MLB saw record revenues again in 2018 despite falling attendance

For the 16th consecutive season, Major League Baseball set a record for gross generated revenues. But hold your LOL THEY SAY BASE BALL IS DYING retort for a second. As the report from Forbes mentions, MLB saw an increase in revenue in 2018 despite falling attendance and TV viewership.

A big reason why MLB has seen their revenue continue to grow has been due to increased sponsorship revenues. This will continue to be the trend, as baseball can compensate for less people actually attending games at the ballpark with some massive, lucrative sponsorships deals on the horizon.

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As we saw this year, MLB did a deal with Facebook which was valuable to the Orwellian Surveillance Giant social media juggernaut because of the ability to track user data, as I wrote about when the deal was announced. You might have noticed that YouTube sponsored this year’s World Series as the video hosting service looks to expand into the world of replacing television. In 2022, a $5.1 billion TV deal with Fox will kick in, and Disney (the owners of ESPN) is spending a bunch of money to experiment with internet-only streaming services which, of course, involves MLB.

It’s safe to say that MLB is doing well and baseball isn’t just going to disappear anytime soon. But still, the thing that sticks out to me from Forbes’ report is the line while attendance was down. Fewer and fewer people are going to baseball games. The Jays are at the epicentre of that as they’re explicitly mentioned (along with bad weather in the spring) as a reason MLB saw stagnant gate-and-game related revenue in 2018.

The league saw gate revenues flat for 2018, but because of a 4% drop in attendance attributed largely to bad weather in the spring and a change in how the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays accounted for sales, ancillary revenues tied to attendance, such as concessions and parking, sagged.

The Jays saw baseball’s biggest attendance drop from 2017 to 2018 as fans clearly didn’t want to go out and watch the rotting husk of the 2015-16 glory teams get spanked around left, right, and centre. It’s pretty safe to say we’ll see Toronto’s attendance dip again in 2019. The shine of Vlad Jr. will wear off in July and August and people will opt to spend their money elsewhere.

The topic of decreasing attendance is something that’s been discussed a lot in recent years. MLB stresses about pace of play and shorter innings and this and that because they think millennials have such short attention spans they can’t watch an entire ball game if it goes on for more than three hours. But the real issue, I think, is the volume of non-competitive teams in baseball right now.

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Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle chimed in on the topic last night…

The play right now for a good chunk of the teams in baseball is to take things slow and put together a cheap, competitive roster through drafting and developing players rather than being aggressive in free agency. Even teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees with unlimited money are being unusually chill in free agency.

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Last year, we saw one of the most boring free agency periods in decades. Nobody was signing anybody. J.D. Martinez didn’t get a deal until mid-February and even then his value was driven down to significantly less than anybody expected he would be worth after his mammoth, MVP-calibre second half with the Arizona Diamondbacks. This year, it’s a week into January and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two of the best players to hit the open market in a long time, are still without deals. And these are players in their mid-20s who still have a lot of prime years to play, not Albert Pujols who’s ready to fall off a cliff.

How many teams are actually trying to win in 2019? Right now, we have, like, three legitimate contenders in the American League. The Yankees and the Red Sox, of course, are in the mix. The Houston Astros, the leaders of the next wave of baseball’s analytical renaissance, are that aforementioned two-thirds of baseball’s wet dream, a very good team who did it mostly through the draft who can sport a middling $164 million payroll. Cleveland is still staggering along largely because their division is so bad. Tampa Bay and Oakland are trying to be what Houston is. The Mariners gave up, as have the Jays.

I mean, how difficult would it be for this Jays team to make a push for the second wild card? Maybe a Charlie Morton and A.J. Pollock addition and a couple of relievers? Hell, wouldn’t adding a 26-year-old Bryce Harper to play with Vlad Jr. the next decade be cool? But why do that when you can sit around and roll in some cash from big streaming deals while taking your time to make a run in 2021 when the Yankees and Red Sox need to take a one-or-two-year breather?

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More than half of the teams in baseball right now and taking things slow, trying to put together the best team they can for as little money as they can. I mean, this isn’t some revolutionary strategy, or anything. It’s prudent business to minimize costs. It’s just become more and more noticeable the past couple years that teams are perfectly fine with not being good. With the MLB CBA set to expire at the end of 2021, we could be in for a long battle between the players and the owners as the former are losing money due to the latter being content with just waiting to win with cheap players instead.

In 2015, I flew from Edmonton to Toronto in June to watch the Jays play four times and I flew down again to watch them in the playoffs. In 2016, I watched them in July five times, and then came again for the playoffs. In 2017, I flew down and watched two games live. In 2018, I flew down and went to one. In 2019, I don’t plan on attending a game in Toronto. I imagine many of you reading this are the same.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m very confident that the issue plaguing baseball, as Doolittle said, isn’t pace of play or the shift or parks not serving avocado toast, but instead the lack of interest in paying to watch a team lose.

    • drunk man walking

      One issue though is that people like you and I who mostly watch broadcasts, are declining in numbers at a faster rate than attendance is. One oddity is that the AL seems much less competitive than the NL. There really are not a lot of teams in the NL right now who are not at least outwardly trying to chase a pennant. On the other hand most of the AL is sitting things out. Oddly when 10 or so teams in the AL are employing exactly the same strategy at the same time, there will probably be a lot of disappointed people. Same in the NL which is going the other way. The NL has less legit super teams to deal with which maybe makes things a little more competitive. Not sure if that translates well to bums in the seats though. Nine of the bottom 12 in attendance last year were in the AL

  • Matty

    I don’t live near TO either and like you dished out a bunch of money for flights, hotels etc etc when the jays were competing. Didn’t go last year, won’t go this year.

    Canada is too big of a market with too much out of town money to rebuild and not spend every year

  • HNZ

    Has nothing to do with teams rebuilding and more to do with the marketing or lack there of that MLB allows individuals do. Same problem with the UFC. The UFC, MLB and NHL promotes themselves before individual potential superstars or the teams…Gary Vee spoke on it a few times and he’s exactly right https://youtu.be/v2ooD0NmGRY