It took until the eighth paragraph of the Associated Press’ story on Major League Baseball’s precipitous drop in attendance this year to get to the key point.
“On-field success and attendance usually are linked.”
It’s true, and that explanation came after the MLB party line: “Major League Baseball attributed the decrease primarily ‘connected to the historically bad weather we faced back in the spring’ and noted the percentage drop decreased markedly after May 1.”
It’s not that the nasty spring wasn’t a factor, but attendance leaguewide was down from 72,678,797 a year ago to 69,671,272 this year, and more than half the drop can be attributed to two teams.
The biggest attendance decline belonged to the Blue Jays, for whom weather is a non-factor with a retractable roof on their stadium. Toronto drew 3,203,886 fans in 2017, and 2,325,281 in 2018. Why might that be? Even though the Blue Jays were lousy a year ago, going 76-86 and finishing fourth in the American League East – only three games better than this year, and in the same spot in the standings – last year’s attendance was fueled by advance ticket sales after back-to-back ALCS appearances. Toronto drew 408,995 more fans in 2017 than it did in 2015, when the Blue Jays won their first division title since 1993.
Next up on the decline list for 2018 was another team with a roof, the Marlins, who not only traded away 2017 National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton and likely 2018 National League MVP Christian Yelich last offseason, but also stopped flagrantly lying about their attendance. Miami went from 1,583,014 in attendance in 2017 to 811,104 in 2018, and that was with three more home games this year after a series last year had to be moved to Milwaukee because of Hurricane Irma.
MLB lost another 1.88 million fans in the stadiums of just four teams, all of whom went from recent playoff appearances to sucking on purpose – sorry, methodically rebuilding. The Orioles, by far the worst team in baseball with 115 losses, were just two years removed from a wild card appearance. The Royals, 2015 world champions, lost 104 games. The Tigers, who were champions of the AL Central from 2011-14 and maintained high expectations going into the following three years before failing and ultimately blowing things up, lost 98 games. The Rangers, off division titles in 2015 and 2016, started their teardown in the middle of 2017 and reaped the attendance whirlwind in 2018 on the way to losing 95 games.
Between the Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles, Royals, Tigers, and Rangers, there was an attendance decline of 3,535,292, a number that you might recognize as being higher than the leaguewide drop of 3,007,525. But there were still more teams that saw declines. The Pirates won 82 games and the Rays won 90, but both seemed to finish over .500 by accident after offseasons that saw franchise legends Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, respectively, each traded to the Giants, leading to much less fan enthusiasm and, thus, ticket sales – 454,131 for Pittsburgh, 98,646 for Tampa Bay.
Getting McCutchen and Longoria didn’t help the Giants at the box office because they stunk for a second straight year. San Francisco still had the fourth-highest per-game attendance in MLB, but it’s easier to get a ticket to see a team that has lost 187 games over the past two years than the one that made four playoff appearances and won three World Series in the previous seven.
Other teams that saw attendance declines included the Mets (second straight bad year, fans openly revolting against ownership), the Reds (fourth straight last-place finish), the Twins (went from wild card to under .500), and Cleveland (less excitement coming off early playoff exit as opposed to pennant, also hosted parade of garbage AL Central teams).
There also were drops of fewer than 1,000 fans per game for the Red Sox and Cubs (Fenway and Wrigley always full or close to it when the teams are good, yearly totals fluctuate largely based on freebies and weather), Cardinals (third straight year out of the playoffs), and White Sox (first 100-loss season since 1970, following a 95-loss 2017, again, by design).
That’s 17 teams who saw a drop in attendance in 2018, with most of those teams flat-out sucking, and most of the flat-out sucking teams flat-out sucking on purpose. Five teams – Toronto, Miami, Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore – by themselves accounted for more than the entire net drop across the league.
There are some things you can blame on weather, but in this case MLB is peeing on everyone's legs and telling us it’s raining.