Saving $412 million: Baseball’s deal restores game-day revenue opportunities across MLB ballparks

By David Broughton
The defending champion Atlanta Braves are in good position to cash in on their success.getty images

Baseball’s extra-innings work — salvaging a full 162-game season after initially canceling the first 184 home games of the 2022 schedule — effectively erases what team executives told Sports Business Journal would have led to a leaguewide loss of more than $200 million per week in April game-day revenue.

According to data previously provided to SBJ by industry sources and verified last week by team executives across a diverse set of markets, the league’s 30 clubs typically average about $2.25 million per game via the sales of tickets, food, beverages and souvenirs during the approximately 410 regular-season games played from Opening Day through the end of April. Each executive agreed to address the topic off the record and acknowledged that the range of per-team losses is wide, based almost entirely on geography and whether or not the team plays in one of the eight ballparks that has a roof.

The league’s combined average attendance in April 2018 and 2019 (the two most recent seasons where ballpark capacities were not affected by the pandemic) was 26,281. That number increased by 12%, to 29,439, during games played from May to September. Additionally, per-person spending goes up during the warmer months, with average per-game revenue topping $2.6 million across the 30 clubs, a roughly 16% increase over April’s games.

“Fans are more likely to buy two beers in July than a single hot chocolate in April,” according to a concessionaire with multiple pro baseball clients.

The aura of Opening Day still has meaning to baseball fans, said several executives, and any delay, regardless of the reason, tends to negatively affect the attendance of the makeup date. In fact, each year from 2015-2019, Opening Day was the most-attended game of the season for more than half the clubs, according to an analysis by SBJ Atlas of MLB game-by-game data.

The potential loss of games would also have carried over to the league’s media partners, as brands could have sought other avenues for advertising. Scotts Miracle-Gro, an MLB partner since 2010, for example, earmarks nearly 100% of its annual TV advertising budget to run mid-March through late-May. Last year, 40% of its sports spend ran during baseball telecasts. So with many of the initially-canceled games being rescheduled for later in the season, it will be too late for that brand to make up much of its lost exposure. 

Brands spent $18.1 million advertising during MLB telecasts last April, according to an SBJ analysis of iSpot.TV data.

Although “consensus” is not a word used much in today’s baseball climate — despite the signing of the new CBA — the executives interviewed did unanimously agree on one thing: It could be worse.

More games are affected by weather in the first month of the season than any other time in the summer. In April 2018, for example, 28 games were postponed due to weather. Or, as a longtime executive at one cold weather-based team eloquently put it: “April sucks.”

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