Thursday, April 23, 2015

Today's a Getaway Day. This Could Be a Problem.

There's a subtle change in major league schedules this year. On getaway days--i.e., the day that one or both teams must play a game and then fly to a new city for a game the following day--the starting times are earlier. For example, today the Pirates (game tomorrow in Phoenix) host the Cubs (game tomorrow in Cincinnati) at 12:35 PM, the Giants (game tomorrow in Denver) host the Dodgers (game tomorrow in San Diego) at 12:45 PM, the Phillies host the Marlins (game tomorrow in Miami) at 1:05 PM, the Tigers host the Yankees (game tomorrow in New York) at 1:08 PM, and the Mets host the Braves (game tomorrow in Philadelphia) at 1:10 PM. I can't find a copy of last year's schedule, but some of those starting times are earlier than last year. Thursdays are big for getaways, so it's a good afternoon to clear your schedule of meetings and have your computer set to or whatever you prefer for watching games on your employer's dime.

There's a problem, though, with today's Pirates game, per Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat:

(Accuweather calls for a high of 48 with sun at PNC Park today, so presumably the snow will have melted by gametime.)

This sort of thing inevitably leads to fans asking why early-season games are played in northern cities with dome-less stadia. Why not move games out of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, New York, Boston, Denver et al to the warm climates of Texas, Arizona, Florida, and California, and the ballparks in Milwaukee, Seattle, and Toronto that have retractable roofs?

The answer is, as is so often the case in baseball and in life, money. Opening Day is a big deal, but other than that, April and May games are duds in terms of attendance. The weather is often lousy, kids are still in school, families aren't on summer vacations. The Pirates' average attendance was about 23,000 in April and 25,500 in May. It was north of 30,000 every other month. No team wants a lot of April/May games on its schedule, for good reason. So fans and players will have to endure weather like this morning's.

This is also why articles saying that baseball's in trouble because average attendance in April is below the prior year's seasonlong average by x%. That's always going to be the case, because April attendance is the lowest of the year. The right way to look at it to compare attendance per game per stadium, given an equal number of games in 2014 and 2015. That's what does here, and the conclusion is that attendance this year is up slightly.

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