Anybody Out There? Lowest Post-War Attendance by Franchise
“Baseball is dying!” “Football is king!” “No one cares about baseball anymore!”
Sure, the NFL rules the sports land; we all know it. Sure, the NBA gets a lot of run during its playoffs. Sure, MLS has pockets where they draw excellent crowds. Sure, the NHL has Canada. Yet Major League Baseball is doing fine.
Baseball is a game where regional ties and local franchises rule. The Cards and Reds have a vast swath of the Midwest who are loyal to them. Same with the Braves in the South. People in Minnesota (and the Dakotas) still watch and listen to Twins games even when they stink. Yes, baseball will need to figure out what to do about cord cutters – how will fans watch local teams without cable? I’m sure they will.
People are buying tickets. Media outlets are adding revenue to team coffers. Food is being consumed; cars are being parked; merch is being bought. Teams and players are shoveling in money faster than Scrooge McDuck could fill a bag of cash. It’s good business.
When was it bad business? When were the seasons that the franchises struggled to sell tickets? To examine this, I looked at every franchise, and found the season since World War II that had the lowest attendance. (Attendance before then was sketchy, and there were lots of other factors involved). I then took a look at the season itself and found the game with the smallest attendance, along with other games I found where no one showed up. It’s all an effort to see just when things were rotten in MLB land.
Just a note, these numbers are based on tickets sold. That’s what really matters – if ticket holders don’t show up, the team still gets the cash. It also shows how dismal season ticket sales were in the day.
2010 Arizona Diamondbacks
Total Attendance: 2,056,697
Lowest Game: 15,509 (8/18/10 vs. Cincinnati)
The Diamondbacks started out great, but since 2002 have meandered into mediocrity except for two division titles. Even at their worst, they can still draw two million a season and control the TV eyeballs in Arizona. QUICK UPDATE – A game against the Padres this year drew just 14,100, which was the day after the July 4th game saw 39,203 in the park.
1975 Atlanta Braves
Total Attendance: 534,672
Lowest Game: 737 (9/9/75 vs. Houston) – That game featured Phil Neikro vs. JR Richard as the pitching matchup.
If you recognize that season, it’s the one I dubbed The Most Disappointing Season for the Braves. Even though the teams were pretty bad through the 70’s, at least Ted Turner marketed the heck out of them when he first bought them and attendance improved somewhat. Atlanta is a weird sports town, and when the Braves were bad you often saw only empty blue seats when they showed a camera shot of a right handed pitcher in the stretch. Either that, or Gerald Perry farted a lot.
1965 Milwaukee Braves
Total Attendance: 555,584
Lowest Game: 812 (9/20/65 vs. Philadelphia)
It was signed, sealed and delivered that the Braves were leaving Milwaukee at the end of 1965. The locals tried to organize a boycott of the games, but Milwaukee has enough baseball fans that a few people still showed up to the games. Their lowest game in question looks to be a make-up game from a rain out. It’s on a Monday, and it’s squeezed between homestands against the Giants and Dodgers.
1952 Boston Braves
Total Attendance: 281,278
Lowest Game: 1,105 (5/14/52 vs. Pittsburgh; there was no attendance report on 4/17/52 vs. Brooklyn, though)
It may seem that the Braves were playing a lame-duck season in Boston, but Lou Perini didn’t announce the move to Milwaukee until March of 1953, so this is a legit bad attendance figure. They drew 1.4 million fans in 1948 when they went to the World Series, but the story of Boston in those days that unless you won, no one showed up – the attendance figures for both Boston teams in 1948 is astounding! The club drew 1.8 million in Milwaukee in 1953, but also improved by 28 games over 1952.
1963 Baltimore Orioles
Total Attendance: 774,343
Lowest Game: 2,017 (9/25/63 vs. Chicago White Sox)
For all of the success Baltimore had in the 1960’s and 1970’s, they certainly had issues putting butts in seats. That 1963 team finished 86-76. In 1965, a 94 win team drew only 781,649. From 1972-1974, the Orioles finished third, first and first. They never drew a million in any of those seasons. They didn’t draw much over a million from 1969-71, when they dominated the AL. Yet their 1988 squad, the famous team that started 0-21, drew 1.6 million. I’d like to know what the heck the residents of Baltimore were doing back when Frank, Boog, Brooks and company were playing. They certainly weren’t going to baseball games.
1950 St. Louis Browns
Total Attendance: 247,131
Lowest Game: 624 (5/29/50 vs. Chicago White Sox)
If any team deserved to move ANYWHERE – it was the St. Louis Browns. For many years, they had the better stadium of the two St. Louis franchises, but were just dismal on the field and at the gate. Back when you needed the gate to get the capital to acquire good players, a team stuck in the mire like the Browns couldn’t get ahead unless they got lucky on a couple of prospects. Those who complain about competitive balance now really needs to study the era before franchises moved. It’ll open eyes.
1965 Boston Red Sox
Total Attendance: 652,201
Lowest Game: 409 (9/29/65 vs. California)
After the war and through the 50’s, the Red Sox had been fairly good draws. Of course it helped that the team was pretty good or at least over .500 until 1959. After Ted Williams retired, the team just got wretched for a while, and bottomed out in 1965 with a team that went 62-100. The two late season games they played against the Angels drew 870 fans, TOTAL. The two season ending games against the Yanks drew 10,233, TOTAL. Two years later, the Impossible Dream season happened and attendance more than doubled and they’ve never drawn under 1.44 million in a full season since then.
