MLB Attendance Is Up. Or Is It?

Foggy, wet weather envelops Progressive Field during a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals in Cleveland, Ohio. The Royals defeated the Indians 4-2. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Baseball's attendance is up over 1,000 per game with three weeks of the 2012 season completed. But there's a catch.

Through games of Thursday, April 26, major-league baseball's attendance is up 1,161 per game, or about 4.1 percent, according to this table from baseball-reference.com.

That's great, right? Bodes well for a significant attendance bump all summer long, right?

Not so fast. The biggest per-game increase in attendance this season has been registered by the Marlins, who are up 9,615 per game. You surely know the reason for that -- new-stadium bump, which has happened to every team that's opened a new ballpark. The Marlins had registered almost no change in attendance over the last three seasons, averaging around 18,000 per game each year from 2009-2011.

So take out the Marlins' numbers and what do we find? The Marlins' increase of 67,307 accounts for 20 percent of the total increase of 328,612.

Creative accounting might account for another 33,625 (or 10 percent) of the listed increase -- that's what's given as the increase in Chicago Cubs attendance. But as I detailed at Bleed Cubbie Blue, the Cubs have had an estimated 163,000 no-shows already this year, or over 12,500 per date.

Granted, those tickets are already sold. But teams lose concession and souvenir dollars when sold seats are empty, and how will this translate to ticket sales later in the season if the Cubs (or teams in attendance decline like the Twins or Padres) continue to play poorly?

Also, take a look at the photo attached to this article. That's Progressive Field in Cleveland about mid-game on Thursday. Now, the weather was foggy and cool -- 58 degrees -- and it was played on a weekday afternoon with schools still in session.

Announced attendance was 9,229. Does that look like anywhere close to 9,000-plus people? You could probably count them, if you enlarged the photo. There were probably fewer than 1,000 people in the seats in Cleveland for Thursday's game -- and that was the fourth time in eight home dates that the Tribe had an announced "crowd" of under 10,000.

This will change. Weather will warm up, schools will let out. At Biz of Baseball in the offseason, Maury Brown wrote five reasons he thinks attendance will be up this year; the Marlins' increase was one of the reasons. Brown also posted these guesses for all 30 teams, and whether they'd be up or down, and by how much. Among those he thought would be up "dramatically" was the Dodgers -- but they're near the bottom of the list, down 2,573 per game for their first nine home dates. And then there's this:

On the face of it, one might be asking how moving Albert Pujols to the Angels creates an attendance increase. After all, won’t it be offset by a decline in St. Louis? Not the way the chips landed. With the Cardinals winning the World Series, the loss of Pujols, while nothing to scoff at from a marketing perspective, is not as great as it could have been if the Cards had not won. The Angels become the ultimate beneficiary in winning the Pujols sweepstake. While the Angels still ranked 5 in attendance for 2011 they saw a decline of 84,495 in paid attendance from 2010, a drop of 2.6 percent. With Angel Stadium filled to 89 percent of capacity last season, there are plenty of seats that can be filled, and will be with the addition of the super star. Look for a healthy bump by the Angels this year in the attendance dept.

And where do the Angels sit right now, after 10 home dates and a poor start to their season? Near the bottom of the list, down 41,136, or an average of 4,114 per game. If they don't turn around their season -- and Rob Neyer has some ideas on how they can -- the Angels, who thought they might have bought themselves a championship last winter, could be looking at a season with fewer butts in the seats to pay for those big contracts.

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