Attendance at Major League Baseball games is up some 8.1 percent this season, and there's an outside chance the sport could set an all-time record for attendance.
Right now MLB teams are on a pace to draw the most fans since 2008, with the chance of reaching 80 million for the first time in history.
"This is breathtaking,'' MLB commissioner Bud Selig told USA Today. "We are on a remarkable pace. This sport has never been so popular, and some people don't seem to understand that, but it's manifest in the attendance figures.''
Parity was cited by Selig as a reason for the increased interest in the game, and he's right in that the competitive nature of the game -- the White Sox, Reds and Nationals in first place! Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Mets competitive! -- certainly has translated to a wider appreciation of the game. But there are several other factors at play here:
- Good weather. People notice when games are snowed or rained out; they don't notice when the Twins and Indians have few issues in April.
- The rise of the Marlins. Miami is drawing fairly well -- some 11K better than last year.
- A better economy. It's no coincidence this year's pace is approaching the numbers compiled in 2008 -- when the recession hit. MLB isn't a perfect parallel to the economy -- it tends to be a lagging indicator -- but the slowly recovering economy surely is at play here.
Whether this pace is sustainable is the issue. On the one hand, the Indians and the White Sox -- the surprise leaders in the AL Central -- haven't seen attendance spikes due to better on-field play. But the Phillies, Rangers, Cardinals, Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox will certainly continue to be strong draws throughout the season. If the middle teams in the attendance pack (Milwaukee, Minnesota, Colorado) can continue to draw despite disappointing on-field performances, then MLB certainly has a shot at reaching 80 million tickets sold.
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