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MiLB Sees Attendance Increase In 2019, Reversing Last Year's Drop

Vegas_Ballpark_JeffSpeerGetty.jpg
view of the field and stadium with fans in the grandstands during a regular season game between the Fresno Grizzlies and the Las Vegas Aviators on April 14, 2019 at Las Vegas Ballpark in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For Minor League Baseball's attendance, 2019 was a very good year.

A year after MiLB posted its smallest total attendance in 14 seasons, MiLB attendance was up 2.6 percent in 2019. MiLB reported that 41,504,077 fans passed through the turnstiles in 2019, an increase of 2.6 percent from last season's 40,450,337 fans.

What the numbers appear to show was that last year's attendance drop was not a sign of a developing trend. While MiLB's record attendance of 43.2 million, set in 2008, seems far out of reach right now, MiLB has found a solid equilibrium. This was the 14 consecutive season that MiLB has drawn more than 40 million fans, and its average of 4,044 fans per game is slightly above its average attendance per game for the past decade.

Whether the 2019 season is viewed as a jump (from 2018) or a return to normalcy (when compared to the rest of the decade), MiLB can confidently state that their attendance is bucking current trends.

"We are one, if not the only sports property experiencing an increase in attendance. That has not been the trend in pro sports in this country," MiLB President Pat O'Conner said.

Last year's NFL attendance (17.2 million) was the league's worst total attendance since 2010. The NBA in 2018-2019 saw fewer fans (22 million) cross through the gates than any year since 2015. And MLB's attendance last year (69.7 million) was its worst since 2003. (The NHL does not officially release attendance information).

"Our attendance numbers, while they may fluctuate, they have been fairly stable," O'Conner said. "You can count in a shaded area between 40 and 41.5 million and we're likely to land in that spot."

MiLB saw significant success with its Copa de la Diversion initiative, in which teams created events to honor the local Latino community, and Pride events aimed at honoring the LGBTQ community.

According to MiLB, Copa games, when the minor league teams adopted Spanish-language names and identities, drew crowds 20 percent above average attendance, while MiLB Pride events drew crowds 12 percent larger than normal.



"The idea is to diversify our crowds and include these diverse groups in our overall family," O'Conner said. "At least anecdotally . . . the fact we've started these, they've been wildly successful and they have been very well received.

"We're going to see the day-over-day, year-over-year results of these efforts. We're going to see the long-term effects of inclusion."

Around the minors, the arrival of new teams and new ballparks made a massive difference. New ballparks in Amarillo, Fayetteville and especially Las Vegas made an impact.

The new ballpark in Las Vegas was a massive success. The Aviators drew 318,710 more fans than the Las Vegas 51s did in 2018 in the team's old ballpark. Las Vegas averaged 9,299 fans per game, which was the highest average attendance any U.S. team in the minor leagues has seen since Charlotte drew 9,428 fans per game in 2015.

Similarly, Fayetteville drew nearly 223,000 more fans than Buies Creek drew in 2018, and Amarillo drew 165,000 more fans than Colorado Springs did in 2018.

The Rocky Mountain Vibes, which replaced the Helena Brewers, drew 106,208 more fans than Helena did a season ago. Rocky Mountain's average per game attendance (3,923 per game) was nearly 2,000 more fans than Helena drew for its biggest draw of the 2018 season.

Removing teams who moved into newer, bigger stadiums, this season's biggest winner was the Syracuse Mets.

Purchased by the Mets from the Nationals before the 2018 season, Syracuse added 50,146 fans through the gates at NBT Bank Stadium. Unsurprisingly, the team's average number of fans per game also grew. The Mets averaged 4,962 fans per game in 2019, an increase of 760 fans per game from the previous season. Syracuse lost four openings to weather in both seasons, but it gained one of those games back this year thanks to the one-game playoff the Mets forced to determine the winner of the International League's North Division title.

Of course, while the Mets did not have a new stadium on their side, they did have the minors' biggest ace in the hole over the past few years: Tim Tebow. The former NFL quarterback-turned minor leaguer spent the entire season with Syracuse until injury ended his season in July. Before that, Tebow did what he always does: strikes out and increases his team's attendance figures.

Syracuse's attendance topped the 300,000 mark for the first time since 2013, but still finished 13th overall in the International League. Beyond the presence of Tebow, Syracuse's bump in attendance can also be attributed to the team's first year playing as a Mets affiliate in New York.

The Tebow factor was even bigger on the road, however, where Syracuse drew an International League-best 528,101 fans. That number bested their 2018 total by more than 73,000 fans or an average of 962 more fans per game at parks around the IL.

The Mets' opponent in that one-game playoff, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, finished second in overall attendance change in 2019, adding 28,072 fans to the seats at PNC Field. They, of course, also had the benefit of an extra game, and they also lost one fewer game to weather than they did in 2018.

