Is the AL Wild Card Race Bringing Out More Fans?
A look at attendance in 2017
The AL Wild Card race has been a crazy mess of ups and downs and teams going in and out. The two-team system that has been in place since 2012 was designed to make more teams try and compete and hopefully drive up attendance for those teams that are still in the hunt. If there were ever a time to know if the model is working, it’d be now when eight teams are competing for the second wild card spot in the AL.
First, just a look at average attendance for each team:
Some of the usuals you would expect. Teams like the Dodgers, Rockies, and Yankees have done well this year. Others like the Cardinals and Red Sox are in the heart baseball towns and will bring sellout crowds every night. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here.
How has attendance changed from last year?
Well the Braves were due to see an uptick in fans with a brand new stadium and all. Cleveland are the defending AL champs who haven’t really lost a beat from last year and the Rockies are putting out their first winning team for the first time since 2010, but beyond those three teams no one is really seeing a large bump in attendance.
The dips make sense as well with almost all of the decliners performing worse this year, notably teams like the Mets and Rangers. Or teams that are just performing poorly in general like the Padres or Marlins won’t draw larger crowds. This is obvious enough.
However none of the teams that are in the AL Wild Card race are seeing any notable bump, teams like the Royals and Rangers are seeing notable drops and the rest in the field are seeing little change at all. But it’s quite strange that the Royals are seeing such a strong slide in attendance when they’re 60–58 on the year. Well part of the problem of looking at the season average is that I’m not really considering the low points of the year. The Royals are the perfect example of this when they were 22–30 on June 1st, the second worst team in all of baseball.
We know that each of the teams in the AL Wild Card hunt currently stand close with one another in the standings and the worst team in the hunt is three or four games under .500, so teams should generally be trending upward in attendance if anything.
There is no general uptick in attendance with exception to the Royals, Mariners, and Twins.
For Minnesota I’m assuming that they have a general uptick throughout the year because they aren’t being frozen to death come June, but the Twins are still playing over .500. The sky looks bleak, but what do fans really care about projections when the team is still winning.
Seattle has been playing closer to expectations and has seen the most drastic increase in average attendance throughout the year. There’s a greater error to go along with the increase, but they’ve been playing over .500 since June 1st and had recently held the 2nd wild card spot for a few days, so there’s good enough reason for Mariners fans to show up.
And the season had started so bleakly for the Royals, with nothing but talk of how they were going to blow it all up at the deadline because so many of their guys are free agents at the end of the year and the fact that they just weren’t that good. But baseball happened and the weirdness came out in full force, and before you know it the Royals bolstered their team for one last playoff run with their core guys. They were absolutely incredible from June on until the end of July and are still standing in front of the dog fight for the second spot.
It’s hard to expect much from the Angels and Blue Jays when they’re already selling so well. But the other teams sort of stand out as more of a general disappointment. Let’s say out of the teams remaining that the Rays are the only one with a real shot so they should be the only one to experience a solid jump, but they’re still stuck in their attendance woes.
Roughly 43,000 more fans have come out to baseball games at this point in 2017 compared to 2016. Any increase is generally fine, but in the midst of a wild card race with enough teams to make up two divisions, you’d hope that there would be a sizable increase in park turnout. Setting up the second wild card team was designed to keep teams from selling off their productive and tradable players because the threshold for making it to the playoffs got that much lower. An important caveat for this is that it would be wonderful to have the TV ratings as well, but it’s still slightly worrisome that we aren’t seeing a larger hike.
What does it take to bring more fans out? I truly don’t know. Adding a second team to the wild card race surely brings more excitement come October, but in the midst of an eight team race, more fans generally aren’t turning out. It’s still fairly early in the playoff race but this will be an interesting one to watch.