Now that the season is over, Major League Baseball has a question: Where did all the fans go?
Total attendance this season was 45.3 million fans, a 37-year low. That is down from the 68.5 million who came out for baseball’s last full season in 2019.
Now there were some factors in the low number. The COVID-19 pandemic limited attendance for a large chunk of the season and because of travel restrictions, Toronto played much of the first half in alternate sites.
That still doesn’t explain why six teams – Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Tampa Bay and vagabond Toronto — failed to draw a million fans, a routine number for major league franchises. Four others – Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City—barely topped that benchmark. The bottom feeder is Miami, which drew a paltry 642,617, down from the 811,000 the Marlins drew in the last two full seasons.
All of this is alarming as baseball tiptoes into talks for a new collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Players Association. The players are unlikely to sympathize with hand-wringing by the owners over reduced revenue.
As unpleasant as the attendance figures for this season are, what is just as frightening is the downward spiral the game has experienced since its record number in 2007 when 79.4 million fans bought tickets to games. That number has dropped every year since, a trend that has caught the attention of the game’s movers and shakers.
Part of the problem may be the love affair baseball fell into with “New Age” ideas that have altered the game dramatically. The game once was delicately balanced between offense and defense, carefully constructed to make each a vital element in winning and losing.
Modern baseball is top heavy with defensive shifts, strikeouts and walks, reducing action on the field. Batters use uppercut swings aiming for the fences because home runs are the glamour way to score runs rather than being bothered with situational hitting, advancing runners, emphasizing strategy, trying to outsmart the other team.
This is a function of advanced statistics. Every team has an analytics department providing data calculations that do not always consider the abilities and instincts of the players. Much of what goes on in games is ordained by front offices occupied by computer experts.
The result is a different game than the one that was played a decade or so ago and for 100 years before that. The fans seem to have noticed the change and may be expressing their opinion by staying home.