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MLB ends ’19 regular season at 16-year attendance low

Major League Baseball ended its 2019 regular season with a total attendance of 68.49 million, down 1.7 percent from a year ago and the league’s sixth decline at the gate in the last seven seasons.

The total is league’s lowest since 2003, when the Washington Nationals were still existing in Canada as the low-drawing Montreal Expos. MLB is also down 14 percent compared to its highwater mark of 79.5 million set in 2007.

MLB’s continued downturn at the gate has been largely a foregone conclusion since the late spring, when decreased season ticket sales left too big of a hole to be filled by improved walk-up sales. Still, baseball sells by far more tickets than any other US pro sport given the everyday nature of its playing schedule, and the attendance figure remains a key measure of the health of the sport industry. 

The steady attendance ebb also arrives as MLB faces heightened competitive imbalance after roughly a generation of historically strong on-field parity. But this year, MLB had four 100-win clubs for the first time ever while also sporting four 100-loss teams for the first time since 2002. Six more teams lost at least 90 games as large-scale roster rebuildings, similar to the drastic overhauls the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros undertook en route to World Series titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively, have been increasingly fashionable in MLB front offices, but are decidedly not as popular with ticket-buying fans. 

MLB has increasingly embraced subscription-based ticket packages, and more than half of the league’s clubs offer some type of flexible access package in which fans can access to the ballpark as much as they want in a given period of time with no fixed, guaranteed seat for a heavily discounted price. Such packages have thus far proven a potent lure to attract new, and highly desirable younger fans. But they remain insufficient to erase the overall attendance decline.

The Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019 led all MLB clubs in home attendance for the seventh consecutive year with a franchise-record mark of 3,974,309. The Dodgers this year beat their attendance record total set just last year, and the club’s total is likely to move even higher next year as it prepares to play host to the 2020 MLB All-Star Game next July at Dodger Stadium. 

The Miami Marlins again ranked last in the league with a total home attendance of 811,302, just 198 higher than 2018, when the team became the league’s first since the 2004 Expos to finish a season below 1 million in home attendance.

The Philadelphia Phillies posted MLB’s largest increase at the gate, fueled heavily by the arrival of star free agent Bryce Harper, as the club added more than 570,000 in 2019 from last year’s figure to reach a figure of nearly 2.7 million. 

The Toronto Blue Jays for the second straight year posted the largest decrease, falling by more than 578,000 from last year to end 2019 with a total of just 1.72 million, the club’s lowest since 2010. The attendance total is roughly half of what the Blue Jays posted just three years ago. The Blue Jays have followed back-to-back trips to the American League Championship Series in 2015-16 with three straight losing seasons and since its ticket sales plummet as a result. 

The Seattle Mariners this year joined by the Blue Jays losing more than half a million at the turnstiles, seeing a last-place finish fuel the team to a total of 1.77 million, the club’s lowest since 2013. The Baltimore Orioles, finishing 2019 with their second-straight 100-loss season, posted a home attendance total of just 1.3 million, easily the lowest-ever for the club’s 28 seasons at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and a franchise-low for a non-strike season since 1978. 

Five teams – the Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Cubs, and Los Angeles Angels – reached 3 million in 2019, down from seven teams last year.  

MLB’s extended attendance decline contrasts from a rebound that Minor League Baseball saw this year. The league’s playoffs begin Oct. 1 with Milwaukee playing at Washington the National League Wild Card Game.