In 1978, Cliff Ensley ’69, ’70, G’71 had an idea to start his own business and just $2,500 to do it. He was used to taking on challenges—there was no stopping him. Growing up, he struggled with a learning disability—at…
Three Reasons Why Major League Baseball Attendance Is Slumping
Many Major League Baseball teams are witnessing big drops at the box office this season. Newhouse School Professor Brad Horn, former vice president for communications and education at the Baseball Hall of Fame, suggests three reasons why.
- There’s a cold, harsh truth to April baseball, in that it’s mostly an underwhelming fan experience. Beyond the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, baseball features few compelling story lines to draw interest in the first six weeks of a season, outside of a first look at a marquee player acquisition. Unpredictable weather, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, is always an issue before May, frequently producing unwelcoming conditions for fans to endure a three-hour weeknight game. For consecutive seasons, MLB has opened its domestic season earlier than ever, only adding to the weather risk.
- In the same way baseball has changed from a “small ball” strategy to playing for the three-run home run, teams are willing to sacrifice early for big gains late. Low April attendance numbers and negative optics of empty ballparks are traded for the promise of a summer attendance boon and escalating broadcast and digital revenue streams, which historically deliver. By August, storylines of early-season attendance woes are typically long forgotten. The ideology of having as many people as possible enter your ballpark as frequently as possible has been replaced by playing for the big gate and high-revenue per cap dates, even if that means consumers are forced to limit in-ballpark participation to two or three games a year for economic considerations.
- In an increasingly digital age, teams should be concerned by the perceptions of empty ballparks and the relevance of its early-season product and community engagement. The history of baseball has always been reflective of bringing communities together to rally around a shared rooting interest. Reducing barriers to entry and pulling fans closer to the game’s action, particularly as the season begins, should be central to breeding a new generation of baseball fans. Given that baseball is played nightly and in highly urban areas, the fan experience must generate new connections to the sport that can only take place at the ballpark, in order to appeal to changing habits of 21st century mobile lives and to ensure the game’s relevance goes beyond just a rite of summer.