Major League Baseball attendance on the rise

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5/15/12 in MLB   |   sungrey   |   13 respect

Around this time every year, the first indicator of whether the upcoming Major League Baseball season will be a good one comes out.

No, it is not the standings. Whether or not your team is in first place or the basement is irrelevant to this discussion.

This isn't about being in first place. It's about having the most fans watching you.

Each year, the naysayers that love to discredit MLB wait to hear the latest news. Oh, attendance is down? Way down, you say? Why, that must mean baseball is a dying sport. No one cares about the game anymore, right?

For a few years, the media may have been guilty of overhyping attendance numbers. So it was to my delight last week when I heard average MLB attendance through the first month of the 2012 season was up over 6 percent.

Take that to those of you who insist on calling the game the National Past-Its-Time.

What is driving the higher attendance numbers? There are a few factors at play here, and let's take a look at them right now:

*Was it just me or did it seem like Mother Nature was in a great mood this year? I've been to many a game during Opening Week where I've frozen my you-know-what off sitting there. Then there have been games in warmer climates where it's like I'm telling someone to turn off the blast furnace.

It always seems like some parts of the country, especially the northeast, suffer during the first week or two due to cold temperatures. That didn't happen this year. A huge warmup that blanketed the country during March stuck around into April, giving fans in some cities a chance to catch the first game of the season without having to bring cold tablets and a nice, big blanket.

*Could it be the economy, stupid? I paraphrase the famous line from the Bill Clinton election of 1992 to say that MLB's attendance issues always seem to revolve around the economy. After all, how many bodies did MLB lose because people were upset their favorite slugger couldn't pass a urine test?

It seems like steroids and fan apathy toward players and salaries don't translate to lower attendance totals as much as a kick in the employment does. Factor in the cost of going to a game with parking, beer, souvenirs, food and the game ticket and it's not always a cheap date. Add a sputtering economy to that and it's easy to see why fans stay home. Now that things appear to be on the mend, numbers look like they're higher.

*A renaissance in cities that have faced attendance woes in the past is partly responsible for what is going on now.

Arizona is up a robust 4,776 fans per game, thanks in part to Diamondbacks fans coming out to support the team following its run to the National League Division Series one year ago. Numbers per game are up close to 8,000 in Detroit because of last year's AL Championship Series squad, better than normal weather and the perception that the Tigers had a good offseason with the signing of Prince Fielder. May 11, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Fans await the rain delay during the baseball game between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Texas Rangers are leading 1-0 with one out and bases loaded in the first inning when game action was suspended. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
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5/15/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

Some of the conclusions made in the article I think are a stretch.  For example, steroid use affecting attendance was really a non-factor.  Fans LOVED to go see the alleged steroid users.  Road attendance for the Giants in the Bonds days were higher than when the team showed up without the controversial slugger.  The cold hard truth is that while some fans and many writers whined about steroid use, most fans didn't seem to care.

Next...  Baseball has never been a dying sport in that it was never in critical condition. It became injured, yes.  And it can recover some but it will always walk with a limp and never again be the dominant force it once was.  Attendance at ball parks is one way to determine how healthy the game is.  But a more telling measuring tool is how is it doing on TV?  Some markets are still in dire straits and others are still robust.  But to me, the most accurate barometer is how are the national TV ratings?  To be honest, they still suck.  Baseball's problem is not that the interest is waning.  There still seems to be interest locally for many teams.  The problem is the national perception.  Nationally, people just don't care.  There are a number or reasons behind this.  And all of them can be traced back to actions taken (or not taken) by both owners and players.  Everything from expanding the playoffs to economic imbalance.  MLB (and its players) have turned fans from being baseball fans to being Giants fans only or Rangers fans only or whatever team fans only. 

That is a concern that MLB and the players ought to try and do something about.