Check Out Major League Baseball’s Super Genius Plan To Fix Flagging Game Attendance – Forbes
Baseball fans are all abuzz after Baseball America’s Tracy Ringolsby wrote there is a “growing consensus” within the MLB to expand the league to 32 teams, with the likely expansion cities being Portland and Montreal (I was rooting for Mexico City).
The question I would ask is why anyone, other than MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, clamoring for more baseball teams? I guess it’s inevitable, considering it’s been nearly 20 years since the last expansion, which brought the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just the Rays) into the league.
A quick look at attendance numbers from last season doesn’t paint a picture of a product that’s in so much demand that it needs to be expanded.
Unaudited attendance numbers from last season shows a decline to 72.6 million total attendance over 2,419 games, the first time the league has seen attendance drop below 73 million since 2002. It’s also the third straight season attendance has dipped, and the fifth time it’s dropped in the past six seasons.
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The Rays, who MLB felt needed a franchise, had the worst attendance in the league – just 1,253,619, or an average of about 15,670 a game. Being on the bottom is nothing new; the Rays have had the league’s lowest attendance since 2012.
Oakland didn’t fare much better, averaging just 18,446 fans per home game. Both Oakland and Tampa Bay have serious stadium issues that need to be addressed before the league considers expanding into new cities.
Then you have the Philadelphia Phillies, who are playing in a beautiful stadium in a city filled with fans devoted to their sports teams. The Phillies averaged barely over 24,000 fans a game at home, and having attended several of those last season, I can safely say some of those attendance numbers are inflated.
It’s not just bad teams that aren’t bringing in an audience. The 102-win Cleveland Indians averaged just 25,285 fans per game in the 35,000-seat Progressive Field. After the Indians won 18 games in a row, the next home game brought in just 21,000 fans.
I’m aware that TV ratings continue to be strong for baseball, but they’re definitely not invincible, and the World Series certainly isn’t appointment viewing the way it was just 20 years ago. Watering down the product with more teams and players that otherwise aren’t talented enough to make a professional roster seems like a poor strategy, considering our competitive TV landscape.
The one rumored proposal I can get behind is reducing the total number of games per season from 162 to 156. I’d lower it even more, but considering the “traditionalists” clinging to baseball history,reducing the season by six games would be a meaningful accomplishment.
My suggestion would be for baseball to focus on its flaws before growing its product. First on the list should be the length of the individual games, which despite rule changes went up five minutes from last season to an average of three hours and five minutes per game.
There are several changes that were rejected last season that should be adopted: limiting catchers to one trip to the mount each inning (unless a new picture comes in), adding a 20-second pitch clock to shorten the time between pitches, and raising the bottom of the strike zone.
I’d also like to recommend not allowing rosters to expand to 40 in September, giving managers a green light to change pitchers with just about every single batter. And let’s start penalizing batters when they leave the batter’s box multiple times while at the plate, slowing the pace of the game to a crawl.
Maybe if MLB can get a game to check in under three hours, more fans will want to come out to the ballpark to check out a game. Not charging $30 for parking might help, too.
Cartoon by Rob Tornoe.