Minor League Attendance Snaps Back To Pre-Pandemic Form


Image credit: (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)

UPDATE: You can now see full 2023 Minor League Baseball attendance numbers here.

The last few years have been brutal ones for many who work in minor league baseball.

There was the lost 2020 season. There were furloughs, layoffs and payroll cuts that proved to be an off-ramp for a number of longtime minor league front office employees. 

Right on the heels of that came the MLB-mandated scaling back of the minor leagues from 160 affiliated ticket-selling teams to 120.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t end there. When the minors returned in 2021, there were still capacity restrictions for many teams, and there was still a reluctance by some to return to games.

Last year was supposed to be the return to normalcy, but when the season wrapped, teams across the minors faced a new realm of fears. Attendance across the minors was down 380 fans per game per team compared with 2019, the last year before the pandemic. Some expressed concern that the new sea level for minor league attendance had dipped significantly.

Minor league attendance hasn’t really grown since 2007, when a record 43.26 million fans came to games, an average of 4,170 fans per game. While there’s no hope that the slimmed-down minor leagues will ever again come close to that 43 million total attendance record, throughout the 2010s, the minors had found a nice equilibrium. Most years, the average team drew a little more than 4,000 fans per game.

In 2022, the average team drew just 3,910 fans per game. If that was the new normal, it would mean that it had settled in at a level worse than what Minor League Baseball had seen in any year since the start of the 21st century.

Now, a collective sigh of relief can be heard around the minors. Last year appears to be an aberration. This year looks a whole lot more like 2019 than it does 2022.

As of July 23, MiLB teams were averaging 4,034 fans per team per game. That’s up 124 fans per game across the minors when compared with the end-of-year totals for 2022. Even better for MiLB teams, it’s a 207 fan per game increase over where they were at this time last year.

And it’s just seven fans per game fewer than teams drew in 2019 through July 23.

So what happened? In conversations with front office officials with multiple teams, groups have returned to the ballpark in 2023 in a way they didn’t in 2022. While season-ticket sales and single-game tickets returned to pre-pandemic levels last year, civic groups and corporate outings remained hard to book in 2022.

This year, those groups are back.

“This feels the most normal since 2019. We’re seeing that group element come back to the ballpark now,”  Gwinnett Stripers general manager Erin McCormick said. The Stripers are on pace for their best attendance since 2015.

According to McCormick, last year some groups were still hesitant to come back to the ballpark because of the pandemic. Others said they needed a year of steady revenues before they were able to do staff outings. This year, both those concerns have largely evaporated.

“In 2021, it was a short season; (in) 2022 there were still a lot of unknowns,” McCormick said. “Now this is the first year where it’s a sigh of relief. We’re back. Now we can focus on what we’re doing and grow on that.” 

The gains can be seen nearly across the board. Of the 100 teams that had been full-season clubs in 2019, 62 drew fewer fans per game and 27 drew more than 500 fewer fans per game in 2022 than they did in 2019. Just 16 teams saw bumps of 500 or more fans per game when compared with 2019.

This year, 91 of the 120 affiliated teams have seen attendance gains compared to this time last year, and 10 teams were up 500 fans per game or more. Only New Hampshire had seen a drop of 500 or more fans per game.

There’s also something notable afoot. The Twins’ Double-A Wichita affiliate has seen an increase of 1,606 fans per game when compared to this time last year, the biggest increase in the minors. But after them, the next three biggest gainers were all Orioles affiliates.

The Orioles have been one of the best success stories in baseball in 2023, and they have spread the prospect wealth around to all levels. Our No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday has played at three different levels. Triple-A Norfolk, the only team to not see Holliday yet this year, began the year with what we described as the most talented team in the minors. 

The Tides lived up to those expectations with the best record in the International League, all while sending a steady stream of prospects to Baltimore throughout the season.

“Previous (Orioles front offices) would send guys straight from Double-A to the majors,” Norfolk GM Joe Gregory said. “Manny Machado never played here. Now that we’re getting those players for a significant amount of at-bats, the fans in Norfolk see them here longer and then go to Baltimore and make that impact. It’s positive all the way around.”

