Average attendance in Major League Baseball is down for the fourth consecutive year, the Associated Press reported on May 30:

Major League Baseball’s overall average of 26,854 through Wednesday is 1.4% below the 27,242 through the similar point last season, which wound up below 30,000 for the first time since 2003.

Among the interesting points noted in the AP’s story on MLB attendance so far in 2019:

  • The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins drew 12,653 Wednesday night — combined.
  • Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Tampa Bay set stadium lows this year. Kansas City had its smallest home crowd since 2011 and Toronto and San Francisco since 2010. The Marlins’ average attendance is less than Triple-A Las Vegas.
  • Nineteen of the 30 teams have seen their average fall from a similar point last year, with the largest drops in Toronto (6,963), San Francisco (6,463), Baltimore (3,839) and Detroit (3,686).
  • Large rises have taken place for Philadelphia (10,383), Oakland (4,027), San Diego (3,465) and the Chicago White Sox (2,311). The Phillies signed Bryce Harper and the Padres added Manny Machado.

“A lot of it comes down to competition. Fans want to know their teams are doing everything they can to compete for a championship every year,” union head Tony Clark told the AP.

Which leads me to an interesting thread of tweets by Chad Dotson this past Sunday:

The Reds dropped into last place on August 21, 2015 for the first time that season. Since then, including today, the Reds have played 592 games. They have finished the day in last place on 495 of those game days.

Since dropping into last place on 8/21/15, there have been 1390 days (including today). The Cincinnati Reds have been in last place in the NL Central for 1293 of those days.

I still firmly believe the 2019 Reds aren’t a bad team at all. But if you are wondering why Reds fans are frustrated — or just don’t care anymore — there’s your reason. It’s not much fun following a team that is perennially in last place.

Too many teams in rebuilding mode?

Teams in MLB and the National Basketball Association, in particular, now jump at the “opportunity” to embark on a “rebuild.” This usually occurs after what is loosely defined as the closing of a particular group of players’ “competitive window” as a team. This is best described as a period similar to 1982 with the Reds – the year after the team finished a combined 66-42 in a season split into two halves by a players strike, and the Reds failed to make the post-season because they failed to win either “half” of the season. After that season, George Foster, Ray Knight, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey and Dave Collins were all either traded or allowed to leave via free agency. The 1982 team responded with a 61-101 record.

Another way many sports fans refer to the practice is “tanking:” the obvious offloading of all veteran players with any market value remaining, and replacing them with minimum-salaried players from the farm system.

The current trend of dwindling attendance is not a good sign for MLB. Revenues, including sources such as luxury box sales and local cable television contracts, are at an all-time high, as Steve Mancuso has outlined on multiple occasions here at Redleg Nation. Also, team resale values are also at an all-time high.

An industry that failed to react to change

But there are many instances throughout history in which the mighty have fallen due to not paying full attention to all of the circumstances surrounding them. I’ll share a bit of history I know from most of a lifetime spent in the newspaper business. A century ago and earlier, companies that owned newspaper printing presses were said to be printing money. At that time, newspapers were by far the dominant means that people received information. Therefore, many newspapers were sold daily, and any company that wanted to make the public aware of their sale or promotion had to place a paid advertisement in the local newspaper.

Times began to change, as radio stations began broadcasting programming, including news. Then television came along, and local news telecasts became a new way for the public to receive news. During the 80-odd years between 1919 and around 2000, newspapers were in a gradual yet perpetual downward revenue cycle. Advertisers had options other than newspapers, and some people stopped buying newspapers because they were getting their news for “free” though their local TV stations.

Then came the late 1990s, when newspapers realized people were consuming more and more content of all kinds online. As an industry, they decided they didn’t want to get left behind, so they began putting the content that people paid to read in print on websites, where it could be read for free. We all know what’s happened to newspapers since then. The newspaper industry did not fully comprehend the threat that online consumption of content posed.

Baseball is riding high revenue-wise, but around the owners’ suites and corporate suites, fewer and fewer people are paying to watch a game in person in stadium seats. They can already get all of the games on a paid plan through cable or streaming TV, so for decades now there has been less and less need to buy a ticket if you want to see a game.

As fewer and fewer people have been buying newspapers over the past century, one problem that industry has experienced is that as its longtime customers die off, there are no new customers coming along to replace them, because younger generations have developed different habits and interests. The newspaper industry is, for all intents and purposes, living on borrowed time. Ask yourself when the last time was you saw someone under age 30 reading a newspaper.

