Baseball will experience its first big attendance dip in a decade. Can MLB regain lost ground?

A dramatic finish to the Major League Baseball season – with five National League teams vying for three playoff positions – can’t reverse a season-long trend of attendance loss, with baseball poised to see its first significant decrease in a decade.

With 15 clubs’ home seasons completed, and 11 of 15 weekend series lacking significant playoff implications, MLB attendance is down 4.2%.

Seventeen of 30 teams will see a dip in attendance – eight of them reporting losses of 12% or higher.

The average crowd of 28,774 is down from the 2017 mark of 30,042, ending a decade of attendance stability across the game. The 2008-2009 seasons saw a 7% drop, from 32,528 to 30,351, largely attributable to the Yankees and Mets bidding farewell to their old stadiums one year and moving into smaller-capacity venues the next.

In the nine seasons that followed, average attendance landed in the 30,000 range, until this year.

And why is that?

Commissioner Rob Manfred has maintained that poor weather early in the season is largely responsible, and it’s a valid explanation. Entering the final weekend, 52 games have been postponed due to weather – the most in MLB since 1997, when 53 games were postponed. By April 24, 28 games were lost to postponements, creating an arrhythmic start to the season and forcing teams into makeup dates on weekday afternoons later in the year.

Yet, weather can’t account for all of it. After all, the AL and NL teams that saw the biggest drops – Toronto and Miami, respectively, play in stadiums with retractable roofs. That didn’t prevent the Blue Jays' 27% drop, to 29,066 per game, and the Marlins' staggering 51% drop, from 20,395 to 10,014 following a winter sell-off. (Their drop also can be partially attributed to the club's adjustment in reporting attendance, as they no longer include giveaways or tickets deeply discounted.)

Indeed, many underlying reasons can be traced to competition – or lack thereof. A look at several forces beyond Mother Nature that could explain the state of the fan and why he or she showed up, or stayed away, in 2018:

Dare to care

Fair or not, "tanking" has become an oversimplified phrase to describe a spectrum that can include rebuilding, executive ineptitude and, yes, intentional non-competitiveness. Call it what you will, but it's fair to say teams signaling a pivot to re-tooling feel it at the box office. 

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