Dodgers Dragging Down MLB Attendance Figures

Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated yesterday:

4. The Dodgers are a drag on the game.
Through May 1, the Dodgers alone accounted for 63 percent of the decline in MLB attendance. They are down 95,843 fans through 15 dates, or 14.5 percent. One scout said before the Dodgers hired Los Angeles police to address security issues, Dodger Stadium was “the most dangerous ballpark in baseball — 30th out of 30.”
According to baseball sources, Selig seized operational control from owner Frank McCourt for issues that have been “ongoing” and harm franchise value, including the ballpark security problem and accrued debt. Baseball is concerned that McCourt’s plan to take payments from future television revenues will leave the next owner without proper operational funds. McCourt appears positioned for a protracted fight with Selig, which leaves the franchise, which hasn’t played a World Series game in 22 years, which has none of the 20 most popular players in the game according to 2010 jersey sales, in a state of uncertainty.

I feel bad for Dodgers fans. There’s nothing worse than seeing your historic, promising team get ruined by a horrible owner. It makes me happy that I wasn’t around to watch George Steinbrenner ruin the Yankees two decades ago.

MLB attendance has been down since the recession started, and its been getting worse every year. That explains a lot of the decline. But two of the biggest market clubs in the game – the Dodgers and the Mets – have declined especially hard, and a lot of it has to do with ownership. We all know at this point that the Dodgers are under MLB control in part because Frank McCourt’s divorce and poor debt practices, and the Mets are in this spot because a lot of the team’s money was invested with Bernie Madoff. Their poor decisions are a drag on the league in general.

MLB ownership is structured in silly, antiquated ways. So many teams, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are owned by either one family or a small group of owners. This isn’t the case in all sports leagues – I know that many NHL teams are owned by corporate ownership groups, partnerships of investors, etc. MLB actively discourages such large ownership groups, or owners that would bring some competitive change to the league like Mark Cuban. One of these days, MLB is going to wake up and realize that the whole league would be a lot more valuable if it were run as a diversified, transparently accountable set of businesses, with shares owned by many people. Until that happens, we’ll continue to have ownership standing in the way of baseball.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

19 thoughts on “Dodgers Dragging Down MLB Attendance Figures

  1. Couldn’t disagree with this conclusion any more strongly. What is the basis for assuming that corporate ownership is in the best interest of a sports league? Citing the experience of the NHL actually seems to be a point against your argument, so I am not sure why you even brought that up. As the chart in the follow shows (, attendance is down since the recession, but the long-term trend is still high. In addition to the rare circumstances surrounding the Mets and Dodgers, baseball is also dealing with historically poor weather, so when all things are considered, there is little reason to believe that the decline is systemic. Personally, I believe the advent of a transparent secondary market is the biggest reason.

  2. It’s my impression that baseball teams do less well with corporate ownership than with individual ownership. But I don’t have any data. Has anyone done the compiling?

    And I think it’s a more complicated issue than you’ve made it out to be. The Dodgers, for instance, have done better in the standings under McCourt than they did under corporate ownership. That doesn’t excuse the debt problems, but it does mean it’s not so clearcut what’s good for a team.

    And I was there for the entire Steinbrenner reign. He didn’t ruin the Yankees. He brought them back form the irrelevance they had under their previous corporate ownership and made them again the best franchise in baseball, as well as the most valuable one.

    And THEN he ruined them.

    And then he came back from his–let’s call it a sabbatical–when the team was rebuilding without him, bought into the program, and oversaw the franchise becoming the most famous and valuable sports franchise in the world. I watched it all, and I would take a pass on trading it to see what would have happened if CBS had still owned the Yankees for the last 38 years.

    I’m not clear on what you’re suggesting. Is “shares owned by many people” the same as the corporate ownership we’ve already seen at times? Or something different?

  3. steinbrenner ruined the yankees???? he made them a 1.7 billion dollar entity..?and made a whole lot of other owners richer..when they are on the road attendance soars..dame yankees

  4. Thanks to the previous knowledgeable commenters here, I am spared the necessity of explaining for the umpteenth time how Steinbrenner-bashers and Yankee haters are so woefully uninformed regarding the contributions of both to the sport’s viability today.

    As for referring to the Dodgers as “an historic promising franchise,” I have to smile as I haven’t heard such a phrase uttered with a straight face by anyone not named McCourt since Fox Entertainmment bought out the O’Malley family interest in ’98.

  5. Why not be direct? It’s time to bust up the Congressionally empowered baseball monopoly that has ruined baseball by pricing families out of the park. Unless of course, you buy into what Atlanta’s pitching coach said, “Kids do not belong at the ballpark?”

  6. I live in Pittsburgh and probably the only Pirates fan out there.. but I went to a game a couple of weeks ago and the Pittsburgh Penguins were playing their first NHL Stanly Cup game the same day vs Tampa Bay.. I went to PNC Park and probably was the only one there to watch the game. (I eventually went to the left field bar to watch the Pens game.) They said the attendance was 8000 but it looked alot less. I bet there were not more than 2000 or less there. Never seen the place so empty. A friend of mine went to the game last night and a Friday night game and posted pictures. It was empty then too! I dont know how MLB expects to put a product on the field but the owners are so greedy they get rid of the good players before the team can even win a few games like the Pirates. I am tired of seeing the Yankees, Red Sox and other large market teams winning all the time. Give the other teams a chance! Greedy bastards…. MLB has lost touch with the fans and it is showing.