Will one of today’s kids someday fill your seat?

In baseball’s case, people become fans of the sport and a particular team because they are fun to watch. Chad Dotson’s Twitter posts referenced above are on the money. As fewer and fewer people find it necessary to buy tickets to watch baseball in person, that could mean that future generations will find other ways to fulfill their need for sports and entertainment.

I suggest that the constant “rebuilding” (conscious “tanking”) is something the game and pro sports, in general, are going to have to address in some way. When I was a kid and became interested in sports, there was never any question in my mind that the team I was rooting for was always trying to win. They might not have been as good as the other team, but it seemed clear that the management was always putting the best effort forward to field at least a competitive team.

Would you have become a Reds fan if it was common knowledge that the team was trading away its best players for rookies and prospects, therefore giving them little chance to compete on a daily basis? Ask yourself if the kids and teens of Reds country have had the passion for the team in the past five years that we here at Redleg Nation have. Not likely – if they even gave a hoot, to begin with. They’re not sitting back, like we are, waiting for a rebirth of competitiveness. Many of them haven’t had a reason to care in the first place.

Much like newspapers, baseball could someday find itself in a position where the die-hard fans like us are dying off, with nobody to fill our seats. That’s not coming any time soon. But it could happen if extended “rebuilds” continue to become standard operating procedure in baseball, and in pro sports in general.

57 Responses

  1. Rich S

    Reminds me of a PBS program years ago about the future of stadiums with seats. It concluded that with all of the revenue from television and radio, fans in the stands were a small part of the financial pie.
    Today, a fan can follow the game on all kinds of media devices. Consider, the MLB package on Direct TV costs $177.00. For that I can watch every game played. For s Reds game only that is about a buck a game.
    Attendance means little when I can root for the Reds from Florida…or wherever I might be on my TV, phone or Ipad.
    The point of the show referenced above was that future stadiums will have no seats…they are no longer necessary.
    Are we there yet?

    Reply
    • Colorado Red

      Similar situation living in the Rockies.
      I do intend to go to one game this (at Coors field).
      But with the MLB single season package, only cost about 33c per game.

      Reply
      • Rich S

        I live in central Florida. My choices are Tampa Bay Rays or Florida Marlins…or wait until spring training to see live baseball. One night, it was reported, that SEVEN fans were in attendance at a Marlins game.
        The Reds abandoned Florida unfortunately but I still follow them…every game. Does it make me any less a fan because I follow them on TV? It doesn’t mean I do not expect a winning product.

  2. RandyW

    You’ve got to make kids seats free. Build your fan base up by getting kids in the park and one day they will bring their kids to the park. Reds routinely have 20 to 25000 empty seats for most games. I live a couple hours away and try to get to 4 or 5 games a year but there’s no excitement when there are only 12 to 15000 people there.

    Reply
    • Bill J

      Very good article Tom, I was raised by a big Reds fan so I became one to but, the last few years I’ve become less of a fan. I know analytics have become so important but, I liked old baseball where we had hit and run and the like. We see a lot of speed of the pitch, exit velocity or what a batter or pitcher has done the last so many games. Let’s get back to playing baseball and having fun.

      Reply
  3. Sliotar

    Tom,

    Without a doubt, this is one of the finest pieces Redleg Nation has ever produced.
    Kudos.

    The other day, I posted here a direct example of kids and the Reds losing ways. Here is a recap:

    Reply
    • Sliotar

      Until 2016, I would buy a 20-game weekend season ticket package, as much for my niece and nephew in Cincinnati, as for me. To pass along our family’s generational love of the Reds.

      In 2016, my brother got a great offer to move his family to Silicon Valley a 2-year project.

      The niece got into the A’s playoff run in 2018 and their cool, underdog status.
      The nephew loved going to the Giants park, because it was often packed.

      They returned to Cincinnati this Spring…. and no longer want to go to GABP. The Reds “never win”, the empty stadium is “lame.”

      They don’t like bobbleheads. They are too young to drink from the 500 (and growing) beer taps at GABP. (It seems like there is 500 beer taps).

      What are the Reds selling them?

      Reply
      • David

        Not much. Perhaps this should all be sent to Bob Castelini and his vaunted emphasis on winning.
        This has been a particularly sour period for me as a Reds fan, because the team was actually “building up” to be competitive in 2008 and 2009, due to some bad years (2002 – 2007) when they drafted a lot of pretty good players to fill the farm system.
        This time, a lot of bad drafting, and all we got is Nick Senzel.

