The big lie: Baseball attendance

The question of calling out “lies” was a big topic on NewsCut this week. Let’s consider another, less passion-filled example.

Every now and again, you’ll read a comparison of baseball fans by virtue of attendance numbers issued by the individual teams. How, for example, can the first-place Cleveland Indians be 28th in attendance (averaging about 19,000 fans), while the worst-in-baseball Minnesota Twins are 22nd, averaging 24,266 a game at Target Field?

Better fans?

Not likely. More likely: Baseball lies.

Announced paid attendance at last night’s Twins game: 22,683.

Announced paid attendance at last night’s game in Cleveland: 18,937

As the New York Times revealed a few years ago, baseball attendance is a meaningless statistic because it has nothing to do with attendance. It has to do with the number of tickets sold.

Until 1999, National League clubs reported attendance based on turnstile counts and the American League teams reported paid attendance. In 2000, all clubs started reporting the number of tickets sold because those figures were used to calculate revenue sharing between the clubs, according to Major League Baseball.

What can be concluded by the Minnesota Twins attendance figures? That the economic times are good for the baseball fans of Minnesota, who can afford to waste money on tickets they don’t bother using.

  • Mike Worcester

    Ideally MLB should have said: ticket sales for revenue sharing, turnstile count for fan transparency. Then again, this is MLB, so transparency is not exactly their strong suit….

  • Rob

    Orwell lives!

  • jon

    Lying with numbers has been socially acceptable for 156 years.


  • The same “lie” (sales) was used for decades in the recording industry to determine the “most popular” records. “So-and-so has shipped ‘platinum'” did not take into account the many thousands (even tens-of-thousands) of records that would eventually be returned unsold to the distributors.

  • It’s like movie sales revenue. A meaningless metric – as if we should all care how much money a movie makes. # of tickets sold makes sense for movies. Actual attendance makes sense for a sporting event.

    • BJ

      Gross dollars when we talk about Movies no less, who cares that California charges $75 for a ticket and Minnesota $4.

  • Jeff C.

    Is the number given the number of tickets sold or the number of tickets distributed? In other words, if the Twins organization gives 1000 tickets to schools to give to students as a reward for academic achievement but the kids don’t go to the game because it is on a school-night and they don’t want their GPA to drop because they didn’t study for a test, do those tickets get included in the official attendance numbers even though nobody bought or used the tickets?

  • BJ

    number of tickets sold

    Some other sports use “tickets distributed” – ie they include free tickets to make it look like they are selling out.

  • Joe

    Progressive field is also the smallest field in the MLB, so it will 1) Always look more full, and 2) be harder to be in the top half of the league in attendance. Even if they had sold every ticket for every game this whole year they’d only be 10th in attendance.

    • Attendance or tickets sold?

      • Joe

        Haha. I was using MLB attendance numbers, so yes, tickets sold. My point only being that they are in a weird position for the “official” attendance numbers (aka tickets sold), because they have the smallest capacity.

        And further, they will always look super full, compared to say Arizona. Progressive had under 19,000 fans in the above picture but looked full, whereas if the DBacks had 19,000 fans the place would look like a ghost town, as there would be 30,000 open seats.

        • I haven’t seen the Jake look “super full” since Manny Ramirez roamed the earth.