The news is good for the Major League Baseball teams vying for one of the eight postseason berths as well as ticket resellers: With one notable exception, winning does lure fans to the ballpark.
Of the 10 teams that still have a viable shot at the playoffs with two weeks to play, nine have enjoyed an increase in average attendance this season. At least four and perhaps as many as five of the top six gainers are all but assured of reaching the playoffs, including each of the top three.
Here is a look at the performance at the gate of the likely American League playoff teams in each division, in order of average increase per game. We’ll examine the possible National League playoff teams tomorrow, September 21. (All attendance figures are through Sunday, September 19)
Minnesota Twins (up 11,377 fans per game, highest increase in MLB): While Target Field is new, playing in the postseason has become routine for the Twins, whose magic number for winning the AL Central is down to four. This division championship will be the Twins’ sixth in the last nine years (and in 2008, they lost a one-game playoff to the Chicago White Sox), but demand for tickets should be hotter than ever considering the new digs as well as the Twins’ status as a legitimate favorite to reach the World Series. The Twins have lost to the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series in each of their last four playoff trips, during which they have won just two games, but through Sunday, September 19, the Twins were just one game behind the Yankees in the race for the best record in the AL and home field advantage until the World Series.
Texas Rangers (up 4,593 fans per game, second highest average increase in MLB): Interest in the Rangers has soared, as much for the imminent end of their 11-year postseason drought (the Rangers’ magic number to win the AL West is six) as for the long-sought stability off it. The Rangers have averaged 37,305 fans in 17 home games since a group led by former Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan won control of the team in an auction Thursday, August 5, as opposed to 28,506 in 57 home games prior to Ryan’s victory. The Rangers put playoff tickets on sale last week, and while the Dallas Morning News reported there were some hiccups with the online ticketing system, the club should still have no trouble selling out The Ballpark in Arlington—especially if the Rangers play the Yankees, whose presence in five games this summer drew crowds of at least 42,000 to Arlington.
New York Yankees (up 507 fans per game, 12th-highest in MLB): There’s nowhere else to go for a team that will lead the AL in average attendance for the eighth straight season. The early controversy over the high-priced seats at Yankee Stadium has been quieted by the dominance of the reigning world champion Yankees, who are a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the race for the AL East flag and the best record in baseball. The Yankees drew at least 49,000 fans to all eight of their home playoff games last season and should have no trouble filling The House That Steinbrenner Built this October.
Tampa Bay Rays (down 410 fans per game): The Rays are the outlier among likely possible teams, and the franchise’s difficulties at the gate are a sensitive subject for Rays management, which declined a recent interview request from TicketNews. The Rays averaged 28,451 fans for last week’s three-game series against the Yankees, which is far higher than their season average of 23,082 yet still lower than the average sellout crowd of 36,973 that turned out for the three-game weekend series against the Yankees from July 30-August 1. The Rays also drew a smaller average crowd for their just-concluded three-game weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (26,989) than they did for a weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles August 13-15 (30,040). Still, history suggests people will fill the Trop once the Rays are in the playoffs: Their final four playoff games in 2008 (two ALCS and two World Series) drew crowds of more than 40,000.