        Look at the roster. How many players are home grown? Senzel and Joey Votto, Tucker Barnhart and Jesse Winker. Josh Van Meter is just up and he is a drafted prospect. But who else among the “everyday” players?
        Pitching wise; Lorenzen, Mahle, Garrett came up through the farm system. Iglesias was signed out of Cuba.

        When a team is losing, and the real fans sense the team is actually not going anywhere, and in fact, seems devoid of direction, they start to lose interest. It would be one thing if the fan base knew some electrifying prospects were ready to burst onto the scene, but that is not the case.
        When the Big Red Machine teams would play lousy baseball for a stretch, Sparky used to say…”the natives are restless”, as he and the players sensed the unease from the fans when the team went through days of not playing well.
        As Chad has enumerated above, it has been a LOT of days of the Reds not playing well, for over four years. There are not a lot of excited fans out there, rushing up to buy tickets.

  4. Sliotar

    MLB is unlikely to introduce a salary cap or any other measure in a sudden fashion.

    So… IMO, the best reasonable solution in the short-term would be the requirement of minimum spending each season – a salary floor.

    A meaningful salary floor…. like $125 or $135 million.

    Teams would likely be able to compete more and hang onto their players, if they had to spend each and every season. Players’ union should approve of more $ and more investment in the “middle class” of MLB players.

    Currently, it is too easy for teams to claim they “can’t compete” and reduce salary.

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      The competitive balance tax as reconfigured in the latest CBA is functioning somewhat as a soft cap. The missing piece is a floor.

      I’m not at all certain that a formalized cap system isn’t on the short horizon. The guy MLBPA brought in to be chief negotiator has a deep background with the NHL and its cap system.

      I believe the PA is going to dig in for a fixed minimum percentage of total MLB revenue to be spent on player salaries. If they get this, there will have to follow some sort of per team ceiling.

      Reply
    • Bob Purkey

      Can’t agree with a “floor” like that. Making a team(s) spend that kind of money totally inflates ticket prices, concessions, etc. It makes you spend money over and above what an average player might be worth. Do you honestly think any more people will go to Marlins or Rays games because of that? Heck, when the Marlins were winning WS games, they couldn’t sell tickets!

      Let’s say you are $20.0MM short of the floor, so you now have to overspend on a player or 2 that you really don’t want to get to the minimum floor? No thanks.

      Reply
      • Jim Walker

        If the players’ slice is defined by a % of total revenue, price increases don’t have to follow. If revenue drops, the cap/ floor lowers and vice versa. In the NHL the dollar amount is adjusted annually. A portion of player salaries is actually held in escrow until the final adjustment is made.

  5. matt hendley

    A good article, while the rise of Digital media to see the game, is a boon for fans, there is still the issue with attendence. What kind of future will you have if the natural attention span, of a younger individual, will not tolerate watching losing game after losing game.

    Steps need to be made to prevent multi-year tanking. It is one thing to send a player off whose contract is up in 2 months, but another entirely to ship out an entire roster.

    As for attendence itself. I remember in the begining of the decade, the reds were winners. They were also selling out GABP. One leads to the other i think

    Reply
  6. Jreis

    Thank you Tom. Wonderful read. I think the problem with the attendance is not just the tanking and losing records. It has to with the game itself. Mlb has quite frankly become boring. In the 1980s and 90s I would watch ball games all the time on TV. Now the game has basically become unwatchable.
    The most common outcomes of strikeouts ,walks ,double plays, ground balls into the shifts and homeruns only can create so much excitement. The game is most exciting when the ball is loose in the outfield and a speedster on base stretching a double into a triple.

    I have 2 grand kids that I take to as many games as I can. And I got to tell you they were most disappointed that BIlly Hamilton is no longer a red. They loved his athleticism and speed on display

    I like to sum up the problem with baseball as you have too many lions and tigers playing and not enough cheetahs and leopards.

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      I agree with much of this. The rule changes starting next season limiting the number of pitchers on the active roster, the longer minimum IL time for pitchers, how long they have to stay down if optioned and how relievers are used in games should be a step in a positive direction.

      I believe this will be especially true if they set the pitchers roster limit at 12 since we’ve already seen that during that run 20 games in 20 days, the Reds could not maintain their preferred relief pitching pattern with 13 guys.

