Minor league baseball is on pace to record another slow-but-steady increase at the gate as the 2015 regular season winds to a close this week.
Though it hardly compares to the record-setting leaps and bounds of growth the sport enjoyed earlier this century, MiLB will top the 40 million mark for the 11th consecutive season while seeing a slight uptick on the 42,411,194 fans it attracted last season--the most it had drawn since 2008 and the fourth-highest total in the industry's history.
Affiliated minor league teams, including the Triple-A Mexican League, had totaled 40,404,861 fans through the month of August with a per-game average of 4,096. Continuing at this pace through this weekend should put the sport over the 4,100 average it tallied last season.
|Team (through Aug. 31)
|Sacramento River Cats||596,618||9,179|
|Lehigh Valley IronPigs||570,676||8,780|
|Round Rock Express||555,558||8,547|
|El Paso Chihuahuas||578,952||8,154|
|Toledo Mud Hens||510,530||7,735|
|Oklahoma City Dodgers||430,950||7,065|
|Salt Lake Bees||447,037||6,773|
|Pawtucket Red Sox||424,062||6,626|
|Rochester Red Wings||422,793||6,218|
|Reading Fightin Phils||401,735||6,087|
|Richmond Flying Squirrels||387,797||5,966|
|Fort Wayne TinCaps||381,701||5,964|
|Kane County Cougars||376,407||5,791|
"We feel very fortunate," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "Given everything we've had to go through--we've had some tough weather in May--we feel fortunate. We feel like we're going to have a very good year. It proves the trending of the product, the popularity of the product, and how loyal our fans are. If we can get them to the ballpark they're going to go to the ballpark."
For the second straight season, the Charlotte Knights (International) are leading the way while playing at BB&T Ballpark--voted minor league's best earlier this spring. In their second year since relocating from out-of-the-way Fort Mill, S.C., to their new downtown home, the Knights wrapped up August leading the minors in average (9,390) and overall attendance (638,439).
International League franchises hold four of the top five attendance figures as the season wraps up. Indianapolis ranks second with 9,237 per-game average and 618,901 total. Columbus is fourth (9,024/595,582) and Lehigh Valley is fifth (8,780/570,676).
"Talk about stability. The International League is like putting (Cal) Ripken in the lineup everyday. They're going to do their numbers without a lot of fanfare and without a lot of controversy."
The Sacramento River Cats, which have topped the Pacific Coast League in attendance each season since debuting in 2000 and were the minors' top draw from 2000-08, rank third overall with a 9,179 average and 596,618 total.
New ballparks and renovations continue to be key to minor league baseball's growth. Along with Charlotte, El Paso (Pacific Coast) is thriving in its second season at a new home. The franchise, which relocated from Tucson to downtown Southwest University Park last season, ranks ninth at 578,952 and 8,154.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Sounds rank 12th overall this season by attracting 542,127 fans to new downtown First Tennessee Park. That's a significant boost compared to last season, when the Sounds finished 14th in the Pacific Coast League at 323,961 while playing at its former home of Greer Stadium. The Biloxi Shuckers (Southern) spent the first half of the season on the road while construction was being completed on brand new MGM Stadium, yet their 151,043 total is already ahead of what they drew last year in the final season as the Huntsville Stars (94,929).
Calculating announced attendance is hardly an exact science and teams use different formulas to determine how many spectators are in the ballpark each game--official tallies come after the season when clubs report turnstile receipts as part of the ticket tax each team pays its major league affiliate. Minor League Baseball only insists that each team use the same method of calculating attendance from year to year, so these figures do serve as a good barometer of how teams are faring.