Ignore the naysayers: Baseball is booming

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
3:50
PM ET
Bill James has a piece up on Grantland in which he -- as only Bill can -- finds a connection between crowd control at baseball games and the behavior of prison inmates. Bill points out that around 1983 or so teams realized they needed to curb the rowdy behavior and abuse that fans often delivered at baseball games.

Bill doesn't mention this in the article but has written before that curbing fan behavior was a big reason for attendance growth that began in the mid-'80s. In 1983, the average MLB game attendance was 21,583. By 1993 the figure was up 30,964 and has remained about that level. If you were a fan in the late '70s or early '80s, you'll remember a lot of drunken fights that occurred in the stands.

Here's a more recent example. I remember attending a New York Yankees game in 2002. At the time, Yankee Stadium security still did little to stop bad behavior, especially in the infamous bleachers in right field. I wore a Mariners hat to a game and the ticket-taker recommended I remove the hat. Mind you, the Yankees weren't even playing the Mariners that day. The bleacher creatures hurled homosexual slurs at the opposing outfielders all game long. They hurled insults at a guy and his girlfriend, calling her a prostitute whenever she left her seat. I had attended games where they yelled racial slurs at Ichiro Suzuki.

And there was a negative effect to this. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996 and again in 1998 and 1999 and 2000. And guess what? Despite playing in the largest city in the country, with a fervent fan base, the biggest stadium in the majors and a successful team, the Yankees never led the AL in attendance from 1982 through 2002. The rest of baseball had made going to the park a family-friendly activity. The Yankees hadn't. Someone -- Randy Levine? -- finally cleaned things up. They've led the AL in attendance the past nine years.

Fixing crowd behavior was vital to keeping baseball booming the past two decades. And don't let others tell you that baseball isn't booming. Take the Rangers, for example. This is team that has been to two straight World Series, with a lineup of stars and fun players to watch, playing in the fourth-biggest metropolitan market in the country. The Rangers drew 2.946 million fans in 2011. And that was only good for the 10th-highest figure in the majors. Tenth!

The Rangers averaged over 36,000 fans per game and barely cracked the top third in attendance. Baseball isn't popular? Nonsense.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

David Schoenfield | email

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