I read a tweet the other day captioned with two happy puppies and reading “20 out of 30 Major League Baseball teams allow dogs into ballparks.” This led me on a wild goose chase starting with a statistical analysis of puppy promotions and ending with a larger look at baseball attendance overall.
During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, there were approximately 76 instances in which dogs were allowed into MLB ballparks. When controlled for day of the week, I found that average attendance for those games actually went down by nearly 1,800 per contest. Of course, since each team had a small sample, there are other factors to consider: opponent, weather, seasonality, etc. However, I still found the numbers intriguing. They spurred me to wonder: what is the MLB doing to increase attendance? Is this new puppy playdate a failed attempt that belongs alongside 10 Cent Beer Night and Turn Ahead the Clock?
Trying to learn more, I asked myself what intrinsically drives people to attend sporting events and, more specifically, baseball games. I remember being an 11-year-old budding Cincinnati Reds fan from Virginia and riding in a car for hours with my Dad just to (hopefully) watch Ken Griffey Jr. send a ball sailing into the right field bleachers. I’d watch with a smile that started from my cheeks and ended at home plate, high-fiving the person I looked up to most (and all of the strangers around me). These moments are why I attended baseball games, which makes me think that the key for baseball is to both capture and help create this feeling, which stems from the overall game experience.
Is the league doing this? If so, how? To find the answer, I focused my attention on MLB Advanced Media (BAM). In short, BAM is using digital to enhance and share the gameday experience with younger fans. They began streaming games in 2002 with MLB.TV and continue to be on the forefront of the digital landscape. Whether it’s providing advanced stats with StatCast, opening the door for interactive engagement opportunities at the ballpark, or enabling seat upgrades while you’re at a game, BAM is on the right path. Sure, they provide many streaming opportunities, but all of this is to drive interest in the game, which should result in sustainable health for baseball attendance. Since 2002 when BAM began streaming games, total season-long attendance is up by more than 6 million fans.
There are many debates about the attendance “problem” in the MLB such as those listed here and here, but I believe MLB is healthy and will continue to thrive (puppies or no puppies), spearheaded by the efforts of BAM. And yes, you can catch me in Cincinnati with this pup on August 26 for Bark in the Park.