MLB Attendance Holding Up In Tough Economy

Last week, when the Associated Press wrote that Major League Baseball's average attendance for the first two weeks was off 6.9 percent from last year, many news outlets just reported the number.

Well, I just did the math and it's not even half as bad.

While the focus is on the empty seats behind the plate at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, the truth of the matter is that Major League Baseball is currently on pace to average about a three percent decline in attendance as compared to last year.

It still would qualify as baseball's most significant year-to-year decline since the 1994 work stoppage yielded a 21 percent attendance decline the following season. But let's get our numbers straight.

In order to arrive at the right number, you can't take the total number of fans that have attended games so far this season and divide it by the number of games. You can't do this because there's a different schedule than there was last year and therefore, if you want to find out attendance pace, have to account for how many games each team has played.

AP also compared the first two weeks of the season to the final average. You can't do that either. Everyone knows that attendance picks up in the summer.

So we looked at last year and this year's numbers with each team through the amount of games they had played. We took each team's average attendance number and averaged that and came up with 30,045 fans per game. We compared that not to the final number, but to the average attendance of last year's games.

That average last year was 30,984 fans per game. That's where we get the three percent number.

Now some will say even that wouldn't yield a fair comparison. Why? Because it doesn't account for the new stadiums in New York, which each have a smaller capacity. The Yankees for example might be getting slammed for the empty seats, but keep in mind that the team is only two percent off in terms of stadium capacity (86 percent) to last year's record breaking season in the old Yankee Stadium (88 percent) through the first six games played.

And how about the Mets, who at first glance are averaging an attendance decline of 23.4 percent. But they are actually drawing more of a capacity crowd (90.8 percent) through the games that they've played so far as compared to the percent capacity they drew in Shea (86.5 percent).

If you say for argument's sake that the Mets and Yankees would have at least sold out Opening Day and you add the seats that they took out, your league-wide average is actually 30,130 fans per game. That means an apples-to-apples comparison actually yields an attendance drop of 2.76 percent as compared to last season.

Greatest Attendance Increases

TEAM
% CHANGE
Tampa Bay Rays Up 59.6%
Florida Marlins Up 56.0%
Pittsburgh Pirates Up 15.6%
Philadelphia Phillies Up 12.1%
Kansas City Royals Up 10.7%

Now let's look at the teams with the greatest increases and the steepest declines as compared to the averages through the same amount of games last season, through games played on April 26.

Steepest Attendance Declines

TEAM
% CHANGE
Washington Nationals Down 30.4%
Detroit Tigers Down 28.2%
New York Mets Down 23.4%*
Toronto Blue Jays Down 23.4%
Atlanta Braves Down 18.9%

Now let's look at the teams with the greatest increases and the steepest declines as compared to the averages through the same amount of games last season, through games played on April 26.

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