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Your Eyes Aren't Lying, But MLB Attendance Numbers Are PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 08:52

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. You hear it, but it can’t be. As the ballgame you are attending enters the final innings, the PA announcer says, “Tonight’s attendance is….” But that number can’t be right. Maybe they say it’s a sellout, but you look around and there are empty seats. Maybe they say it’s in the tens of thousands, but if you take the time, you count closer to three-quarters of that.

The problem is, it paints an unrealistic picture – when they say, or worse, put it in a boxscore, it’s deemed the number of people at the game.

It’s not just fans, media pound on this, as well. Case in point, last night with Joe Capozzi  the Marlins beat writer/baseball writer for The Palm Beach Post via Twitter, which I chimed in on.

Capozzi:  Marlins announce tonight's attendance -- 21,337. I know I might need new glasses but that crowd outside the press box looks more like 5,000

Brown: It's a paid attendance thing

Capozzi: It's misleading. Many teams announce paid AND gate.

Brown: Name one. In over a decade of tracking attendance never heard gate

I’m not picking on Capozzi, but rather use the tweets to make a point. He didn’t answer because clubs haven’t announced the gate in some time. The matter is “paid” attendance vs. the “gate”, a fundamental shift that occurred around 25 years ago (the exact date has been elusive, but it’s been said that the NL did so before the AL). Paid attendance is the number announced and reflects tickets sold. The gate is the number of people through the turnstiles. If you did have the gate and paid attendance numbers you could then determine a no-show count. That is something the league doesn’t want the media to know as it is tied to the loss of revenues when fans don’t actually go to games. Everything from parking to concessions to some merchandise items such as programs could then be accounted for.

The no-show numbers do surface on occasion, such as through the court documents associated with the Dodgers divorce. According to the documents, the no-show rate for the Dodgers in 2009 was 17.4 percent, which is considered the norm. Remember, in that season, the Dodgers won the NL West and advanced as far as the NLCS.

But, paid attendance does serve a purpose, albeit for the owners. If you’re a low-revenue maker such as the Indians, Pirates, or Marlins, just getting ticket revenue matters. Sure, those clubs want to have fans come to the games, but the figures help with matters such as sponsorship sales. If you tie paid attendance to what is deemed a sellout threshold number – a number that can be thousands below what the seating capacity is listed at, it can impact the number of sellouts in a season, something else key to sponsorship sales (see Demystifying When a Sellout Isn’t a Sellout, and Ticket-Selling Tricks of the Trade).

And, if you think it’s bad in MLB, it’s worse across other sports. In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, comps, VIP, and media are counted into paid attendance numbers. In MLB, the paid attendance number is critical as the ticket revenues associated to tickets sold, not the number of fans through the gates, factors into how net local revenues are factored. That impacts how revenue-sharing is determined.

But, Capozzi is right. It’s misleading. It’s self-serving. And, unless it’s qualified in the future, attendance figures will be used to speak to how popular the game was – how many went to the ballpark, stadium, or arena of the various sports leagues. Revisionist history is something to avoid at all costs, but until there are gate numbers, at least do this…. It’s “paid attendance” not “attendance.”

Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

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