The Orioles’ ability to keep their farm teams within their geographical footprint has provided a halo effect. Norfolk was up by 1,069 fans per game. Double-A Bowie was up 1,041 per game. Low-A Delmarva had seen a bump of 923 fans per game. High-A Aberdeen cracked the top 20 in attendance growth with an increase of 427 fans per game.

The Orioles’ success had helped the big league team draw more than 4,000 additional fans per game when compared to this time last year. That success had trickled down to Baltimore affiliates, which had collectively drawn 3,460 more fans per game this year.

Return To Form
Minor league attendance has returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Here’s a look at what the 120 full-season clubs were drawing in average announced attendance through July 23 in each year.

Year Attendance per game

2023 4,034
2022 3,830
2021 3,065
2019 4,041
2018 4,051
2017 4,185
2016 4,105
2015 4,188
2014 4,149
2013 4,088
2012 4,064
2011 4,118
2010 4,158

MLB Attendance Has Also Climbed in 2023 to levels not seen since 2017. Here’s a look at average announced MLB attendance through July 23 of each season.

Year Avg. Attendance

2023 28,775
2022 26,525
2021 15,949
2019 28,173
2018 28,555
2017 30,308
2016 30,398
2015 30,456
2014 30,223
2013 30,460
2012 31,405
2011 30,005
2010 29,784

Here’s a look at each team’s average attendance through July 23, 2023, along with their average at the same time last year and their percentage change.