      Reply
  7. Mark Lang

    I think you’re missing the forest for the trees – ALL professional sports are taking a big hit in attendance – I think it’s a reflection of the breakdown of a collective idea of “we” or “us” – our culture, because of the internet, is evolving into everyone finding their own niche and no longer taking part in regional or local community events – or identifying themselves with such.

    It’s reflected in politics and religion as well (all church attendance is down). People don’t think of themselves as part of a community, or even state or Nation anymore – and it’s only going to get “worse” – if you think that’s bad… I don’t know if it’s “bad” or not – it’s certainly different – uncharted (historically speaking) waters.

    Reply
    • scotly50

      I would not go as far to say “all sports”. Hockey is exploding. Well, playoff Hockey, because there is a difference. We started watching during the Predators run a couple of years ago. They were selling out the arena and had over 20,000 hanging around downtown Nashville. The ended up having to issue passes to limit the amount of people downtown.

      Last night in the 7th game final. The St Louis Blues sold out their Hockey arena and had more fans still over at Busch Stadium, to the tune of 18,500 fans. And the team was playing in Boston.

      Reply
      • David

        People love a winner. People will turn out for championship type playoffs, because it is an “event”. The season is a long campaign, and sometimes gets the casual to modestly interested fan….bored.

        Sporting events have become a surrogate for a lot of things in society. I think Mark Lang above has a good point, and people don’t want to be identified with “losing” or mediocrity. They want a winner. Fans are always appalled at certain players because they don’t think they are putting out their best effort, and ….”get rid of that bum!” kind of attitude. Nothing new here (as old as sports), but when there are other diversions (another sporting team that’s winning), people may not follow this particular team.
        There used to be a lot fewer teams in baseball (and other sports) in particular. And while I don’t think the talent is diluted so much, I do think a lot of professional sports (and college sports) have saturated the market of fan interest, so to speak.

      • Jim Walker

        This is due to the parity in the NHL which to whatever degree is due to the hardest of cap and floor system in major North American sports. And on the other side of that coin, this cap and floor system guarantees the players a greater % of total revenue than what players in MLB are getting.

      • Jim Walker

        And I’ll add here it is mid June and I am as interested in the NHL draft (next week) and following silly season (through about the MLB All Star break) as what’s happening with the Reds day to day. And I could care less about what’s happening elsewhere in MLB unless it could involve the Reds.

        If someone would have told me 5 years this would be the case, I’d have thought they were crazy. But its what happens when one local top level org (Columbus CBJ) fields a winner (4 playoff appearances in 6 years) while the another (Reds) tanks all the while telling us it is for a better tomorrow.

  8. CI3J

    I think the solution is simple: Since teams are bringing in more and more revenue by digital subscriptions, and going to the ballpark is now seen as “inconvenient”, they need to lower the price of going to live games. Since they are making so much money on digital, they can afford to lower the price at the stadium.

    Or think about this: If they were to cut ticket prices in half, would attendance double? Maybe not, but you can bet there would be a pretty large uptick. And suddenly, the ballpark would look a lot more fun and interesting to those watching at home, and maybe they would want to go experience it too, especially since it would be so financially accessible.

    The simple fact is, going to the ballpark is now a major “event” that takes financial planning for most people with families. While before it used to be “Hey, wanna go to the Reds game tonight?” and you could do it and not spend any more than going out for a decent meal. The question used to be “Do I want to go have a quiet dinner with decent food, or do I want to go watch live baseball and chow down on junk food?” It’s not like that any more, and teams have lost that local connection to the working class. If they were to lower ticket prices, then maybe that family that can only afford to come to the ballpark 3 or 4 times a year can start coming 10 or more times. Then it becomes a habit, a ritual, a part of life just like going to your favorite restaurant.

    Teams can afford to lower prices, both in tickets and in food at the ballpark. That will improve the product, both in making it more accessible to the average fan, and also make it look more attractive to those watching at home.

    And just imagine the PR if at the next owner’s meeting, the owners announced that all teams have collectively agreed to lower ticket prices by 30%. That would be a major, ground breaking event, and suddenly people might be interested in going to check out this “new” MLB that suddenly seems to care about the fans again.

    It’s simple economics: If no one is buying what you are selling, either improve the product, or lower the price. Since “improving the product” only happens about once a generation for most sports teams (meaning: competing for a championship), the obvious answer is to lower the price, especially if they can lower the price and still draw roughly the same in gate receipts ( do you want 10k fans paying an average or 40$ each, or 20k fans paying an average of $20 each?), but would reap the benefits of a larger fanbase through merchandise sales.

