CNBC’s sports business reporter extraoridnaire Darren Rovell started a Twitter trend in April with his #emptystadiumseries. Fans would twitpic photos of empty MLB stadiums while games were in progress and Rovell would re-tweet the photos along with the #emptystadiumseries hashtag. If you followed these tweets (like I did), you were left with the impression that attendance around Major League ballparks was significantly down so far in 2011.
Attendance is down in 2010, but as Tom Verducci reports in Sports Illustrated, only 369 fewer fans on average have shown up to each game, as compared to games played through the first month of last season. Verducci writes that MLB’s attendance problem is one of perception, not reality. Chalk it up to the power of Twitter? Rovell? Bad MLB PR?
Except in Cleveland. The Cleveland Indians have a real attendance problem. Which is a shame, because the Tribe are leading the American League Central with an overall record of 20-8, and have won 13 straight games on their home turf at Progressive Field. And if Indians fans don’t start showing up to watch the Tribe play at home, the Indians could record the fewest fans in attendance per home win of any team since 1990. Wow.
The current “record holder” over the last 20 years for lowest attendance per home win is the 2002 Montreal Expos. [Note: I have excluded the strike year of 1994 from the calculation]. In 2002, the Expos drew 812,045 fans to Olympic Stadium and had 49 home wins, giving them 16,572 in attendance per home win. The same year, the Florida Marlins attracted just over 1,000 more fans than did the Expos, but only won 46 home games, leaving the Marlins with 17,676 fans per home win. That’s the second lowest attendance per home win ratio since 1990. Both those teams obliterated the previous record, held by the 1992 Houston Astros, who saw 1,211,412 fans at the Astrodome for 47 wins, for an attendance per home win average of 25,775. If only the 2000 Expos had played better at home; only 642,745 fans showed up that year to Olympic Stadium, but the Expos won only 34 games that year–an attendance per home win average of 18,904.
Yes, it was a cold and wet and dreary April in Cleveland. But the Indians are the hottest team in baseball. No matter. Through 15 home games in 2011, only 214,132 fans watched the Indians at Progressive Field. The Tribe’s won 13 of those 15 home games. That’s only 16,472 in attendance per home win for the team in first place in the American League Central. The Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays get a lot of attention for their low attendance figures, but those teams are raking in the fans compared to the Indians (265,407 for the Marlins through 15 home games; 276,893 for the Rays through 16 home games). But the Marlins and Rays don’t have nearly the home records the Indians do, so their attendance per home win averages are much higher (26,541 for the Marlins; 39556 for the Rays).
Wake up Cleveland. Your Cavaliers broke the NBA’s single-season record for consecutive losses this season and you still showed up in droves to Quicken Loans Arena. LeBron is gone. Grady and Travis and Carlos and Justin are here. And they’re good. And they’re winning. So get out to Progressive Field before Cleveland becomes home to another dubious and unwelcome sports record.
Attendance figures courtesy of ballparksofbaseball.com. Attendance per home win numbers courtesy of my Sharp Advanced D.A.L. calculator.