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MLB chief cites ‘entertainment alternatives’ as crowds slump

Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has cited “entertainment alternatives” as a key reason for the competition’s declining attendances.

The average attendance for MLB fixtures so far in the 2019 season is 26,854 – a 1.4% drop on the 27,242 registered at the corresponding point last season. The 2018 campaign ended up with an average of 28,830, a 4% year-on-year drop and the first sub-30,000 crowd average since 2003.

MLB players, managers and coaches have spoken of their concerns surrounding the issue, and although Manfred underlined a 6% increase in game-day sales, which have helped to offset a slump in season ticket numbers, he acknowledged that franchises are being forced to adopt a creative approach to get spectators through the turnstiles.

“Given the explosion of entertainment alternatives and the growth of the secondary market, it is not surprising that season ticket sales can be challenging,” Manfred said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

“The clubs are responding to this challenge with creative and effective approaches. For example, sales of subscription tickets are double what they were a year ago. And the Twins recently had a $5 flash sale that produced crowds of over 30,000 in three of four games, and the largest single-game attendance since 2016.”

The likes of Philadelphia, Oakland and San Diego have experienced significant increases so far, with the former’s rise of more than 10,000 partly attributed to the signing of superstar Bryce Harper to a 13-year contract worth a staggering $330m (£262m/€296m) – the third largest playing contract in world sport.

However, MLB ticketing success stories so far this season have been scarce.

The AP added that 19 of MLB’s 30 teams have witnessed a year-on-year fall in their average attendances, with the most alarming declines experienced by Toronto (6,963) and San Francisco (6,463).

MLB’s average attendances have never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, with the league’s crowds having peaked at an average of 32,785 the previous year. Since registering an average of 30,517 in 2015, crowds have declined year-on-year.

Image: D. Benjamin Miller