Rebuilding Attendance in Major League Baseball: The Demand for Individual Games
Thomas H. Bruggink and James W. Eaton
"Will the fans come back?" is the first question asked when a baseball players' strike or an owners' lockout ends and conflicting parties and outside observers alike fear that neglected patrons' ill feelings will extend beyond the last note of the Star Spangled Banner on opening day. In 1995 fans answered an emphatic "No." Average attendance per game fell 20 percent from 1994 as they showed their disgust with both owners and players for the record-length strike and cancellation of post-season play the previous season. 1 In 1982, on the other hand, fans were more forgiving and attendance records were set following the strike-shortened season the year before.
Season-to-season variation in attendance, whatever its source, combines with longer term secular trends to determine the sport's popularity and financial viability. In this chapter we present a daily attendance study of the 1993 baseball season (the last full season to date) that provides insights into a number of factors that influence fans' demand for baseball and identifies actions team owners might take to rebuild attendance.
Attendance bears on several of the divisive issues at the center of the 1994-1995 players' strike. Ticket sales and attendance-related income generate approximately half of Major League Baseball's (MLB) total revenue. 2 Furthermore, local media contracts contribute an additional 20% of MLB revenues, and game attendance is a proxy for the size of local television and radio audiences [ Porter ( 1992); Aaronet al. ( 1992)]. The relative importance of attendance in team revenues will increase in coming years if national network television earnings decline. 3 Because MLB teams divide national broadcast income equally but share much smaller portions of their attendance revenue and none of their local media revenue, these revenue trends exacerbate economic disparities among teams and raise concerns about competitive balance and