The economic downturn has taken a toll on attendance so far this season for Minor League Baseball (MiLB), but officials are thankful the numbers are only slightly off from 2008.

Overall attendance was helped by strong numbers for June, which topped 7.7 million, a record for the month. A total of 20.5 million fans attended games so far this season, according to numbers released by MiLB.

15 for $15 with Napster!Attendance was down in the beginning of the season – which runs from April to early September – though it improved to approach figures for 2008. Through the end of June, the average game attendance number was 3,986 as opposed to last year’s 4,005 average, a drop of 0.5 percent. And although 2,212,545 less fans attended openings through June this year, there were at least 529 more openings in the same period last year to account for the difference. In fact, eight of MiLB’s fifteen leagues averaged more fans per opening than the same period last year; the Pioneer League, a short-season rookie classification league, saw an 18 percent increase in attendance.

MiLB saw record attendance numbers at the end of the 2008 season, drawing in a total of 43,263,740 by the season’s September closing.

Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner is happy with the numbers. In a news article posted on the MiLB Web site he said, “For Minor League Baseball to see the 2009 attendance flat compared to last year at this point is a testament to the tremendous work of our teams, our executives and, most importantly, the loyalty of our fans. To see the fans enjoying Minor League Baseball at near record numbers in this economy speaks volumes about our product and its place in our country.”

The Minor League teams with the best attendance records include the Columbus Clippers, with a 9,341 fan/game average, the Sacramento River Cats (8,986), and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (8,843).

The top three Double-A clubs with the highest fan per game average are the Frisco RoughRiders (8,374), Corpus Christi Hooks (6,320) and Reading Phillies (6,131), while topping the Class-A league in attendance records are the Greensboro Grasshoppers (5,978) and Lakewood BlueClaws (5,784). The Brooklyn Cyclones had the best attendance of the short-season clubs with an 8,654 average.