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On the other side of the spectrum, there are the New Orleans Baby Cakes, who will be moving to Wichita, Kan. at some point in the near future (though exactly when is still cloudy). They saw the most precipitous drop in attendance among teams not dealing with stadium issues. The Baby Cakes drew just 188,092 fans to the Shrine on Airline in 2019, a drop of 64,522 fans from its mark in 2018. Their average attendance dropped sharply as well, falling by 888 fans per game year over year.

Teams who will soon be vacating their current cities accounted for three of the bottom four spots on this year's attendance ledger.

The Pawtucket Red Sox, who are moving to Worcester, Mass., after next season, finished third from the bottom and saw a total decrease of 63,801 fans and an average decrease of 728 fans at McCoy Stadium. Coming in just behind Pawtucket are the Potomac Nationals, who will be moving to Fredericksburg, Va., starting next season. They saw their attendance fall by 44,770 with an average drop of 504 fans per game. The caveat here is that they also had 11 lost openings this year, four more than in 2018.

The P-Nats were one of seven teams with 10 or more openings lost this year. Unsurprisingly, four of those clubs (Fort Myers, Palm Beach, Dunedin, Florida) were in the Florida State League, which cancelled its entire schedule on the final two days of the season to give clubs time to prepare for Hurricane Dorian.

It was a disappointing year in the Florida State League, in general. The early end to the season because of Hurricane Dorian didn't help, but this was the first year the FSL failed to top two million fans since 2005. Five different FSL clubs failed to average 1,000 fans per night, with two (Dunedin, which is opening a renovated stadium in 2020, and Florida) averaging less than 400 fans per game.

High Class A Frederick (Carolina League) and Double-A Mobile (Southern League)—the latter of which will be moving to Madison, Ala., next season and rebranding as the Rocket City Trash Pandas—also lost more than 10 games this season to weather.

On the other side of the coin, there were 16 teams across the entire minor leagues that finished the year without an opening lost to weather or other circumstances: Triple-A Round Rock, Double-A Corpus Christi, Triple-A Reno, Double-A Birmingham, low Class A Lansing, Rookie-level Pulaski, Triple-A Sacramento, Rookie-level Elizabethton, Triple-A Louisville, Triple-A Las Vegas and the entire short-season Northwest League.

In terms of consistency, the Hudson Valley Renegades and Portland Sea Dogs reign supreme. Hudson Valley, which plays in the short-season New York-Penn League, drew two more fans this year than in 2018. Portland averaged one less fan per game through the gates at Hadlock Field year over year.

