Major League Baseball (MLB) is expected to see ticket revenues rise by almost $20m this season despite a fourth consecutive year of decline in attendances.
A 2.1-per-cent increase in average ticket prices from $32.29 to $32.99 will make up for a 1.3-per-cent drop in overall attendances, according to data collated by Two Circles, WPP’s sports property-facing agency.
Research from Two Circles said ticket revenues will be up $19m, although they would have fallen $29m if prices had stayed the same.
The projected 2019 total MLB attendance of 68.8m represents a total occupancy – how close to capacity a ballpark attendance reaches – of 67.3 per cent across the league, which is down from 68.5 per cent in 2018.
While some teams have seen a rise so far in attendance during 2019 – with the season running from March to October – Two Circles said more needs to be done to satisfy fans if the decline is to be reversed.
“Numerous issues are contributing to overall MLB attendance decline, including the length of games in an on-demand entertainment culture; games required to be scheduled in unfavourable weekday slots; and a struggle for relevancy against other sports with more familiar athletes,” said Sam Yardley, SVP Consulting at Two Circles.
“To drive long-term ticket revenue growth, teams need to identify, know and engage with their target audiences – something we have seen our clients achieve internationally, in particular by growing attendances from millennial audiences – and moving from a sales-led ticketing approach to a digital-marketing-led approach.
“It is no coincidence that teams investing in their ballparks and innovating with their product offering and marketing proposition – such as the Minnesota Twins and Oakland A’s – will post attendance increases in 2019.”
Two Circles found that 15 teams are projected to have total attendance increases for the 2019 season. Of those, the Philadelphia Phillies (+34%), Minnesota Twins (+17%) and Pittsburgh Pirates (+14%) are projected to show the greatest year-on-year increases.
Toronto Blue Jays (-24%), Seattle Mariners (-24%), San Francisco Giants (-16%) and Detroit Tigers (-16%) are projected to have the biggest attendance decreases – losing, between them, a combined 1.9m attendees in 2019 compared to 2018.
Yardley added: “Though ticketing revenue is up, increasing ticket prices is only a short-term fix to the sport’s longer-term structural challenges. There’s a growing appetite for live experiences across North America, and as a family-friendly spectacle that mixes high-quality sport with entertainment around the stadium, MLB teams have a huge opportunity to increase attendances and grow gameday revenues as a result.
“And with experimental rule changes to shorten games – plus new regular season games in growth markets such as the UK – the league, centrally, is innovating to increase engagement with existing and new audiences.”
Earlier this season, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred cited “entertainment alternatives” as a key reason for the competition’s declining attendances.
“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.”