Oct 13, 2009

mlb

Now that the LCS has been set for Major League Baseball, its a good time to look back at the season that was and see what we can learn.

At the midway point, I wrote that baseball was struggling attendance wise, with a comparative drop of almost 6% from the midway point last season.  And now that the season is done, and baseball’s final report card is out?  The final attendance decrease comes in at right around 6.5%.

Major League Baseball is projected to suffer a 6.5% attendance drop, its biggest single-season loss since Harry Truman was president, excluding years involving a work stoppage.

Twenty teams have had an attendance decline entering the season’s final week — including five teams by more than 20% — according to calculations by Baseball-reference.com. The Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers are the only teams boasting 10% or greater increases. (via USA Today)

Unsurprisingly, MLB commissioner Bud Selig is not worried.

Despite the biggest downturn since 1952, Commissioner Bud Selig said he was elated that MLB was projected to attract about 75.2 million fans — the fourth most in baseball history.

“Given that we are in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression,” Selig said, “it is stunning. This year is a great testament to the huge popularity of our sport.”

Selig’s excitement and the economic recession aside, one has to wonder if baseball is actually in trouble for the long-term.  A closer look at the attendance records tells the story…(from the same USA Today article)

Team-by-team attendance

Inside the gates
Of the 30 teams, 19 teams (excludes the Mets) have seen an decrease in attendance from 2008 to 2009. Baseball executives are watching the turnstiles as closely as they are the box scores this season, with attendance down 6.5% compared the same number of home games at each park a year ago. Team-by-team: (figures through Monday)
Team
Games
Total attendance
Average attendance
Games
Total attendance
Average attendance
Percent change
Arizona
80
2,474,016
30,925
80
2,098,747
26,234
-15.2%
Atlanta
75
2,288,475
30,513
75
2,177,503
29,033
-4.8%
Baltimore
78
1,912,143
24,515
78
1,849,019
23,705
-3.3%
Boston
75
2,823,091
37,641
75
2,837,780
37,837
0.5%
Chic. Cubs
74
3,013,941
40,729
74
2,953,812
39,916
-2.0%
Chic, White Sox
81
2,460,749
30,380
81
2,284,163
28,200
-7.2%
Cincinnati
75
1,948,257
25,977
75
1,650,336
22,004
-15.3%
Cleveland
79
2,095,934
26,531
79
1,749,370
22,144
-16.5%
Colorado
78
2,535,883
32,511
78
2,546,430
32,647
0.4%
Detroit
74
2,938,147
39,705
74
2,320,658
31,360
-21.0%
Florida
81
1,335,076
16,482
81
1,464,109
18,075
9.7%
Houston
80
2,779,487
34,744
80
2,521,076
31,124
-9.3%
Kansas City
81
1,578,922
19,493
81
1,797,891
22,196
13.9%
L.A. Angels
78
3,206,087
41,104
78
3,122,618
40,034
-2.6%
L.A. Dodgers
78
3,584,303
45,953
78
3,601,597
46,174
0.5%
Milwaukee
81
3,068,908
37,888
81
3,037,451
37,499
-1.0%
Minnesota
78
2,190,743
28,086
78
2,222,127
28,489
1.4%
N.Y. Mets
78
3,881,523
49,763
78
3,055,282
39,170
-21.3%
N.Y. Yankees
79
4,189,383
53,030
79
3,627,608
45,919
-13.4%
Oakland
78
1,597,650
20,483
78
1,361,099
17,450
-14.8%
Philadelphia
75
3,170,768
42,277
75
3,330,012
44,400
5.0%
Pittsburgh
81
1,609,076
19,865
81
1,577,853
19,480
-1.9%
San Diego
76
2,284,801
30,063
76
1,791,226
23,569
-21.6%
San Francisco
78
2,752,077
35,283
78
2,776,657
35,598
0.9%
Seattle
75
2,198,471
29,313
75
2,059,279
27,457
-6.3%
St. Louis
78
3,298,712
42,291
78
3,211,480
41,173
-2.6%
Tampa Bay
75
1,626,161
21,682
75
1,761,856
23,491
8.3%
Texas
81
1,945,677
24,021
81
2,156,016
26,617
10.8%
Toronto
81
2,399,786
29,627
81
1,876,129
23,162
-21.8%
Washington
79
2,297,101
29,077
79
1,773,668
22,451
-22.8%
TOTAL
2,340
75,485,348
32,332
2,340
70,592,852
30,220
-6.5%
Note: The Yankees and Mets opened new stadiums. The percent full capacity at Mets’ Citi Field is higher in 2009 than 2008, but overall attendance down because the stadium has about 15,000 fewer seats.

Forget about exciting baseball in September…what about exciting baseball in April? Perennial underachievers like Baltimore, Washington, Toronto, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Oakland gave their fans nothing to be excited about…and it showed.

(Ed Note:  Don’t be fooled by the small drop in Pittsburgh, that’s the lowest attendance since PNC park openedAlso, its hard to explain the Royals anomaly, but I think that it may be just that, an anomaly)

One of the reasons it seems as if the NFL is able to stay popular is due to the parity in the league.  Every year it seems as almost every team has the chance to make the playoffs; which keeps their fans interested in the team.  In baseball? parity is non-existent.  You essentially see the same handful of teams in the playoffs every year: Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Phillies/Mets…parity only exists in the central divisions of each league.

So, if parity is one of the keys of long term stability, and I’m convinced that it is, how does baseball create it?

A salary cap?

Before I go any further, I’m sure somebody is saying “Baseball has existed for years without parity, why is it such a necessity now?”

Parity isn’t a necessity; baseball did still bring in 75 million fans and will probably exceed 7 billion in revenue, but businesses are usually in the business of maximizing revenue…baseball is a business…you get the picture.

The Yankees 2009 payroll was roughly $210 million dollars.  The Pirates 2009 payroll? $54 million.  Sure, revenue sharing is in place, and luxury taxes are in effect, blah, blah, blah…it is not helping.  Baseball needs a salary cap to help level the playing field so that the smaller market teams become more than AAA farm teams for the larger market teams (“serviceable”  players the Pirates have released in recent memory to due rebuilding/general lack of money: Jason Bay, Aramis Ramirez, Esteban Loaiza, Nate McLouth, Mike Gonzalez, Oliver Perez, Bronson Arroyo,  Tim Wakefield…the list goes on).  Whenever the Yankees can spend the equivalent of the Pirates entire payroll on 3 players?  How do the Pirates compete?  Or how do they keep any semblance of a team together for more than a season or two?

They don’t.

And no, a salary cap isn’t a perfect solution, and yes, sometimes a salary cap can further expose mismanaging by upper management or exacerbate the problem of poor coaching.  On the other hand, baseball’s lack of a salary cap requires every small market team to play the perfect season, every season, less they find themselves 20 games out of the playoff hunt.

So which scenario is better?  Especially for the long term?  Not that I think it will happen, but what if we see a 5 year depression in America, and not a 2 year recession?

I think a little parity would be a welcome commodity then…a salary cap could be one of the ways we could see that happen.


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