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Volume 20 No. 41
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Finish gives Selig hope

Commish thinks MLB’s late rebound at gate signals healthy ’14

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is projecting a strong rebound in attendance in 2014, despite this season’s 1 percent decline, emboldened by the sport’s second-half surge this year at the gates.

Big September crowds like this one at Yankee Stadium helped MLB recover from a rainout-marred early season.
The league ended the regular season with attendance of 74.03 million, down 1 percent from 2012 (see chart), and the sport’s first decline at the gates since 2010. But it was the story further inside the numbers that has the commissioner particularly encouraged as he approaches his final season in office.

In late June, MLB was 4.5 percent off its 2012 attendance pace as it battled 34 first-half rainouts, 62 percent above the 21 postponements all of last season. But following the All-Star break, baseball had only three more rainouts and closed the attendance gap considerably.

“We were just getting killed in the first half, even in places where we don’t get killed. I must admit I worried a lot about this early in the year,” Selig said. “But by the last week of the season, we were packing them in, and how this sport rallied is just tremendous. It gives us a lot of momentum going into next year.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be back up [in 2014], if we get any sort of cooperation in the weather. I have every reason to believe we’ll do much better next year.”

The sport’s strong September attendance kick mirrors a late surge seen in 2011, and defies typical bell-curve patterns, in which ticket sales normally trail off after peak summer months. But MLB’s expanded playoff format featuring two wild-card teams in each league, now in its second year, was designed in part to boost September attendance, and the AL wild-card race last month featured six teams battling for the two spots.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, which had their own dramatic second-half push on the field toward an NL West division crown, led the sport with 3.74 million in attendance. The Tampa Bay Rays, despite six straight winning seasons and four playoff berths in that span, including 2013, ranked last with 1.5 million.

Everyday interleague play, forced along with the realignment of the Houston Astros to the American League, did not provide the type of meaningful attendance lift expected by MLB executives. This year’s interleague attendance average was 31,046, compared with 30,439 for intraleague play. That 2 percent boost pales compared with the low-double-digit percentage lift from interleague play usually seen in the previous schedule format, when those games were optimized for late spring, early summer and holiday weekend consumption.

MLB attendance is a vital indicator in the health of the league, and the sports industry at large. Ticket sales traditionally have represented baseball’s largest individual revenue source, and the sport has more ticket inventory to sell than any other league.

The league’s new national television contracts go into effect next year, essentially doubling MLB’s annual revenue from national TV to more than $1.5 billion a year. That lessens the singular effect of attendance on overall industry revenue, but Selig, who scours attendance figures daily, said ticket sales remain highly important.

“It’s still a critical factor,” Selig said. “Yes, media revenues are up, which is wonderful, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of attendance. I watch it as closely as I ever have.”