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Are Live Sporting Events as Special as They Once Were?

14 Jun, 2017

By: Michael Popke
As Viewing Options Increase, Spectator Numbers Dwindle, Meaning Planners Have to Work Harder to Promote the Live Experience

This headline is the question sports talk show host Wes McElroy asked in a recent article that appeared in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch.

“The American fan is getting more and more comfortable staying at home,” wrote McElroy, who can be heard on WRNL in Richmond weekdays between 6 and 9 a.m., before quoting NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, who said this after finishing third at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway: “It’s 90 degrees and coverage on TV’s pretty excellent, so it’s tough to sit in the bleachers when it’s 90, but who knows? I think that there’s more to it than just people not watching NASCAR. I think sports in general are way, way down. Attendance is down in a lot of other sports as well.”

McElroy dug up some notable statistics:

• Major League Baseball attendance in 2016 was down 1.1 percent, while TV ratings were up for 29 teams.

• The NFL saw a 2 percent increase in attendance last season, after seeing it dip by more than 2 million between 2013 and 2015.

• The average attendance at Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college games was down by less than 1 percent from 2015 after dipping the same the prior year.

Only the NBA, McElroy writes, has seen consistent growth with three years of record-setting attendance. The average number of people who go to an NBA game is 17,884.

“In recent years, the millennial generation has fought back against cable companies by cutting the cord,” he adds. “Is this the fans’ retaliation to jacked-up ticket cost[s], overpriced concessions and obnoxious parking fees?”

Even attendance at baseball’s spring training facilities was down this year. According to The Ledger newspaper in Lakeland, Fla.:

After $48 million worth of renovations, Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium provided both the Detroit Tigers and their fans with one of the top spring training facilities in Major League Baseball. But, after drawing 7,737 fans per game in 2016, attendance dropped slightly in 2017. The new-and-improved stadium averaged 7,491 fans per game this spring.

Detroit’s drop in attendance is consistent with the Grapefruit League as a whole. The 15-team league, which drew record crowds in 2016, saw its average attendance drop from 7,096 to 6,337 fans per game this year.

There’s no magic bullet to attendance woes. If there were, facilities would be sold out for every game.

“Often I’ve wondered if in 50 years the model for sporting venues is more like the 20,000-seat NBA arena than the 45,000 baseball stadiums that most times are 60 percent full,” McElroy writes. “Truth is: There will always be parents who want to take their kids to their first game, and sports will forever be played in front of a crowd. But recently have you asked yourself how easy it is to not go to the game? Think about it.”

We’re sure plenty of sports destinations already are.

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