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Opening Day 2012: Can Baseball Recover Along With The Economy?

Finally, it’s MLB Opening Day, kind of! Across the country, fans are gathering for America’s greatest sport, and they’re dropping serious cash to do so—not just on peanuts, hot dogs, and beer, of course, but on increasingly-expensive tickets. As the economy slowly recovers, people have slightly more disposable income to spend at the ballpark, but it bears asking: How much did the Great Recession cut into ticket sales?

A 2011 paper suggests that the 2008 crash’s impact was substantial. While total MLB attendance fell slightly between 2007 and 2008, it tanked between 2008 and 2009. Excluding years when there was a work stoppage, the attendance drop of 6.77 percent “was the largest single-season loss in attendance since 1952,” and nearly every team experienced it. The MLB has claimed that part of the decrease was due to the construction of new, smaller stadiums, but the authors controlled for that factor by using the percentage of a stadium’s capacity, not the raw numbers, as their attendance variable. Using monthly economic indicators prepared by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, they estimated that the economic downturn caused an attendance decrease of about 6 percent. That accounts for nearly the entire overall decrease of 6.77 percent. More time at the ballpark, in other words, is just another reason to hope for a faster recovery.