At this point, there’s no way to avoid talking about it: The attendance at Camden Yards lately has not been good. We get it. Every publication has written a story. Every upset uncle has typed a Facebook rant. We heard you. Loud and clear.
Last night, the Orioles lost 5-2 to the Red Sox in a pretty important game at home. They did so in front of 18,456 fans; a good chunk of which were supporting the visitors. Oriole Park holds about 45,000 people. So, that was disappointing in many ways. And to hear chants of “Let’s go Red Sox!” at several points in the game was enough to make any Birds fan a little miffed.
Of course, I observed all of this from the comfort of my couch. So, believe me, I’m not pointing fingers. We’re just talking here. Ya know, like friends.
I’m looking at BaseballReference.com for all of this information. According to BR, prior to last night’s game, the O’s had a total attendance this season of 1,976,194, which is an average of 26,705 per game. Both of those numbers sit them in 20th place of Major League Baseball, the lowest standing of any “contending” team.
At this point last season, the Birds had drawn 2,165,296 in attendance. That is an average of 29,261 per game. If I’m doing the math right (I’m probably not), that is about a nine percent decrease from a year ago.
On paper, that makes no sense. The 2016 version of the Orioles already has more wins than 2015’s team did and there are still two weeks to go. So, why aren’t people heading to the park?
Well, if we keep looking at numbers, we see that attendance is down across the league. There have been 566,649 fewer people at baseball games this summer when compared to last. Of course, across every game that number is a negligible 253 people each night.
Breaking it down team-by-team though, 18 of the 30 MLB teams have seen fewer fans at the park this year, including the defending World Series champion Royals, NL East-leading Nationals, Wild Card-contending Tigers and the consistently fantastic Cardinals. The O’s aren’t alone in playing good baseball, but failing to draw fans.
On top of that, the Orioles have really good television ratings. I know. I know. That is a very common, very lame, and yet quite logical, reason. Forbes had them as the fourth-best local market in the country just after the All-Star break, and I doubt it has changed much since then. Baltimore still cares. It just hasn’t translated to the turnstiles...or, ya know, those little scanner things.
I’m not really sure of the cause. You tell me. We can hypothesize all we want. Steve Cockey did a really nice summary of many reasons for BaltimoreBaseball.com a couple of weeks ago. And, in reality, it isn’t just one reason alone. It’s all of them.
If we want to focus on just one game, like last night’s duel with the Red Sox, it seems like there are a lot of easy answers: it was a weeknight, the kids are back in school, no giveaway, poor weather, prime game which means more expensive tickets, the TV product is so great, yada, yada, yada.
It becomes a tad harder to put together reasons for the entire season. To me, the two big ones have to be the cost of going to the games and this summer’s weather. It was unrelentingly hot in Maryland and the O’s bumped up the cost of tickets this season. But with the team’s relatively good play on the field, those seem like pretty minor reasons to keep away nearly a tenth of the game-going fanbase.
One final reason
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why exactly more people aren’t attending ballgames. But here is my best guess at another factor: they just don’t want to. Why? They expect a better product on the field, as greedy as that may seem.
There are a lot of good things about the Orioles. They hit dongs. Manny Machado is one of the best in the game. Adam Jones is the greatest centerfielder in franchise history. Kevin Gausman is turning a corner. And Zach Britton is putting together one of the most incredible seasons by a reliever EVER. But is this a great team that you can reasonably see winning the World Series without a LOT of things working out that probably shouldn’t?
Don’t get me wrong. They could certainly do it. But this is a club with a lot of holes. The outfield defense can be real bad. The starting pitching, while competent lately, has been abhorrent for long stretches. And the offense seems to randomly fall asleep if they don’t hit a home run.
Maybe Baltimore fans are just THAT fair-weathered. They don’t want “competitive” anymore, they want outright winners. The dark, 14-year-long cloud is gone and a distant memory for some. This organization has been a “winner” for five years now and has recently been to an ALCS. The next step is the World Series, not simply getting to the crapshoot that is the Wild Card game.
The fans pay attention. The decision to basically stand pat this winter, save for a Yovani Gallardo/Wei-Yin Chen swap and a buy-low Mark Trumbo trade, raised some eyebrows. It’s clear that the O’s won’t dip their toe too far into free agency. But it is also widely known that the minor league cupboard is relatively barren. You can see how a fanbase gets discourage despite recent success.
Of course, I do think that fans should be getting out to the games to support the Orioles in force. But it’s not my money to spend. If the O’s can hold on and make it to the playoffs, Camden Yards will be stuffed. If they prove me wrong and make a World Series run, it could stay that way come next regular season.
Maybe I am totally off base with all of this. It seems like a topic that stirs a ton of conversation, so go for it. Why aren’t more people going to Orioles games? Let us what you think in the comments down below, on Twitter and on Facebook.