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Why Are Baseball Fans Staying Home?

A drop in attendance is not a death knell for baseball
A family sits in an empty section at Marlins Park in Miami, on Ap
13, 2013
A family sits in an empty section at Marlins Park in Miami, on Ap 13, 2013 Photograph by Jason Arnold/Getty Images

Yesterday the Miami Marlins announced that they would be closing the upper bowl of their stadium for some upcoming home games. The Marlins were merely formalizing a decision their fans have already made: to stay away in droves from Miami’s less-than-two-seasons-old, mostly publicly financed ballpark. The Marlins news came one day after Bloomberg reported that the New York Yankees are selling half-off tickets through the online coupon service Groupon and less than a month after the Boston Red Sox’s record 820-game sellout streak came to an end.

In each case, there is a particular explanation. The Marlins are baseball’s version of a superfund site. The Yankees are starting guys named Nunez, Nelson, and Nix, and not Jeter and Rodriguez, on the left side of the infield. And the Red Sox are coming off their worst season since 1965. The plural of anecdote, as they say, is not data. Yet the data say the Marlins, Yankees, and Red Sox are not isolated cases. According to Baseball-Reference’s comparison of this year and last through May 7, attendance is down by 417,192 league-wide so far. That’s nearly three percent, which, while not a catastrophe, is enough to cause concern. The biggest drop, not surprisingly, is in Miami, where the Marlins have shed 175,102 fans through 16 home games. But even after subtracting the Marlins (which might not be a bad idea for the league), attendance is down 1.75 percent across baseball.