1962 Chicago Cubs
Total Attendance: 609,802
Lowest Game: 595 (9/28/62 vs. New York Mets)
The Cubs have had disappointing seasons and horrible decisions, but this was in the prime of their buffoonery. The “College of Coaches” were in command, and they couldn’t beat an expansion team (Houston finished ahead of them). They were last in attendance and mid-week day games in September with a bad team are prime candidates for empty seats. Though even during the Bud Man, Cub Fan years in the 80’s, midweek games in April and September featured Harry Caray exclaiming, “PLENTY OF GOOD SEATS AVAILABLE!” when Arnie Harris panned to an empty section of bleachers.
1970 Chicago White Sox
Total Attendance: 495,355
Lowest Game: 672 (9/21/70 vs. Kansas City – a doubleheader!; also 693 on 9/23/70 vs. those same Royals)
Except for when the Cubs were at their most clownish, the White Sox have always had to fight and scrap for their share of attendance. It usually has been directly correlated to how good the team is and what promotions are going on. The Sox had been candidates for moving many times, but in 1970 Milwaukee was cut off for them by the Pilots re-locating, so they were stuck in Chicago. (They had farmed out some games to Milwaukee in 1968 and 1969.) Say what you want about Bill Veeck, but fans came to watch his lousy teams. No one came to watch this disaster, and I mean disaster.
1950 Cincinnati Reds
Total Attendance: 538,794
Lowest Game: 1,176 (9/7/50 vs. Pittsburgh)
It took a new ballpark (Riverfront Stadium) and The Big Red Machine to get Cincinnati into the year-over-year solid attendance category. Even their 1982-84 squads drew a million each season, as real people paid money to watch Paul Householder and Frank Pastore. Before then, Crosley Field was their home, and the mediocrity of the Reds in the 50’s and part of the 60’s meant that only the die-hards came for the most part.
1963 Cleveland Indians
Total Attendance: 562,507
Lowest Game: 1,433 (7/2/63 vs. Boston)
For many years, Cleveland rode winners in baseball and it’s also a puzzling market. They drew 2.6 million in 1948 when they won the World Series. Their 1954 team won 111 games but drew just 1.3 million. From 1956 through 1979 they drew a million fans twice, and for most of that time they were mediocre to poor. They sold out about a million games in a row in the late 90’s, but now attendance is less than half of their 1999 peak – which corresponded to the decline of the franchise’s on field fortunes and the lack of faith the fans have that the Indians will be consistently good. This 1963 season was the low mark, but they drew just 591,361 in 1971 and only 655,181 as late as 1985.
2005 Colorado Rockies
Total Attendance: 1,914,389
Lowest Game: 18,119 (9/22/05 vs. San Diego)
The Rockies are on pace to draw 2.5 million again this year. For as long as the team has been lousy, the only time they didn’t draw two million was this squad, who tied the expansion year team for the word record in team history (since surpassed by the 2014 team). Denver is a Broncos town, but fans from all around the region flock to Coors Field no matter how bad the team gets. If this team was in Cleveland, and had this track record, they’d barely draw a million at most.
1964 Detroit Tigers
Total Attendance: 816,139
Lowest Game: 837 (9/25/64 vs. Boston); 603 (9/20/63 vs. CHW)
Detroit has had excellent teams that drew well, but even the bad teams drew reasonably well. There were only three seasons since the war that they didn’t draw a million. Two of them were in 1963 and 1964, where they weren’t horrible, just the Yankees left teams without hope for the most part. Late season games have a chance to be plagued by bad weather in Michigan (could be cold, or rainy) and asking fans to navigate and park on city streets to watch a .500 team play another mediocre team in September is probably a tough thing to ask.
1963 Houston Colt .45’s
Total Attendance: 719,502
Lowest Game: 2,020 (5/2/63 vs. NYM)
Houston also draws very well when the team is good, and not-so-well when the team is bleah. There were two years in the Astrodome where they didn’t draw a million (1975 and 1976). By then, the novelty of the Astrodome had worn off. At their recent nadir, the franchise almost doubled the attendance for those mid-70’s teams. When their games were held in a traditional stadium, not many people wanted to fight the heat, humidity and mosquitoes to watch an expansion team.
1970 Kansas City Royals
Total Attendance: 693,947
Lowest Game: 6,165 (4/29/70 vs.DET): 3,451 (7/3/69 vs. CAL)
The Royals played their first four seasons in old Municipal Stadium, and didn’t draw a million in any year. That’s odd considering how big a of a fit politicians pitched when the A’s moved to Oakland. Kansas City does have die-hard fans, because even for how little hope there was for many recent years, they drew at least 1.3 million each year. Kaufman Stadium is nice and helps attendance, because it’s still hot as balls in July and August, where everything up to and including a kick in the ass is better than a Fourth of July doubleheader (according to Jim Bouton).
The White Sox drew 511 for a Thursday afternoon game on May 6, 1971 against the Red Sox: https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1971/B05060CHA1971.htm