    Reply
    • Big Ed

      I agree that they should lower the prices for most of the seats in the park.

      The related issue is getting to a game from out of town. From Louisville and Lexington, you are hitting rush-hour traffic getting out of Lou/Lex to get to Cincinnati by game time. If you leave early so as to avoid the local rush hour, then you hit rush hour going down the hill through Covington and Fort Mitchell. I assume the same thing happens in each direction. I don’t really know what they can do about it, but the traffic tie-ups are part of the “cost” of going to a game, at least on week nights. Winning cures everything, including attendance woes.

      I think they need to soften the MLB ball up quite a bit, to make it more like the ball used in the 1970s and the one used now in AA and below. It would put way more balls in play, and discourage the always-swing-for-the-fences approach that leads to the all-too-often “true outcomes.”

      13 homers, like the D-backs and somebody had the other day, is ridiculous. It is slow-pitch softball. Leading the league with 40 homers is about right. There are 26 guys right now who are on pace for 40 homers, at 17 or more. Some of them won’t keep that pace up, but there are others (Acuna, Khris Davis, Rendon, etc.) who have slightly less but figure to pick up their homer pace.

      Reply
    • lost11found

      I think the cost is something significant. We are about as far away from a AAA team as we are from a MLB team. Where do we go when we want to take in a game. AAA.

      This is as much of a reflection on the clubs spending resources on their MiLB facilities as it is ticket prices. But it’s cheaper to park, get a seat for 4, and buy food/beverages. So we can go see 2-3 games at AAA for one MLB visit.

      Reply
  9. Mason Red

    Professional sports has priced itself out of the market especially for families. As far as the Reds I haven’t been to a game in 5 or 6 years. I’m not driving a hour to the game,spend a hundred bucks or more,watch a bad team that’s been bad for years and then drive a hour going back home. Not a great experience even though I’m a lifelong Reds fan.

    Reply
    • David

      That’s right. I grew up in Dayton, and it was 50 minutes from my parent’s house to parking under Riverfront. Tickets were $3-5 each (cheap seats). Went down there with my high school buddies.
      And frankly, Cincinnati baseball is much more affordable than a lot of other teams. Parking, food, tickets, drinks. It does get quite expensive.

      And people aren’t going to come if you are losing. What you see now at Reds’ games are mostly people from inside the I-275 beltway of Cincy.

      Reply
      • The Duke

        Same scenario for me here. I’m about 45 minutes from GABP, and 20 minutes from 5/3 Field in Dayton. My kids would much rather go to a Dragons game than a Reds. The Dragons do more to keep kids entertained, the players are more engaged with the fans, and I can take all 4 of my boys and have it still be less than $100 for parking, tickets, a meal, and some Dippin Dots. I have no idea how much that would be at a Reds game (for far worse seats, worse food, parking farther away, and little to no engagement with the players unless I get there 90 minutes early).

        If they want the next generation to have the love of baseball the generations before had, they need to get them to the games without bankrupting their parents. Get the younger generation engaged and MLB will live off the TV/Digital money, but my oldest are 12 and could care less how the Reds did last night. They’ll ask me how the Dragons did though.

    • greenmtred

      The costs–monetary and otherwise–of live attendance likely figure into the decline, but baseball and other sports are also dealing with an entertainment overload. There are so many more options for passive entertainment than there were a few decades ago that there’s less general focus on particular sports and less willingness to go through the hassle of going to a game. I’m sympathethic to the idea proposed by others that the ways in which baseball is changing make it less attractive to many people–particularly younger ones. It’s also true that winning creates interest, but winners require losers, so the overall health of game is unaffected by, say, the Reds becoming a really good team.

      Reply
  10. scotly50

    Baseball has taken a hit at all levels. Especially at the youth level, at least in this area. They could not field enough teams to have an 11-12 year old league. Last year they had three. Kind of boring playing the same team every other game.

    Reply
  11. Klugo

    Shorten the regular season. Expand the playoffs. Give more teams hope.

    Reply
  12. TR

    Thank you, Tom, for a really good writeup regarding the game we all love, and the dwindling attendance for many teams. How many kids today in all parts of the country do you see outside playing baseball or softball? Not nearly as many as years ago. People have access to what I call an overload of information with the electronic media. And I think the word rebuild is a part of the problem. Fans want a team core that is strengthened by other means than just a total rebuild. Baseball is still a passion in Cincinnati and the metro area. If the Reds have a winning team that is not hovering around or in last place, the attendance will increase.

