Summer has begun and business is heating up for Major League Baseball, which sold more than 1.64 million tickets last weekend (Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19) — its biggest weekend since September 2008 — and is closing in on the pace it set last year, when 73.06 million tickets were sold.
But if MLB is going to reverse a three-year trend of declining ticket sales since a record 2007, it will likely have to overcome acres of empty seats in some of the biggest markets in the National League, such as New York and Los Angeles.
And while there is a glimmer of hope the Mets have scraped rock bottom and are on their way up — while the Mets are off 4,181 fans per game, the second-biggest drop in the game, a new minority owner and a far-better-than-expected 35-38 start has mollified a fan base tired of the antics of the Wilpon family — there is no such short-term hope for the Dodgers. In fact, the Dodgers are responsible for the largest attendance decline in the sport.
The Dodgers are not only struggling on the field (they were 34-41 and 6½ games out of first place through Tuesday, June 21) but have also endured the melodrama generated by the divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his wife, and MLB’s subsequent takeover of the team. (Commissioner Bud Selig announced this week he would not approve the club’s new television deal with Fox, which likely means the Dodgers will not be able to make payroll June 30 and will hasten MLB’s sale of the team.)
In addition, the team has received mountains of bad publicity stemming from the horrific attack of San Francisco Giants fan Brian Stow in a Dodger Stadium parking lot Opening Day that left Stow in a coma.
The average crowd at Dodger Stadium has fallen by a staggering 9,110 fans per game. That’s more than twice as big as the Mets’ drop and almost four times as big a drop as another struggling major market team, the Chicago Cubs, who are off by an average of 2,548 fans per game at historic Wrigley Field.
Things are so bad in Los Angeles that Gary Lee, the director of marketing for Los Angeles-based VIP Tickets, can only compare the Dodgers’ plight to that of a fictitious baseball team.
“I think of the movie ‘Major League,’ in all honesty,” Lee told TicketNews, referring to the classic movie in which the owner of the Cleveland Indians tries to tank a season so she can move the team to Florida, only to see the ragtag Indians win the AL East.
“We have much better players, of course, but something has to happen and it might take a miracle to have to believe in the Dodgers again,” Lee continued. “Andre Ethier goes on another hitting streak, or Matt Kemp pulls a Mark McGwire without the steroids — something has to happen, and I don’t foresee anything happening unless someone comes down from above and waves their wand.”
Lee said he believes the Stow attack is the biggest factor keeping fans away but that the Dodgers’ ownership dramas and lackluster place in the standings certainly aren’t helping matters.
“The security, that’s my gut feeling,” Lee said. “But this town is all about championships. They want to win. This city’s all about winning, they appreciate winners and they want to see more winners.”
Lee added: “The Lakers have done a great job putting a great team on the court — at least they look like they’re trying to put a good team on the court. The Dodgers, everyone knows the Dodgers are having a financial discussion right now and we can’t even do realistic trade rumors because nobody knows if we’ll have enough money to do it.”
“You don’t put a winning team on the field and then you get rid of all the hope — that’s a tough situation,” Lee said. “When you put a bad team there, people aren’t going to want to spend their money to watch their team lose. That’s basically what is going on right now.”