Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

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9 comments on “Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

  1. Yogiisms aside, Oakland is not the “small town” it is sometimes presented as. Sure, it’s 45th in population or something as a standalone city. It’s also part of a Bay area population of 8-9m (even if it is in the traditionally but rapidly shrinking “unfashionable part”).

    I’m sure the coliseum’s age and level of amenities does limit the amount people are willing to pay to go watch the A’s (especially when they crash out as they did this week). But in a CMA of that many people (most of which, sure, aren’t really “close” to the ball park, but then that’s somewhat true of the Giants stadium across the bay as well), you don’t have to attract 10% of the residents to each game. In fact, you can’t accommodate more than 1% of even those who are within comfortable reach of the stadium.

    If anyone actually from Oakland wishes to comment, I’d like to know just exactly how many fans you think the A’s will average whenever they build a new stadium (either at HT or the present site)?

    I’m sure the average revenue from each fan will go up at a new facility… that’s why they are built. But will they move up significantly from 23rd-25th in avg attendance?

    It’s a sign of the message manipulation from MLB (and the media, tbh) that we continually talk about the horrendous attendance in Tampa and Oakland – the two teams that do not yet have new stadiums – and completely ignore the basketcase that is the Miami Marlins. They are averaging almost 50% less fans than Tampa and barely HALF of Oakland’s attendance. Yet they have a new stadium that was promoted as a cure for all the franchise’s ills…

    1. As an A’s fan and Bay Area native, i can attest that the Coliseum is in a really accessible spot right now with where it sits by the freeway and BART. Anecdotally, I think most fans would prefer to build a new park at the current site than to go to Howard Terminal, where there will be far less parking, more street lights, and almost a mile walk from the nearest BART. Attendance would definitely be larger at the Coliseum than at HT for that reason. Not to mention, a lot of A’s fans don’t like that ownership seems to be trying to make the team resemble the Giants with some waterfront park instead of leaning into the blue-collar identity and delightful weirdness of diehard A’s fans. I think if they built a new park that was accessible and affordable, they would definitely pick up attendance.

      In truth, there are bigger causes behind the A’s attendance than an old stadium. The team’s stars are constantly shipped out the moment they become valuable trade assets, hampering long-time connection with beloved players that encourage in-person attendance. The team spent the better part of this millennium threatening to move to various other cities, which had predictable results on attendance. Ownership has changed fairly frequently, but whoever has been there is always too cheap to invest in the roster. Some folks were pissed at MLB and Selig for dragging their feet for years on whether the A’s could move to San Jose, only to side with the Giants. Meanwhile, their cross-town rival was winning championships with likable stars. Of course, MLB and the media will never admit to these, because it places blame on bad ownership and not an aging facility.

  2. Good article in the link. I also saw the New York Times piece and appreciate you filling in some of the blanks.

    At least some reports on the projected new A’s stadium say that it’d only have 27,000 seats — all other capacity would be standing room (or roof-top lawn picnic space or whatever). That seems to fit well with what you are saying — they want loads of money from the highly profitable customers and don’t want the rest of us.

    And yet, I can’t get past the fact that if media and digital are an ever-greater proportion of revenue, shouldn’t teams want a larger, more intense fanbase to increase the media and digital revenue? And wouldn’t cheap tickets be a great way to increase the size and intensity of the fanbase?

    1. I think the Red Sox example says no: People can be diehard fans without going to games on a regular basis. The ideal for teams these days is to have a bunch of deep-pocketed season ticket holders, a whole lot of people who save their pennies to splurge on tickets a couple of times a year, and everybody else can stay home and watch on TV.

      Not that the A’s will ever be the Red Sox, obviously. But I think they’d rather be a tough ticket that everyone is scrambling to get than the place you can always decide to go to on a whim. Artificial scarcity is a powerful marketing tool.

      1. Neil both the NYT article and the Nation article make a point that lower attendance will eventually metastasize into lower viewership (As you mention in your article) this will eventually lead to lower revenues. You don’t see that happening? Why did Manfred have a cow over the A’s ballpark situation. Instead of getting a new stadium just pour money into having it look pretty on TV

        1. No, I don’t think that lower attendance necessarily leads to lower viewership. At least, not when fans are staying home less because they don’t like baseball than because tickets are too scarce and expensive. Did Yankees TV ratings go down when they reduced capacity at their new stadium?

          Manfred had a cow over the A’s situation because one of his bosses had his business plan threatened. That is precisely why the 30 MLB owners pay him the big bucks.

  3. I believe this site has been discussing for quite some time the possibility/likelihood the the next generation of professional sports stadia would shift toward being HD TV studios with theater seating and concierge service for the 18-25,000 fans who can afford the in person experience. And at some point, why not install individual HD screens so they can watch the game on TV from their seats as well if they want to?

    It’s a natural progression of the club seat model. If you can charge enough for those seats (including PSL fees to fund most or all of your actual contribution to stadium construction), then why bother building the low revenue seats behind them? At some point, having we mortals in stadium probably reduces the amount the owner can charge for the premium seats (someone in the back of the premium section is always going to be ‘too close’ to the non-premium seats for comfort…).

    Does it really matter if you price out the lower income fans who can only afford the ‘cheap’ seats or only buy good seats once or twice a year? You are likely going to get their money through RSN or PPV fees anyway, so why cater to them in the stadium?

    Car dealers also understand this implicitly. It’s one of the reasons so few base models of any vehicle type are stocked.

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