MLB ballpark attendance lowest since 2003 season

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 17: George Springer
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 17: George Springer /

With balls flying out of the yard at one of the highest rates in MLB history, attendance league-wide is down overall and the lowest it has been since 2003.

Baseball will always bring fathers and sons and the older generations out to the ballpark in droves, but MLB has struggled this season overall at putting butts in seats.

The old idiom that chicks dig the long ball should bring with it more females than ever filing into MLB stadiums with their significant others, parents, siblings and friends. But that just isn’t the case in 2017, despite 87 players having hit 20 or more home runs with two weeks left in the regular season.

So what can be labelled the cause of this effect?

Hurricanes in Texas and Florida have not been hammering the home town crowds for very long, though mother nature has certainly caused some fans to reassess their recent priorities.

In Canada, a down year by the Toronto Blue Jays on the field hasn’t negatively impacted fan attendance too much. Rogers Centre ranks second among American League ballparks, well above the aforementioned league average, at 39,453 per game. That’s barely down from 41,880 in 2016, when the club was far more competitive and ultimately lost their second straight ALCS in as many years.

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2003 was the tail end of the steroid era in baseball. No one hit more than 47 home runs that season and only 75 players finished with more than 20 home runs that year in MLB. Superstar Giancarlo Stanton meanwhile, is chasing 60 this year. He’s at 56 with 10 games to go, while Aaron Judge, who launched his 45th bomb Sept. 20 against the Twins, all but has AL ROY honors locked up and has been another pleasant story line to follow in 2017.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has also made honest attempts to speed up the pace of play in recent seasons in order to keep fans engaged. Various rule changes seem to add to more extenuating circumstances that follow, though. It’s a bit of a paradox — rule changes meant to shorten up game times actually leading to increased running times. However, much to Manfred’s frustration, that has been the case in 2017.

Even shiny new home confines isn’t helping the situation. The Atlanta Braves moved into brand new SunTrust Park this season. Going from 24,949 fans per game in 2016 at the old (hardly old, as it first hosted MLB games there as recent as 1997) Turner Field to 30,800 this year. Braves home game attendance has barely cracked the top half of MLB in 2017 so far, ranking 14th.

In fact, since the end of the 2002 season, before league-wide averages dipped below 30,000,  10 MLB clubs on Opening Day have since welcomed fans to brand new ballparks. That’s 1/3 of the league, and that number spikes from 10 to 15, or 1/2 of MLB, since the year 2000. Amenities definitely are not lacking.

The game has its fair share of household names these days as well. Youthful names like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are relatable to kids. Clayton Kershaw might be the best starting pitcher to ever play baseball, and he’s only 29. After Judge, there’s other incredibly talented and excting young rookies like Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, Yoan Moncada and Trey Mancini.

21 per cent of the 70,000+ polled said baseball is gaining popularity, 34 per cent said it’s declining.

MLB’s rich, diverse pool of players from all kinds of backgrounds and different walks of life also helps to draw in followers and unite fan bases at ballparks. And with over 80 home games in a given year, the sport is still far more affordable to attend than the NFL, NBA or NHL.

ESPN ran a poll at the beginning of the regular season. Various questions were posed to fans. The entire article can be viewed here. But, a resounding response came to the question “How do you rate the state of the games popularity?”

While 21 per cent of the 70,000+ polled said baseball is gaining popularity, 34 per cent said it’s declining and a less than half the respondents (45 per cent) feel baseball is maintaining its fan base and popularity in American sports culture.

While it’s not immediately clear the cause and effect of this circumstance, the game and all its players can’t do anything but continue to lace up their cleats and go to work every day, doing their best to put on a show from the mound, the field and inside the batter’s box.

Next: Time for extended netting at ballparks

If another exciting postseason is just around the corner, hopefully, with that, will come an increased return of your average fan to MLB ballparks throughout America in 2018.