MLB attendance: media myths versus statistical realities

I usually avoid sports talk radio since it’s often banal and society has more important issues, but while doing business Tuesday in Chicago I caught myself listening to the trivialities of wannabe athletes and ex-athletes on three different channels throughout the morning. Windy City Talk radio is as “passionate” as anywhere outside of New York, which also means it’s wholly ignorant of what goes on outside their immediate area.

MLB selloutChicagoans and ESPN blowhards like Colin Cowherd had a “good time talking baseball” they said, but it wasn’t about the five great divisional races, amazing young talent or near-record attendance the past five nights, but rather it was a the predictable Ryan Braun discourse. I won’t get into the Braun story, other than to relay that it’s very complex, thus I was disappointed yet unsurprised to solely read and hear sanctimony, hypocrisy , appalling hyperboleincessant hatred and any chance to criticize Major League Baseball today. But that’s gleeful fodder for agenda-driven folks in our sports media.

One Chicago dunderhead pondered, “How will this affect MLB attendance, considering it’s already been down for years?”

This cliché is as bold-faced a lie as this infamous claim 15 short years ago. Despite the scandals, numerous underperforming stars, media bias and the odds stacked against the sport, more people attend baseball games than ever.

Allow me to introduce facts over emotion, and if you want to send these stats to 670 The Score or ESPN 1000, feel free.

•The 2012 MLB regular season represented the game’s highest attendance since 2008 and the fifth-best single-season attendance in the sport’s history.

•The two percent increase marked the largest year-to-year growth in six years. In addition, this is the second consecutive season that total attendance increased over the previous year.

•In a “breathtaking” season where massive attendance was evident by late June yet barely publicized, MLB averaged nearly 31,000 fans per game. (Consider: 31,000 people paying to watch baseball every night between April and October. Unfathomable.)

•The last nine years are the nine best-attended seasons in the history of Major League Baseball, including the four successive record-breaking seasons from 2004 through 2007.  All these incredible numbers have come despite smaller ballparks and a weak economy, which has caused other sports to see decreased attendance.

•Nine clubs drew more than three million fans in 2012. That’s 37,000 people over 81 openings, despite unpredictable weather, folks vacationing, limited media hype and a sport lacking the “fast pace” of hockey, football, basketball or soccer we’re told many prefer these days. There is a good chance a dozen franchises will break the three million mark in 2013.

But that doesn’t stop the media indoctrination — even from men paid well to write about baseball.

April and May regularly see the lowest MLB attendance due to a bevy of factors, including cold weather, kids in school and seasonal trends not yet being established.

Ken Rosenthal acknowledged these facts in a June 5 column —  in addition to a 40 percent drop in Marlins attendance, which explains precisely why there actually is no drop in 2013 attendance against 2012 — yet still proceeded to mislead readers and whine about a “cause for concern” after one-third of a season with little change from a record year! I’m surprised he didn’t seek a “national conversation” on this non-existent matter.

The last two months of enormous attendance have proven Rosenthal wrong, as will the next two and the postseason. Sixty percent of clubs currently average at least 30,000 fans per game.

There was absolutely no legitimate reason for Rosenthal’s column, and MSN/Fox Sports exhibited why many trust the sports media as little as their news counterparts and fewer people trust the mainstream media than even the U.S Congress.

Ken, as someone who has s spoken to you personally, praise the sport that pays you a great salary, instead of debasing it.

Nor was there any reason for Yahoo! to inexplicably run photos of “MLB’s emptiest stadiums of 2013” twice (once early in the season and again last week when they apparently had nothing else to fill space).

Yahoo! naturally ignores the many full ballparks and chose shots taken on cold rainy nights, or in the 17th inning, or during the national anthem. This is pure propaganda, and frankly, subpar baseball teams drawing 26,000 fans is still double most NBA teams and way more than attended Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And yes, if NBA teams could draw like baseball, they would build bigger arenas. Even college hoops uses big arenas for marquee events.

Meanwhile NFL attendance, as we should know, drops every year, recently to the lowest levels in more than a decade — despite an obsession with fantasy teams, solely one game per week and perpetual media hype. No photo essays from Yahoo! are expected on sparsely-filled NFL stadia.

Additionally, hours after the Ryan Braun story broke, the last place Brewers still miraculously welcomed more than 30,000 fans — who, aside from perhaps Gov. Scott Walker, will likely forgive the slugger — to watch them take on the last place San Diego Padres Monday night. It’d take the Milwaukee Bucks two or three nights to get that number of people in their building. Fans, by and large, don’t care about steroids; they care about enjoying baseball.

It’s no secret that sports talk radio, blogs and television obfuscate issues and brainwash the gullible masses to further their mission.

The anti-baseball agenda goes back at least 20 years to the 1994 strike, even though the sport currently has longer labor peace than any other (three NBA lockouts, three long NHL lockouts and two NFL work stoppages since are barely recalled). It is also a slower-paced game which lacks instant gratification our modern society seeks. Ironically, in an era where multiculturalism is the rage, MLB is by far the most multi cultural sport — yet that too is rarely lauded.

As a journalist the past eight years, I realize our healthy skepticism is vital, but all sports should be treated equally. It’s time for the media to acknowledge their own deficits and subjectivity rather than what we read and hear daily.

About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. terrific article…perfectly to the point. tells it like it is…hooray for Ari! we LOVE baseball!

  2. left hander says:

    great article, these colin cowherd types cant let facts get in the way of their baseless arguments!

  3. Football hype is media-predicated, and punctuated by, to paraphrase George Will, our society’s obsession with violence and committees. I think there is a book to be written about how television created football’s current cultural dominance. Actually, the media’s bashing of baseball dates back to the 1970’s, and coincided with the rise of Monday Night Football. Howard Cosell was among the first to marginalize and de-legitimize baseball, calling it outmoded and dull. To hear the media tell it, baseball has been in a death spiral for 40 years, when in fact, as A J argues, baseball has in recent years set attendance records. Also, MLB Network had the most start-up subscriptions of any network in history. Finally, while empirical evidence reveals fans show a preference for football as favored sport, baseball is on equal footing with football when it comes to actual desire to attend games, And make no mistake about it, although Chicago loves the Bears, Bulls, and Hawks, the Cubs are Chicago’s team, and Wrigley Field Chicago’s sports shrine. I hope your cogent and perceptive article is widely seen, A J. Thank you for being a rare media voice who sticks up for our country’s grand old game.

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      Mr. Winter, thank you for such erudite, accurate and commonsensical words. If we take the emotion and cliches out of the discourse on baseball (and football), folks can see the facts and agendas for themselves. I don’t have faith the national media will do this anytime soon (money, hype, lack of introspective, etc.), but I will try. I thank you for adding to the information here.

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