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      A house about 4 down the street from us recently turned over. It is a corner lot where the “back yard” is also a “side yard”. There is a T-ball age kid there now who plays baseball with his dad and mom several afternoons a week in the side yard. What a refreshing scene it is. Reminds me of doing the same when I was growing up way back when.

      Reply
      • greenmtred

        I’d love to see that, Jim. It’s such a rarity now to see kids playing catch. That was pretty much all I did every summer, aside from lawn-mowing and paper route.

      • TR

        That sounds like my summer boyhood growing up in Trenton between Middletown and Hamilton; baseball, lawn mowing and delivering the Middletown Journal. A wonderful neighbor gave us kids a field that we made into a diamond. We thought it was almost as good as Crosley Field with Paul Sommerkamp announcing the Reds lineup. Memories you don’t forget.

  13. Bob Purkey

    The owners have already screwed up the game, and the current owners will have sold off their teams, make a small fortune and be dead and gone when the TV money finally dries up duet lack of interest by the current and future generations.

    -World Series games that start at 9:30 ET?
    -All Star games ending in a tie, because a pitcher can’t seem to pitch more than 1 inning and commissioner calls the game.
    -It has nothing to do with how long a game takes, it’s pace of play. You allow a pitching staff to have 13 and 14 guys, and bring up an extra 26th for a doubleheader?? These games are bogged down by incessant walks to/from the mound/chat/walk back/ walk out again, RP walks in from the pen, 10 warm ups. . . .rinse, repeat innings 6 through 9!

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      Last point in particular is where I seem to be finding myself more and more.

      Reply
      • doofus

        I have watched several games this season on the MLB network where the game started before the commercials ended.

        Any time there is a stoppage in play, the networks stuff as many commercials as they can into the down time. Yet Manfred whines about long games.

      • doofus

        I have seen several games this season on the MLB network where the local affiliate had the commercials running after the game had begun.

  14. Jack

    They should just let fans into stadiums for free. If it is such a small part of the revenue stream these days then 40000 fans packing the stadium and buying refreshments makes the game look and sound more exciting on tv for the real revenue stream. The kids who are at the stadium become fans who will watch on tv and purchase merchandise

    Reply
    • Doug Gray

      It’s not THAT small of a revenue stream. It’s still worth tens of millions of dollars a year.

      Reply
    • Steve Mancuso

      Total gate receipts were $40 million last year out of $257 million in revenue. A 10% decline would be $4 million. Attendance also affects parking, swag sales and concessions. Teams send 34% of their baseball revenue back to MLB in revenue sharing. That mitigates the impact felt by the Reds by one-third. Forbes estimated Reds profits at $37 million last year. Most profitable year ever.

      The idea of letting fans in for free sounds like a great idea. At least try it for a few games. I agree the atmosphere would be tremendous. Problem is the season tickets already sold. Could build into future seasons, I guess. How about free entry to all upper deck seats?

      Reply
      • The Duke

        I like the idea of Kids get in free. If I could take my 4 boys and only have to pay for myself, that 45 minute car ride starts looks like much less of a hassle. It also promotes the game for the next generation. It’s an investment in the future.

  15. NorMichRed

    We have lived in rural northern Michigan for over 20 years after 17 in Denver, during which time we were, for 6 years, original Rockies’ season ticket holders. Since moving “to the sticks,” we have purchased the DirecTV package annually to the tune of something like $ 180/year today. That has served to salve “most” of our baseball interest. For most of those years, we have made at least 1 “destination trip” annually to see a series of MLB, or at least a couple games. Those trips have included multiple ones to GABP, as we remain primarily Reds (and then Rockies) fans. HOWEVER…it’s been a few years since we’ve made the time/money commitment for such a trip. The game HAS gotten more boring, with so many AB outcomes being K’s, BB’s, HR’s, or ground outs/DP’s into the shift. It is less compelling to watch, even on the flat screen TV (which gives a great picture and nearly everything but the “being there” experience, especially if Reds’ fans mute Thommy). We are watching less, or only tuning in a few innings at a time while doing other things–few games keep compelling attention. Winning baseball will continue to spike and improve attendance in a handful of markets annually, but the broader problem is still out there for MLB to resolve. I’m with those that have opined that an NHL-style floor-and-cap salary structure may be part of the solution. Hockey is the other sport that we follow with a significant passion. In the home markets of even the worst NHL teams, one could go to the games this year and be confident that one’s team would likely either win or go down in a close, competitive game. With a good-to-great pace of play. Not so these days for the bottom third or so of MLB teams. Superb and compelling article by Tom, and excellent discussion and points by all who have commented here. The Reds’ brass, no less those in MLB, should be paying CLOSE attention to this dialogue…or go the way of the print newspaper.