Team20232022Change% Change
Wichita Wind Surge4,8953,2891,60648.83%
Norfolk Tides6,0094,9401,06921.64%
Bowie Baysox3,5722,5311,04141.13%
Delmarva Shorebirds3,1842,26192340.82%
Binghamton Rumble Ponies3,0842,23784737.86%
Wilmington Blue Rocks2,6331,91372037.64%
South Bend Cubs4,7764,20357313.63%
Frisco RoughRiders5,5735,02654710.88%
Corpus Christi Hooks4,6064,08452212.78%
Northwest Arkansas Naturals4,0363,53250414.27%
Durham Bulls6,7806,2884927.82%
Portland Sea Dogs6,1325,6404928.72%
Lehigh Valley IronPigs7,9997,5224776.34%
Cedar Rapids Kernels2,4411,97946223.35%
Erie SeaWolves2,8972,43845918.83%
Gwinnett Stripers3,4062,95245415.38%
Harrisburg Senators4,1253,67345212.31%
Mississippi Braves2,8962,45743917.87%
Aberdeen IronBirds2,1951,76842724.15%
Springfield Cardinals4,1053,69241311.19%
Sugar Land Space Cowboys4,4113,99941210.30%
Hartford Yard Goats6,1905,7904006.91%
Fort Wayne TinCaps5,0894,7043858.18%
Charleston RiverDogs4,2943,9103849.82%
Stockton Ports1,8461,46638025.92%
Jersey Shore BlueClaws4,4314,0573749.22%
Asheville Tourists2,9842,62036413.89%
Reading Fightin Phils6,1145,7553596.24%
Palm Beach Cardinals95861334556.28%
Arkansas Travelers4,8154,4743417.62%
Biloxi Shuckers2,6252,28434114.93%
Altoona Curve4,5694,2333367.94%
Tacoma Rainiers5,0304,7093216.82%
Salt Lake Bees5,8625,5443185.74%
Greensboro Grasshoppers4,4594,1443157.60%
Peoria Chiefs2,2721,95731516.10%
Hickory Crawdads2,0621,75830417.29%
Pensacola Blue Wahoos4,5434,2423017.10%
Tennessee Smokies4,6344,3382966.82%
Akron RubberDucks3,8093,5192908.24%
West Michigan Whitecaps5,1154,8262895.99%
Everett AquaSox1,9431,66028317.05%
Spokane Indians3,6533,3752788.24%
Jupiter Hammerheads1,01474127336.84%
Richmond Flying Squirrels6,4396,1672724.41%
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders4,8654,5952705.88%
Great Lakes Loons2,6862,42126510.95%
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes2,3892,12626312.37%
Buffalo Bisons6,9756,7152603.87%
Chattanooga Lookouts3,8603,6082526.98%
Sacramento River Cats5,1614,9212404.88%
Augusta GreenJackets4,3214,0832385.83%
Toledo Mud Hens6,0495,8212283.92%
Rochester Red Wings6,0695,8452243.83%
Fort Myers Mighty Mussels1,8601,64321713.21%
Hillsboro Hops2,2492,04020910.25%
Lynchburg Hillcats1,7061,49920713.81%
Syracuse Mets5,2105,0092014.01%
San Jose Giants1,9141,71919511.34%
Bradenton Marauders1,08990418520.46%
Carolina Mudcats2,4652,2801858.11%
Columbia Fireflies3,6633,4891744.99%
Hudson Valley Renegades2,7632,5891746.72%
El Paso Chihuahuas7,0776,9091682.43%
Dunedin Blue Jays54738915840.62%
Columbus Clippers7,5697,4131562.10%
Rome Braves1,6521,50115110.06%
Fredericksburg Nationals4,1023,9531493.77%
Iowa Cubs6,0635,9181452.45%
Greenville Drive5,1314,9871442.89%
Tri-City Dust Devils1,7521,6121408.68%
Indianapolis Indians7,6347,5001341.79%
Oklahoma City Dodgers5,8765,7421342.33%
Bowling Green Hot Rods2,6292,5011285.12%
Reno Aces4,8664,7411252.64%
Brooklyn Cyclones2,6852,5661194.64%
Winston-Salem Dash4,4784,3671112.54%
Visalia Rawhide2,0381,9371015.21%
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers2,9442,8431013.55%
Down East Wood Ducks1,6161,526905.90%
Tampa Tarpons1,007937707.47%
Omaha Storm Chasers4,0774,010671.67%
Lake Elsinore Storm1,7631,711523.04%
Round Rock Express5,7405,700400.70%
Fresno Grizzlies4,3164,283330.77%
Beloit Sky Carp1,4791,447322.21%
Kannapolis Cannon Ballers3,0713,046250.82%
Amarillo Sod Poodles5,5655,542230.42%
Lansing Lugnuts4,4174,394230.52%
Lakeland Flying Tigers652641111.72%
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp5,3525,34480.15%
Montgomery Biscuits2,6942,710-16-0.59%
Dayton Dragons7,8787,902-24-0.30%
Clearwater Threshers2,6302,658-28-1.05%
Salem Red Sox2,7702,807-37-1.32%
Las Vegas Aviators7,0087,046-38-0.54%
Quad Cities River Bandits2,5222,574-52-2.02%
Somerset Patriots5,0805,134-54-1.05%
Daytona Tortugas1,5451,606-61-3.80%
Birmingham Barons4,1434,205-62-1.47%
Midland RockHounds3,6663,737-71-1.90%
San Antonio Missions4,2864,359-73-1.67%
Vancouver Canadians4,4494,539-90-1.98%
Nashville Sounds7,9098,002-93-1.16%
St. Lucie Mets1,1691,291-122-9.45%
Myrtle Beach Pelicans4,0754,211-136-3.23%
Lake County Captains2,6312,810-179-6.37%
Tulsa Drillers5,5995,791-192-3.32%
Louisville Bats5,6415,855-214-3.65%
Inland Empire 66ers2,1092,333-224-9.60%
St. Paul Saints5,9276,176-249-4.03%
Eugene Emeralds1,7922,066-274-13.26%
Modesto Nuts1,3601,642-282-17.17%
Memphis Redbirds3,2503,541-291-8.22%
Albuquerque Isotopes7,1027,453-351-4.71%
Fayetteville Woodpeckers3,1283,494-366-10.48%
Charlotte Knights7,1157,483-368-4.92%
Rocket City Trash Pandas4,9915,361-370-6.90%
Worcester Red Sox6,9337,409-476-6.42%
New Hampshire Fisher Cats3,5024,216-714-16.94%

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