Team2019 TotalOpeningsAverage
Per Game
Change
*Las Vegas Aviators650,934709,2994,553
*Fayetteville Woodpeckers246,961683,6323,273
*Rocky Mountain Vibes137,294353,9233,083
*Amarillo Sod Poodles427,791686,2912,187
Syracuse Mets327,478664,962760
Ogden Raptors146,201373,951549
Mobile BayBears95,087601,585464
Batavia Muckdogs43,118371,165381
Midland RockHounds285,368684,197329
Chattanooga Lookouts228,662653,518312
Rochester Red Wings451,853666,846309
Johnson City Cardinals80,612322,519297
Elizabethton Twins27,56934811282
Tulsa Drillers374,501685,507277
Louisville Bats485,356706,934276
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders414,891656,383243
Bowling Green Hot Rods190,877652,937235
Reading Fightin Phils398,314675,945232
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes80,833382,127230
Mississippi Braves163,841662,482223
Trenton Thunder340,705655,242223
San Jose Giants155,253672,317207
Burlington Bees67,369641,053194
Hickory Crawdads137,546662,084184
Hartford Yard Goats414,946676,193179
Iowa Cubs489,173657,526170
Grand Junction Rockies88,476372,391170
Delmarva Shorebirds218,704673,264167
Beloit Snappers73,200621,181156
Eugene Emeralds131,467383,460145
Everett AquaSox116,630383,069132
Visalia Rawhide129,118681,899125
Lancaster JetHawks161,595692,342120
Hudson Valley Renegades148,158364,116112
Erie SeaWolves215,444653,315111
Gwinnett Stripers212,342673,169107
Carolina Mudcats193,568682,847103
Jackson Generals107,131611,756102
Boise Hawks129,805383,41695
Frederick Keys263,528604,39295
Lehigh Valley IronPigs585,110688,60594
Hillsboro Hops133,605383,51687
Akron RubberDucks340,187675,07781
Lynchburg Hillcats117,029631,85877
Arkansas Travelers311,021684,57476
Burlington Royals40,142331,21674
Daytona Tortugas137,570652,11670
Fort Myers Miracle108,800571,90960
Pulaski Yankees95,897342,82157
Richmond Flying Squirrels400,321646,25557
Columbus Clippers590,504688,68451
Myrtle Beach Pelicans226,247673,37750
Spokane Indians200,273385,27048
Mahoning Valley Scrappers98,833362,74545
Williamsport Crosscutters64,148331,94442
Sacramento River Cats549,440707,84941
Idaho Falls Chukars102,859372,78038
Vermont Lake Monsters83,122372,24738
Albuquerque Isotopes542,832687,98335
Altoona Curve308,464674,60433
Dayton Dragons545,108697,90032
Bluefield Blue Jays20,9093167428
Lake County Captains200,756653,08927
Greenville Drive329,733684,84926
Clinton LumberKings121,325661,83822
Kannapolis Intimidators75,931671,13318
Clearwater Threshers180,069672,68816
Lakewood BlueClaws308,318664,67114
Durham Bulls529,105697,6687
San Antonio Missions337,484694,8916
Pensacola Blue Wahoos296,095684,3546
Portland Sea Dogs357,647635,677-1
Kingsport Mets29,55333896-8
Great Falls Voyagers47,207341,388-13
Jupiter Hammerheads62,684601,045-18
Lakeland Flying Tigers50,77062819-21
State College Spikes119,120373,219-24
Princeton Rays24,13333731-26
Norfolk Tides350,086665,304-30
Columbia Fireflies245,522663,720-35
Great Lakes Loons195,904692,839-41
Memphis Redbirds327,753664,966-41
Tri-City Dust Devils87,021382,290-42
Auburn Doubledays39,381341,158-46
Modesto Nuts139,762692,026-46
Billings Mustangs96,594372,611-59
Palm Beach Cardinals57,41859973-59
Bradenton Marauders71,284631,131-61
Rome Braves152,874692,216-70
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes162,085682,384-70
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp327,388664,960-77
Asheville Tourists187,718682,761-79
Vancouver Canadians235,980386,210-82
Frisco RoughRiders455,765676,802-84
Oklahoma City Dodgers444,131676,629-84
West Virginia Power118,444681,742-99
Biloxi Shuckers146,845632,331-99
Nashville Sounds578,291678,631-110
Wilmington Blue Rocks231,325623,731-111
Cedar Rapids Kernels150,278672,243-112
Springfield Cardinals328,217694,757-114
Orem Owlz45,561371,231-114
Charleston RiverDogs301,320694,367-119
Down East Wood Ducks110,619671,651-119
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers218,037653,354-121
Bristol Pirates18,75032586-122
Stockton Ports179,465692,601-123
Harrisburg Senators258,909673,864-124
West Virginia Black Bears62,846371,699-128
Augusta GreenJackets266,569683,920-130
Tampa Tarpons61,29063973-132
South Bend Cubs319,616674,770-141
Inland Empire 66ers181,253692,627-144
Danville Braves30,00733909-145
Connecticut Tigers66,532351,901-148
Fort Wayne TinCaps371,259675,541-162
Northwest Arkansas Naturals284,829664,316-162
Winston-Salem Dash264,879624,272-164
Lansing Lugnuts311,028704,443-169
Greensboro Grasshoppers306,136654,710-171
Toledo Mud Hens481,496677,187-175
Bowie Baysox224,686693,256-182
Missoula Osprey57,076341,679-204
Indianapolis Indians586,860688,630-215
Reno Aces336,215704,803-216
Montgomery Biscuits216,839683,189-219
Greeneville Reds43,617331,322-227
St. Lucie Mets82,581641,290-230
Staten Island Yankees66,520361,848-235
Peoria Chiefs198,545682,920-236
Kane County Cougars350,305675,228-241
El Paso Chihuahuas522,894697,578-241
Hagerstown Suns59,68265918-242
Corpus Christi Hooks323,688704,624-242
Dunedin Blue Jays11,75758203-247
Tri-City ValleyCats131,529343,869-250
Salt Lake Bees433,596656,671-250
Round Rock Express597,928708,542-267
Buffalo Bisons518,741657,981-269
Florida Fire Frogs19,61560327-273
Aberdeen IronBirds118,357373,199-284
Charlotte Stone Crabs91,349671,363-291
Fresno Grizzlies380,090665,759-292
Tacoma Rainiers347,378685,109-294
Birmingham Barons379,707705,424-327
Lowell Spinners100,687333,051-330
Omaha Storm Chasers328,307664,974-346
New Hampshire Fisher Cats306,511654,716-349
Tennessee Smokies280,708654,319-349
Salem Red Sox171,866672,565-354
Lexington Legends270,221664,094-368
West Michigan Whitecaps360,295675,378-392
Charlotte Knights581,006688,544-436
Brooklyn Cyclones174,522364,848-481
Potomac Nationals192,474593,262-504
Lake Elsinore Storm172,280682,534-537
Binghamton Rumble Ponies182,990613,000-553
Quad Cities River Bandits150,905612,474-689
Pawtucket Red Sox331,010635,254-728
New Orleans Baby Cakes188,092642,939-888
*Changed Stadium/City
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