    Reply
    • NorMichRed

      As a follow-up to my comment, I watched a large portion of the ESPN telecast on Thursday of the Tigers/Royals from the CWS venue in Omaha. They had George Brett (still involved with the Royals’ FO in some capacity) on as guest for an inning or two. He was asked what he thought about modern MLB: “I HATE IT!” He went on to make the same point many of us have made here about slow pace, few balls put into play, focus on the HR versus team baseball, too many K’s and BB’s, etc. Asked if he thought they should ban the shifts, he remarked “No Way!! It’s the batters’ responsibility to keep using their skills to adjust to that…the good ones do. If I’d had that shifting all the time, I’d have hit .480 by taking all those opposite field singles and doubles with frequency.” The game was itself a bore, though not as bad as the usual annoying Sunday ESPN drivel, as they had a crew doing the game who more intelligently discussed state of the game and strategy as applied to that. Also notable…commentary by Brett and others that the higher HR percentages this year are due to seams on the ball with much lower relief than usual–thus less wind resistance on a fly ball or line drive and exaggerated carry. Interesting stuff. On a rainy night in the north woods, it was a more worthwhile expenditure of time than expected…in part because his comments suggested that the upper echelon in MLB ownership realize they have a problem.

      I love this site, its regular contributors and commentators–even those with whom I respectfully disagree now and again. Baseball is meant to be analyzed, digested, and talked about. Happy Father’s Day to all the Baseball Dads out there!

      Reply
  16. Matthew

    I don’t find ticket prices all that bad for the Reds. I buy a 20-game pack and it comes out to about $11 a game. I’m ok with a general reduction in prices for tickets. Pretty much nothing above field level should cost more than $10. However, they need to really reduce concessions. $6 for a hot dog? There’s a reason people would get into a long line when they had the Ollie’s bargain stand a few years ago. People would buy armloads of hot dogs for a buck a piece. I don’t mind paying $3 for a hot dog if it’s the size they currently serve. I’d buy 2 or 3 and make it a meal. IF I buy anything now it’s one and done. Or, I bring my own food or eat somewhere else before the game.

    Most of all, they need to quit messing around and start winning. It’s always something. Hitting is good but starting pitching isn’t. Starting pitching is good but the bullpen sucks. Hitting sucks, but you lose a lot of 1-2 run games because the pitching is good. WIN. Get it together. Make it desirable to come to the yard.

    I know a brewery that will refuse to sell at GABP because they refuse to have fans pay $14 for one of their beers. I understand not wanting a stadium of drunkards, but butts in the seats are butts in the seats. Instead of going to a bar after work and watching the game on TV, why not make it competitive with the bars to get people to come out for beers, brats, and baseball at GABP?

    Also, after the 5th or 6th inning, the gates should be open. Get all those people in the bars at The Banks to come on over to see the end of the game (and probably buy another beer).

    Reply
  17. Doc

    A lot, and that is a big lot, more money in salaries for a lot, and that is a big lot, less performance turns off many of us who grew up in the Crosley Field days. If we are turned off, our children never learn to love the game. Their children are never even introduced to the game.

    Free agency, where a team can no longer be built and play as a team, hurts the game. By the time a player has established himself he is out selling himself to the highest bidder. Fans, especially young fans, no longer have heroes on the team because they all sold out to the highest bidder and are playing for someone else, many as one year rentals. Players exist who play for a different team every year for six, seven, eight years. The rich get richer while the rest of the league tries to make do with whomever is left over.

    Baseball lost me with the first strike. It keeps me in the lost category with the boredom of the game. Someone said its getting to be like softball; that’s half true. Softball doesn’t have strikeouts!

    I follow the Reds but I don’t follow baseball. I go to some games, but mostly minor league games when we travel and the lower the level the more enjoyable the game. Two summers ago we took in a double header in Louisville while traveling. Eleven dollars for a double header ticket and watched kids who were actually playing baseball, not going through the motions.

    Fifteen years in Dallas and never saw a game. Nineteen years in Houston and went to a couple Reds games, and an occasional Cards game for alumni events. None in either city since the DH came into the city. It’s not the same game I grew up with, I don’t like the product as it has evolved, and I didn’t introduce my kids to something I didn’t enjoy.

