In the 1990s, tickets to home games of the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays were nearly impossible to get. All three franchises contended for the world championship in front of sold-out crowds in sparkling brand-new stadiums.
As a new decade dawns, though, things are not nearly so prosperous. The Orioles, Indians and Blue Jays all set stadium records for smallest single-game crowds during their first home stands of the season.
Through Tuesday, May 4, Toronto and Cleveland ranked next-to-last and last among the 14 American League teams in attendance. Toronto drew a Rogers Centre-low 10,314 against Kansas City April 19, while just 10,071 fans turned out to see the Indians host the Texas Rangers April 14 at Progressive Field.
Baltimore’s average attendance of 24,163 ranks eighth in the AL, but that is boosted by six games against the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, each of which have fan bases that make Camden Yards a second home. Subtract those six games, as well as the sellout home opener against Toronto, and the Orioles have averaged 15,351 in their other five dates. A Camden-low 9,129 turned out for the game against the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays April 12. Despite their strong record, the Rays also are having trouble luring fans into the ballpark.
The Orioles, Indians and Blue Jays are not the only teams having a tough time at the gate: Half of the 30 teams had at least a 30 percent drop-off in attendance for their second home game of the season.
But the struggles of Baltimore, Cleveland and Toronto are particularly troubling given their recent glory days, both at the gate and on the field, and the perception that better days do not seem to be on the horizon.
The Indians, which opened Jacobs Field in 1994, made the playoffs six times in seven years from 1995 through 2001 and set a Major League Baseball record for consecutive sellouts with 455 (a mark since broken by the Red Sox). The team came within a game of making the World Series in 2007, but slow starts the subsequent two seasons forced management to trade multiple fan favorites and embark upon the franchise’s second rebuilding project in a decade.
The Orioles, which opened Camden Yards in 1992 and finished first or second in the AL in attendance in each of the next nine seasons, have endured 12 straight losing seasons since their last playoff berth in 1997 and stumbled out to a 2-16 start this year. The Blue Jays were the first baseball team to draw four million fans in a single season in 1991, and led the AL in attendance in their first six seasons at the Skydome, but they haven’t been to the playoffs since winning their second straight World Series in 1993.
While the Indians play in the AL Central with franchises in similarly sized markets, the Orioles and Blue Jays have the task of competing in the AL East with the Yankees, which have had baseball’s highest payroll every year since 1999, and the Red Sox, which have ranked second seven times since 2000. So, Orioles and Jays fans feel, almost from Opening Day, that their teams have little hope—a message they have delivered with their absence thus far this season.