Fans usually flock to games when ownership puts a winning team on the field, but recent trends show that team success may in fact not be the primary factor. The recent kings of attendance have been the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. It is not a coincidence that attendance figures for these clubs skyrocketed when their new ballparks were built in the early ’90s. The O’s drew 2.5 million fans to Memorial Stadium in 1991, the most in their history. The next year, their first in Camden Yards, that number grew by more than a million. Such a jump was not equaled before or since. Since then, they have averaged 3.4 million, tops in the American League. The effect of Jacobs Field is more difficult to measure, since attendance in Cleveland actually dropped in 1994. However, this was because the strike cut the season short, lowering attendance league-wide. Had the Indians played their full 162-game schedule, they would have drawn approximately 2.86 million, up from 2.18 million in 1993. Even with the shortened ’94 and ’95 seasons, Cleveland has averaged over three million people since The Jake opened, and led the AL in attendance the last two seasons.
Though last year attendance in Toronto dropped below two million for the first time since 1983, the Blue Jays at one time experienced an unprecedented surge in fan interest. Beginning in 1989, with the opening of Skydome, more than 3.7 million fans flocked to see the Jays every year until 1993. That five-year period, in which the Blue Birds actually had three seasons of four million-plus, will be tough for any club to match. It may not be evident from the tiny numbers of people showing up for Expos games, but Canadians have proven that they will come out to see a winning team.
National League attendance leaders Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Colorado have been at the head of the pack for different reasons. Atlanta was still playing in Fulton County Stadium in 1992 when they drew three million for the first time in their history. The year before, MVP Terry Pendleton and Cy Young winner Tom Glavine had initiated a worst-to-first miracle season that ended in the World Series. With the Braves using that season as a springboard to continued excellence, they have drawn three million in six of the last nine years.
The Dodgers were only sixth in attendance in 2000, but over the last two decades they have been the model of consistency. Since 1982, Dodger attendance has never dropped below 2.5 million in a non-strike year. They have also had 13 years of three million-plus.
Until last season, the Rockies had led the league in fan support every year since their franchise was created in 1993. Colorado fans, known for their love of pro sports, bombarded Mile-High Stadium ticket takers to the tune of 4.5 million in that inaugural year. Comparatively, the Devil Rays drew just over two million in their initial season. Even during the strike years, Colorado sold well over three million seats. Team success in St. Louis and a new park in San Francisco pushed them slightly ahead of the Rockies in 2000.