    Reply
  18. Patrick

    One thing also is cost of going to the games the average family can’t afford to go. By the time you drive to the game, pay for parking, your tickets and concessions you have spent a paycheck for the average family. It is easier to watch on TV. I think fans need to go on strike and maybe owners will get message. I grew up in 60’s and 70’s watching the Big Red Machine it is just not the same anymore.

    Reply
  19. Redlegs64

    Well-written article Tom – thanks. It’s fascinating to discuss how industries have similarities… and differences.

    I’m not predicting baseball will/will not be hurting in the years to come – as Tom says, it’s early to tell. I’ve read where 50% of baseball fans are 55 and older. That alone doesn’t bode well.

    As for 2019, there are a few factors to consider.
    1. weather in the North this Spring has been cold/wet. The Twins have had snow on their field several times. They have a great product on the field, but why come to the game and freeze. Their attendance will pick up.
    2. the Marlins have a horrible product and letting Stanton walk and the untimely death of Jose Fernandez harpooned them further (get it? harpooned).
    3. the Rays have a crap-hole for a stadium and nobody seems to want to do anything about it. The Tampa area fans don’t want to buy in to the tune of a new stadium & rumors abound that the team’s heading to the Atlanta burbs.
    4. Toronto is going thru a legitimate rebuild. They had the bad fortune of having most of their talent become free-agent at the same time. In Vlad Jr. they trust!
    5. San Fran has hit a similar stage – their talent is aging. I do find this interesting because they have kept much of their aging team intact, yet they see a drop in attendance? Opposite of the obvious “tankers”, yet still a dip. So even if you’re true to your aging stars, fans still want a winner?!

    So taken one at a time, most decreases are explainable. And I’d say 1.4% follows with the weather in the North. Are too many teams tanking – who knows? I’ve been in the Astrodome with 2-3,000 fans but now Minute-Maid is the toast of the town. Teams cycle up & down – it takes time to replace aging stars – it just does.

    I’m not in a big city, so travel and TV are facts of life, but I find the product exciting. MLB free on Roku means my kids & I watch condensed games almost every day and a free game 2-3 times per week (played hookey & watched Reds/Tribe on Wednesday!).

    Finally, no reason to moan over the Reds rebuild – if you’re reading this, you know it all too well. I am excited for this year’s team – they are a more competitive product! 24 1-2 run losses means this team could be a few breaks from .500. That excites me given the quality of the NL Central. My family and I will set aside some entertainment dollars to watch Joey & the Reds play this year.

    Reply
  20. Old-school

    Cut the regular season to 140 games. Start later. No march baseball. Lots of April games hosted by warm weather cities and Milwaukee. End the regular season by the first day of fall. World series is done by October 15.

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      Also use the shortened season to grow the playoff field.

      One of the things that really built the interest in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season was that all 4 divisional winners were taken out in the first round by the wildcards.

      Go to 8 teams from each league. Seed the best wildcard from each league with home field advantage along with the divisional winners and play 4 best of 3 all on the home field of the higher seeded team. Follow with by 2 best of 5 but keep the best of 7 format for the league championship.

      Reply
      • Jim Walker

        An alternative for filling out the field of 8 from each league would be to take the top 2 from each division plus 2 league wide wildcards. Then follow the same format as above with the best 2nd place record getting the 4th home field advantage spot along with the division winners.

  21. Tom Mitsoff

    A post-script to this piece: Looking at MLBTradeRumors.com today, I noted an article that says the San Diego Padres are “reportedly willing to trade most position players.” After signing Manny Machado for $300 million, Padres fans are apparently looking at the team going right back into “rebuild” or “tanking” mode. This, to me, is what continues to kill fan interest across the game — very slowly but certainly noticeably.

    Reply
    • Doug Gray

      They have Machado, Tatis, Paddock, Urias, Reyes, Quantrill to build around. They’ll trade anyone else to build around that core. It won’t be a rebuild or tank.

      Reply
  22. Robert M.

    Regarding this paragraph:

    “This is best described as a period similar to 1982 with the Reds – the year after the team finished a combined 66-42 in a season split into two halves by a players strike, and the Reds failed to make the post-season because they failed to win either “half” of the season. After that season, George Foster, Ray Knight, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey and Dave Collins were all either traded or allowed to leave via free agency. The 1982 team responded with a 61-101 record.”

    CORRECTION: Morgan left the Reds via free agency after the 1979 season, not 1981.

    Reply

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