D.A.: Empty Seats In MLB Playoffs A Huge Concern 

Empty seats in October are a harsh reminder of baseball's biggest problem

Damon Amendolara
October 11, 2019 - 1:12 pm

There is no shortage of stories written about baseball's declining attendance. MLB hit a 16-year low this season for fans coming through the turnstiles. One million fewer people took in a game this year compared to last. Studies show baseball's most loyal fans are old, not young, and that's a problem for the future of any business. 

It has become such a part of MLB's narrative that the harsh reality of this week didn't even register across the larger landscape. As the sports media world roared over Baker Mayfield's handshake, the football dysfunction in Washington, and the NBA's standoff with China, there were empty seats in baseball's postseason. Lots of them including in perhaps baseball's best town. 

Tampa Bay has always been a sore spot for baseball, a sketchy, dry patch of dirt that can never grow grass. Seeing swaths of empty sections as the Rays took on the Astros at the Trop was expected. But 4,000 red chairs stuck out like a blinking neon sign in St. Louis, an MLB stronghold for generations. The Cardinals have been the lifeblood of that sports city for a century, and it was the first time new Busch Stadium had ever not sold out a playoff game. D.C. is the sixth-largest market in the country yet couldn't sell out its playoff games, either. Three teams had empty postseason seats, which is even more interesting than Clayton Kershaw's meltdown or the the Yankees historic dominance over the Twins. Almost a third of the teams in October had tickets unsold for the postseason. Yikes.   

Like any matter of this magnitude it's due to many reasons, not one. Let's look at all of them. 

It's too expensive
Baseball is the most affordable ticket in any of the four oldest professional sports. There's 162 games, upper deck seats in every stadium, and matinees that mean any family could attend at least one game a year on a shoestring budget. Those ticket prices spike in the playoffs though (especially on the secondary market), so doling out hundreds of dollars for a baseball game might immediately eliminate a huge portion of the fan base. Perhaps that jump is just too dramatic for fans used to spending $25 a ticket. But that's not always the case. In St. Louis, tickets were as low as $10 leading up to first pitch of Game 4. 

It's too slow
This is the most damning reason if indeed it keeps fans away from these hugely important games. These MLB playoffs, even with the heightened urgency of every at-bat, looks like a snail race compared to football and basketball airing at the same time. Pitchers slow down because every pitch can kill them. Batters step out of the box because every swing can decide a season. Managers and pitching coaches are constantly bringing in a parade of bullpen arms. Fans would rather watch baseball on one screen, as they text or tweet or watch a different sport on another, and that means not actually going to the ballpark. 

It doesn't matter
Despite the egalitarianism of ten playoff slots there's still the Goliaths and the Davids. The Rays are a wonderful underdog story as the lowest payroll in baseball reaching the ALDS from the brutal AL East. But ultimately we know they can't win a World Series. High-payroll monsters like the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers appeared on a collision course since April. So many franchises are tanking to find a way out of the dreaded middle class in the hopes of growing great out of the rubble like Houston or Chicago. But the coach-class of the postseason (Twins, Rays, Brewers) never truly had a shot at the title. The Dodgers gagged in Game 5, so the NL is now wide open, but many fans may have wondered, "Why should we care?" In Tampa, they certainly didn't believe they could win the whole thing, and you have to wonder if Cards and Nats fans doubted their chances too as the playoffs opened. 

It's a bad time of year
October is synonymous with baseball's biggest moments, but it's also smack dab in the middle of the NFL and college football season. NBA preseason has also opened, and the kids are back in school. There's been growing sentiment that baseball could benefit from an earlier schedule, where the playoffs take place in September as the weather is still warm everywhere and football hasn't taken such a hold on the public. The first round of the playoffs also lends itself to awkward situations like weekday afternoon games because of quadruple headers and TV staggered start times. 

Revenue is still great for MLB, and certainly the Yankees-Astros ALCS will draw plenty of eyeballs and complete sellouts. Playoff drama is still as delicious as ever like the Nats proved in coming back against a future Hall of Famer in a winner-take-all on the road. But if there ever was a time to wonder how to fix some of baseball's problems, this is it. The most important part of the season is now, and some people couldn't be bothered to even show up. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.