Camden Yards looking awfully empty these days

All season long at Skydome it’s been one sellout after another.  It’s such a great feeling to be watching on TV or in person and look around to see nothing but a sea of blue and white cheering on the Blue Jays.  Even from the get go, in April and May when Toronto got off to a rocky start, the fans kept coming in droves, knowing all too well that when this special group of players finally did kick things into gear that they’d be right back to playing like they were in 2015, or at least pretty close.

The constant sellouts at Skydome all season long have been a pleasant surprise, but even more surprising have been the piddly crowds recently seen when the Jays visited Cleveland and Baltimore.  It’s not like either the Orioles or Indians are doing poorly or play in a crummy ball park like ‘Tropicana Field’.  These two clubs, just like the Blue Jays, are in contention for the playoffs, and have been all season long.  And yet, here we are in the last week of August and they’re failing to fill anywhere close to capacity.  Yesterday in Baltimore may have been the best example yet of this discouraging trend.  In a crucial game between the wild card leading Orioles and division leading Blue Jays, the total attendance was a meager 15,532…of which 3,000-4,000 (maybe more) were Blue Jay fans.

It’s hard to believe that both Cleveland and Baltimore would be failing to draw decent crowds considering that these two teams have so many positive things going for them.  Both have beautiful ball parks, have winning teams currently in a playoff spot, and they’re playing the first place Blue Jays.  On top of all this is the proximity of both Baltimore and Cleveland to Canada, and the large number of Blue Jay fans who embark on summer road trips to these cities to watch the boys in blue.  The turnout in Baltimore by Blue Jay fans was solid, but in Cleveland it was absolutely staggering!

All kidding aside, how is it that with all these positive factors in favour of both the Orioles and Indians that they’re still failing miserably to attract fans to the ball park?

When it comes to major league cities, both Baltimore and Cleveland are undersized. Not a huge deal if these cities were expected to support one major league sports team, but the problem is that their relatively small populations are expected to support 3 (in the case of Cleveland) and 2 (in Baltimore’s case) major league sport franchises.  Pundits have been complaining lately about the scarcity of crowds at major league ball parks this season, especially for some winning teams you’d expect to be selling a lot more seats than they have.  All this banter about poor attendance figures prompted Michael Wilbon of ‘Pardon the Interruption’ to come out and defend MLB, stating that the fans are still coming out in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto.  The problem that Wilbon’s point fails to address though is that you can’t compare sizeable markets like L.A., Chicago, or Toronto to places like Baltimore or Cleveland.

A city like Cleveland may have been able to support 3 major league franchises 20-30 years ago when the games were so much more affordable, but in today’s financial setting of $100-200 tickets, $9 beers, and $50 baseball caps, many fans are choosing to stay away, and nowhere is this more evident than in the smaller markets.  Many smaller cities are now over-saturated with more professional teams than they can afford to support in today’s sports world where money seems to trump all else.

Moving forwards, unless MLB is comfortable with half empty stadiums for division leading teams in September, one of three things needs to happen.  1) Either figure out what cities can actually afford to support a major league baseball team in addition to the other professional sport franchises in that city, 2) consider lowering the price of attendance and concessions so that more fans can afford to once again attend games in person, or 3) reduce the number of games played each season from 162 to 154 which will simultaneously ease the financial burden on fans to attend so many ball games, and also give fans the incentive to attend as there will be less games to choose from.

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