Good seats available: MLB's early-season attendance issue continues

Barely 1,000 people were at Kauffman Stadium for Wednesday afternoon's rescheduled rainout between the Royals and the Rays. Jeff Passan/ESPN

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At first pitch Wednesday afternoon between the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays, about 500 fans dotted the stands at Kauffman Stadium. It was a weekday during the school year, and it was just past noon on a workday, and it was rescheduled from a rainout the previous night, and yet the tableau was stark: a major league baseball game with an almost-nonexistent crowd.

About 400 miles away, the scene was similarly disarming: The Chicago White Sox, also playing a rescheduled day game, with entire sections of Guaranteed Rate Field empty, the crowd numbering maybe 1,500.

As Major League Baseball grapples with an attendance decline going on six years, vacant stadiums do little to reverse the narrative of a league struggling to draw fans. The circumstances do matter, and rescheduled weekday day games provide a bingo of bad-attendance adjectives. They are also a reality in a sport with a 162-game schedule that includes mandates for earlier games on getaway days and hasty reschedulings because of rainouts.

MLB's overall attendance numbers are slightly down from last April, when they dropped precipitously, a dip the league attributed to poor weather. By the end of the season, league-wide attendance was down more than 3 million, dropping to 69,671,272, the lowest figure since 2003 and down nearly 10 million from its 2007 peak. Regional sports network ratings and digital streaming numbers are up year-over-year, according to a source familiar with the numbers.

April 2019 attendance was salvaged by the Philadelphia Phillies, whose year-over-year attendance gain of 11,660 fans per game nearly matches the combined jump of the 12 other teams posting better attendance in 2019.

Coming into Wednesday, MLB was averaging 193 fewer fans per game through 437 games than in 2018, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The next-best gains after Philadelphia were by the Pittsburgh Pirates (up 2,598 per game), New York Yankees (1,770), San Diego Padres (1,600) and Oakland Athletics (1,387).

The largest drops were the San Francisco Giants (down 6,656 per game), Toronto Blue Jays (4,578), Minnesota Twins (3,387), Kansas City (3,240) and Houston Astros (3,228).

While the crowd for the second game of Kansas City's doubleheader Wednesday against Tampa Bay -- also rescheduled from a 7:10 p.m. CT start to 3:40 p.m. -- grew to around 1,500, the official crowd was announced at 11,411. The doubleheader attendance at Guaranteed Rate Field was announced at 14,781.

Though MLB still projects to outdraw the NFL, NBA and NHL's combined attendance of 61.4 million, baseball's attendance stragglers remain disconcerting. The Miami Marlins' average attendance has dipped below 10,000. The Rays, one of the best teams in baseball, are at 14,009. Cleveland, another contender, averages 15,385. In all, 11 teams are currently below 20,000 per game.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are almost certain to lead the league in attendance for the seventh consecutive season, are tops in average attendance at 47,481 per game. Behind them: the St. Louis Cardinals (41,156), the Yankees (39,817), the Phillies (36,956) and the Los Angeles Angels (36,775).