Baseball Attendance: More Fans See Winners (and the Red Sox)

Major League Baseball games begin again today after the All-Star break. So far, a little less than 60 percent through the season, paid attendance is down 1.1 percent across the league, according to data from Baseball Reference. That decline is slim enough for to call holding steady while the league focuses on more pressing matters such as its aging TV audience and the search for a new commissioner. On a team-by-team level, the numbers support the conventional wisdom that fans will come to see winners.

Thirteen of the league’s 30 teams have seen attendance improve so far this year. Nine of those 13 have a better winning percentage this season than they did at the same point last season. Improving performance, for the most part, maps with improving attendance. (For winning percentage, I used the standings as of July 16 in both years. The number of games played do not always match between teams and seasons.)

The Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, and Seattle Mariners are prime examples of much-improved teams seeing fans return. There are ready explanations for the four outliers. The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are still wearing halos from last fall’s World Series. The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off their first playoff berth in 21 years. And the New York Yankees spent the off-season signing big-name talent to go along with the Derek Jeter farewell tour.

On the flip side, 10 of the 17 teams with declines in attendance have also seen declines in performance. The Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Tampa Bay Rays, in particular, are being punished for down years.

Seven franchises, meanwhile, are winning more yet drawing fewer fans: the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, and Baltimore Orioles. Setting aside Baltimore, which is essentially flat on both measures, these are six teams with cause for worry.

The Twins and Nationals are probably seeing the bloom come off new ballparks that are no longer that new. The Blue Jays are likely suffering a hangover from last year’s disappointment. The Mets are now in year six of “rebuilding.” The Tigers, who sit atop the American League Central division, are a bit of a mystery. Their slow attendance start could be an aberration, or the team could be a victim of its own success, as fans grow accustomed to seeing a contender. And then there are the White Sox, whose sustained mediocrity seems to have lost them whatever place they once held in Chicago hearts.

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