The business of baseball is as strong as it has even been, and nowhere has that been more evident than at the box office. Even in the midst of significant recession and slow economic recovery, average major league attendance has remained above 30,000 and started to trend back toward the all-time record level set in 2007. So, how has baseball reached such heights of popularity? Let’s take a look back.
Since 1901, over three billion fans have poured through the turnstiles at major league ballparks across the country. Of course, not all teams have been an equal draw. Not surprisingly, the Dodgers and Yankees top each respective league with 191 million and 175 million in cumulative attendance, while the Marlins and Rays bring up the rear. However, on a per season basis, the leaders are not as obvious. Included among the top-five in per season home attendance is an unlikely quartet composed of the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Mets and Angels, all of which happen to be the only franchises currently over the 2 million plateau.
Note: Color bands in Total chart represent different cities.
Among ballparks, Yankee Stadium has hosted more fans than any other, but, in a few seasons, that distinction will eventually pass to Dodger Stadium, which despite looking pristine, is now one of the oldest ballparks in the game. Compared to Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, however, Dodger Stadium is practically brand new, which explains why those two venerable facilities are neck-and-neck for the third place on the all-time attendance list. Another Los Angeles area stadium also ranks high on the list, as the Angels’ home is poised to become only the sixth ballpark to welcome over 100 million fans.
Note: Some totals may include games played elsewhere on a limited basis during the seasons in which the ballpark was the home venue for the respective team. The Yankees’ 1998 game at Shea Stadium is counted in the total for that ballpark
Considering the low attendance levels for certain teams at some ballparks, if a stadium is built, it’s not a given that fans will come. Winning, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes fans want to take in a ballgame. However, not all fan bases are as influenced by their team’s record on the field.
*Mile High Stadium years removed because of much higher seating capacity compared to Coors Field.
Based on the data above, the Royals and Braves have had the most fickle fan bases since 1982, which isn’t surprising considering the long dry periods each franchise endured at one point or another during that span. However, that doesn’t explain the Yankees’ relatively high correlation between wins and home attendance. Does that mean fans of the Bronx Bombers really are the front runners so many often accuse them of being? I’ll take the fifth on that one, except to point out that the Yankees have never dropped below 21,500 fans per game since the Stadium was remodeled in 1976 (something teams like the Mets and Red Sox can’t say), and four of the top-five all-time attendance marks were set in the Bronx.
Top-10 Attendance Totals, by Team per Season
|1993||Colorado Rockies||Mile High Stadium||4,483,350||55,350|
|2008||New York Yankees||Yankee Stadium||4,298,655||53,070|
|2007||New York Yankees||Yankee Stadium||4,271,083||52,729|
|2006||New York Yankees||Yankee Stadium||4,248,067||52,445|
|2005||New York Yankees||Yankee Stadium||4,090,696||50,502|
|1993||Toronto Blue Jays||SkyDome||4,057,947||50,098|
|2008||New York Mets||Shea Stadium||4,042,045||49,902|
|1992||Toronto Blue Jays||SkyDome||4,028,318||49,732|
|1991||Toronto Blue Jays||SkyDome||4,001,527||49,402|
|1996||Colorado Rockies||Coors Field||3,891,014||48,037|
On the other end of the loyalty scale, Blue Jays’ fans have exhibited virtually no predisposition toward watching a winning team, while the Diamondbacks, Pirates, and Cubs have also enjoyed stable attendance levels. Of course, teams like the Pirates are working off a generally low annual base, which limits room for variation (another subtle defense of Yankees fans).
Winning isn’t the only determinant of whether fans come to the ballpark. The novelty of a new ballpark, for instance, or even a farewell to an old haunt, can also have a significant impact. Ultimately, however, what draws fans in is the beauty of the game, which is why baseball is still going strong as the national pastime.