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MLB spinmasters at work on down attendance news

MLB’s recent press release trumpeted the following:

“Major League Baseball announced today that despite the nation’s worst economic downturn in 80 years, the 30 Clubs drew 73,418,479 fans during the 2009 championship season, producing the fifth largest total attendance in MLB history.”

Here are the numbers they left out of the release:

MLB attendance YTY
2009 73,418,479 -6.6%
2008 78,588,004 -1.2%
2007 79,503,175 4.6%
2006 76,042,787 1.5%
2005 74,926,174 2.6%
2004 73,022,969

In other words, MLB had its second consecutive down year, its largest decline and lowest total since 2004.

Buried in a later paragraph, they slipped in the bad news, but even found a way to fudge that.

“Because of the economy, this year’s total is 6.6 percent less than last year’s total, but is actually only 5.2 percent lower when accounting for the reduced capacities of the two new ballparks in New York. The total number of seats available at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium is approximately 1.5 million fewer than at the old ballparks.”

Let’s see. When the new parks were in planning, the spin was that the new facilities would operate at higher capacity for every game, therefore increasing season-long attendance.

That is precisely what happened in St. Louis, albeit in a better economic environment. Despite the new Busch being smaller than the old, a new club home season attendance record of 3,552,180 was set in 2007 in its first full season at maximum capacity. In all fairness, the club was also coming off a world championship.

Now the story changes for the MLB spinmasters.

Of course, not mentioned is how higher per-seat revenue projections from the new parks panned out since revenues are not reported.

Not bound by having to be politically sensitive, USA Today calls blasts this year’s attendance decline across MLB as being the “biggest single-season loss since Harry Truman was president” in a non-strike-related season.

USA Today notes 2/3 of the 30 MLB teams saw a year-to-year drop, including the Cardinals, though the club seems delighted to have come in at 3,343,252, a decline of 2.6 percent from 2008. That was actually a smaller decline than the 3.4 percent drop the team saw from their record-breaking 2007 to 2008.

In contrast to last season when the Cardinals’ percentage decline was greater than the MLB total, their decline this year was less than the entirety of MLB, -2.6 percent versus -6.6 percent.

There was another important benefit. By blowing away their original 2009 projection of 3,000,000 by 11.4 percent, reaching 3,343,252, the club states the revenue from the increase in ticket sales enabled them to make in-season trades for Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday.

Cardinals Attendance YTY
2009 3,343,252 -2.6%
2008 3,432,917 -3.4%
2007 3,552,180 4.3%
2006 3,407,114 -3.7% Busch III
2005 3,538,948 16.1% Busch II
2004 3,048,427
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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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