MLB attendance is at a record high (fractional capacity)

Using’s attendance data I calculated total attendance as a fraction of capacity for each year going back to 2001 (as far back as ESPN has the data). In brief, I made sure it was weighted properly by essentially finding the total number of seats available at all games in all ballparks, then taking the total actual MLB attendance as a fraction thereof.

So far in 2012, 72.9% of all seats have been sold, the highest number in the entire available range back to 2001. Leaders are the Red Sox and Phillies, both of whom apparently are overselling capacity (though this is known to be a sham in Boston’s case, as local ticket agencies are required to buy up any unsold tickets for each game and Fenway itself rarely close to full on game day.)

Here is the fraction of total capacity sold each year:

2012	72.9
2011	70.0
2010	68.3
2009	68.2
2008	72.1
2007	72.4
2006	69.4
2005	69.4
2004	67.3
2003	60.4
2002	60.2
2001	64.3

Attendance reached a high (in both absolute numbers and fraction) in 2008, then started to decline as the US recession deepened. Since then, the economy has improved slightly, but capacity has also shrunk with, for example, the new (smaller) Yankee Stadium opening.

As average game attendance every season prior to 2001 was lower than the average in 2012, I think it’s a reasonable guess that fraction of capacity was also lower in all those earlier seasons. The only seasons with a higher average attendance that 2012 were 2007 and 2008, and as we can see, the fraction of capacity is higher in 2012. Of course, as the year drags on and more and more teams fall out of contention (or trade their stars as will happen in the next couple of days), attendance is likely to fall in many places and 2012 may fall out of first place.


MLB attendance is at a record high (fractional capacity) — 11 Comments

  1. My intuition is that, as teams fall out of their races, this number would lower as the season goes on.

    This year, with more teams in contention than ever (because of the extra Wild Card), it will probably fall less. So while it may go down, it should still be very, very high.

    • i know that the white sox has seen a rise in attendance as the season has gone on. seems like it took a few months for the fans to realize the team was for real. for teams like that, the average attendance could absolutely continue to rise through the end of the season

      • I agree. That’s definitely true – but they’re the exception. The Pirates may have some of that, as well, along with A’s fans. But what about Royals fans, Brewers fans, Marlins fans, Diamondbacks fans, Phillies fans, Indians fans, and Rockies fans? All of those teams began the year with reason to believe that there could be something good coming this year. All have been disappointed. The point is, when the season begins, there are 30 teams in contention. When the season ends, there are, at absolute most, maybe 16 teams in contention. Somewhere along the way, the other 14 fall out of contention, and I’m guessing we see a bit of a slip as the season wears on because of it.

  2. early in the season Philadelphia was definitely below capacity. despite the teams poor season attendance has been good since school got out. Will be interesting to see what happens if they sell sell sell. weeknights are gonna be ugly in September – Eagles talk picking up as well.

  3. I am surprised that Philadelphia is apparently doing well, given that this year the team seems to be a mere shadow of its former self.

  4. I’m glad to see that somebody besides me has more than a passing interest in attendance. I guess it gets to my love of economics and the consumer market, in general. The latter is the fuel for the “supply side” of the game….what people can pay for tickets, how many watch on TV or listen on the radio, etc. That ultimately pays for salaries and investment in the game.

    I like to browse through the franchise encyclopedias – forward and backward by year – and watch the teams rise and fall in the standings, and watch the corresponding attendance levels.

    For example, take a look at the 1935 SLB.

    At the height of the Depression, they drew a tad more than 80,000 people….for THE ENTIRE SEASON. That’s only slightly better than 1,000 per game. The Phillies also didn’t crack 2,000 per game for most of the early 1930s.

    Holy Smokes. How on earth could they ever afford to pay salaries, keep the lights on, support farm teams, etc. with that kind of revenue? Revenue which would probably only be supplemented with radio dollars, at best.

    Good Stuff. If anybody knows how to search on attendance on please let me know.

    Interesting stuff.

      • Good point, Richard, though I wonder with Dave how that could make up for the terribly small gate – Bill Veeck characterized the rate in the early ’50s as “ridiculously low.”

        DaveK, I share your interest and like to wander through the attendance stats just as you do – and I too appreciate Andy’s post.

        • In the late 40s and early 50s the Browns survived by selling off, or engineering trades with cash going their way, players such as Vern Stephens, Jack Kramer, Bob Dillinger, Ellis Kinder, Al Zarilla, Jeff Heath and Nelson Potter. The Stephens-Kramer trade was a gigantic money-maker but wasn’t enough.

    • DaveK: When you logon to BR place the cursor on teams. When the drop-down menu appears click on a team. Then click on Franchise Encyclopedia and then click on attendance.

  5. Andy, interesting topic (sorry I’m late). But I don’t think % of capacity tells the whole story. Most of the new stadiums in this century have fewer seats than the ones they replaced. Two local examples:

    (1) The Mets this year are filling 72.8% of capacity, while the 2005 Mets filled only 68.8%. But the 2005 club actually filled about 5,600 more seats per game, or 19% more paying customers.

    (2) The Yankees this year are filling 84.8% of capacity, while the 2002 club filled just 78.7% — but the 2002 team actually sold a few more tickets.

    FWIW, my calculations show that MLB attendance per game in 2007 was about 4% higher than it is so far this year, and 8% higher than in 2011.

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