June 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

City size and baseball attendance

I have updated the Baseball cities reference page, which shows the relationship between population and attendance at Major League Baseball games for the last eight years, summarized in the following chart:

Cities chart

The five largest metropolitan areas are labeled, as well as St. Louis and Montreal. The red data points for the Washington-Baltimore area highlight the effect of the relocation of the former Montreal Expos franchise to Washington in 2005, which yielded a 1.0 million net increase in annual Major League Baseball attendance. That page also includes data on stadium capacity.

Attendance trends

The data on attendance displayed on that page reveal which cities have been most successful in drawing fans to see ball games over the past few years:

  1. Washington Nationals: +21.9%
  2. Texas Rangers: +10.7%
  3. Philadelphia Phillies: +9.6%
  4. New York Mets: +7.6%
  5. Chicago White Sox: +7.3%
  6. Los Angeles Angels: +6.9%
  7. Toronto Blue Jays: +5.3%

The Washington data are "inflated" by the comparison to Montreal, where attendance was abysmal during the last few years of the Expos. Two cities, in contrast, show marked declines in attendance during the current decade:

  1. Seattle Mariners: -6.1%
  2. Baltimore Orioles: -5.4%

Too many empty seats

One clear pattern stands out when you look at the earlier "neoclassical" stadiums, the ones that were built during the 1990s: Nearly all of them were too big. Every one of the following ballparks has an excess capacity of at least 5,000 seats.

The only ballpark from that era that was not too big was Jacobs Field / "Progressive Field" (1994), with a capacity of 43,368. You could also add to that list U.S. Cellular Field, a.k.a. "Comiskey Park" when it opened in 1991. Its original capacity of about 45,000 later grew by about 2,000, but then shrank to about 41,000 seats in 2004, to about where it should be.