3 Trends That Baseball’s Attendance Challenges Highlight…

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While those of us that have been in and around tickets for any length of time have our attention firmly on the challenges facing Major League Baseball, I think we can all find it easy to rush to conclusions like:

  • The Minnesota Twins sold 20,000+ $5 seats, it must be the price that is the big factor in why people are staying away from games.
  • Attendance was down in April 2018 and the weather was bad, baseball is scheduling too many early season games…that’s got to be the reason.
  • Teams have one good weekend, everything is totally on the upswing and everyone that was pointing to anything else is obviously wrong.

You want to know something, when we jump to the hot take reaction…typically, we are all wrong.

All MLB’s continued struggles show is that there are certain trends that have been out in the open for a while are finally coming to fruition and becoming obvious even if you don’t want to see them.

Here are three of the big ones from my point of view:

Buying power ain’t what it used to be:

I follow the arguments going back and forth on Twitter.

I might even offer up an observation or two from time to time.

But I don’t always buy that price is the only problem at play in baseball’s challenges.

I might point out that the cost to value ratio isn’t right for a lot of people.

I might also point out that price is an issue because if you overprice at the front, you teach fans that this is something that isn’t for you.

Then, when you discount later, you teach people to never pay full price because there might be a better deal later.

The reality is that all of those are likely just symptoms of something more severe and that is the fact that the American consumer is stretched pretty thin.

I don’t usually post charts here, but I do state facts and the fact is that wage growth and buying power is being outstripped by inflation. 

This has been going on for about 30+ years.

That’s a trend.

This trend has led to the shrinking of stadiums and the increase of premium seating areas.

In the short term, this likely made sense, but as attendance plummets and businesses are pulling back on some of their entertainment expenditures due to the changes in tax policy, we are seeing a situation where the premium seats are going empty as well.

A perfect storm of bad news.

But the trend is that most American’s buying power is in the toilet and that isn’t looking likely to change in the near term.

Consumers spending habits have changed:

This is one where sports is missing the boat in a lot of ways because consumers have been voting with their wallets for a decade or longer: people love experiences and are buying them more than ever.

That’s what makes the decline in attendance at baseball games so incredible.

You have an experience that by definition is going to be once in a lifetime, but you are playing to a stadium full of empty seats.

Why?

First, you can’t ignore the buying power trend.

That’s just a reality.

Second, you compound the change in buying power by also jacking up the prices on everything else that a person would possibly encounter: beer, hot dogs, hats, etc.

Then combine that with poor or indifferent customer service in many places, topped off with bad marketing and you get the perfect storm to drive people away or have them never know you are there.

The flip side of this equation is that we should be marketing the joy of the ballpark.

Tell the story of the history of the ballpark.

Make an example of the unique neighborhood and culture at your stadium.

Create a culture of people attending games and cheering like the Premier League does for football in England.

Enhance and sell the experience to the point that even if people can’t go to more games due to the buying power, they pick your event over another event or a night at a restaurant or something else.

Competition for our attention is tougher than ever:

I’m not sure the first time I recognized how cutthroat the competition for people’s entertainment dollars was, but I do know that I loved the tours of Virginia’s microbreweries in Loudon County that I went on one day over going to a Caps game in the afternoon, a Nats’ game in the mid-afternoon, or a Wizards game that evening.

After I got done with the microbrewery tour, I also stopped at a sports bar that had microbrews, great burgers, and all the DC sports teams on big screens while also showing the Mets, LeBron, and DWade.

After beers and dinner and sports, I almost went to see a movie, but picked bowling over that.

I exaggerate slightly, but I hope you get the point…people want our money!

And, they are throwing everything at it to win.

You don’t just go to a craft brewery any longer.

When I went to the Red Bear, they had a set of pop up food options: for brunch, lunch, and dinner.

A rotating gallery of opportunity to keep me their drinking PNW style craft beers.

That’s the norm.

That’s what we are up against and it isn’t going to change.

And, that is everywhere.

So when you ask me why MLB’s attendance is declining…it is easy to have a knee jerk reaction, but a little look at the trends at play likely provides you a little better understanding.

Am I wrong?

Let me know below.

Going to be in DC for the FTC’s Online Ticket Sales Workshop? Join me and Eric Fuller on June 10th and June 12th for a special strategy, messaging, and action-oriented pair of workshops to help you and your organization get the most out of this rare opportunity. 

In LA, June 5th, I’ll be hosting a special one day strategy workshop on selling more tickets where we work on helping you and your organization understand your value proposition, your buyers, and find new and creative ways to market and reach those tough the reach buyers. 

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