A disappointing Yankees season on the field was met with a disappointing season at the box office. Although the Yankees average attendance of 40,489 and total of 3,279,589 was good for fourth overall, it marked the third straight drop in attendance and the lowest mark for the Yankees since 2001. Attendance in baseball overall was down from 2012, but the Yankees dropped at a greater rate despite Mariano Rivera's farewell season.
Attendance in Major League Baseball was down 1% from 2012. The Yankees took a steeper drop, falling 7.4% from last year. Percentage-wise that drop was the eighth-worst in all of baseball, ranking behind the Marlins (28.5%)*, Phillies (15.5%), Twins (10.8%), Brewers (10.6%), White Sox (10%), Cubs (8.3%), and Rangers (8.1%). A quick look through the list would tell you the easy solution to prevent a drop in attendance is not to have a terrible team, but the Yankees and Rangers contended until near the end of the season. The Red Sox had a fantastic year and its attendance dropped 6.9% this season.
*If you take out the attendance drop suffered by the Marlins after they were gutted by owner Jeffrey Loria, MLB attendance fell only 0.3% from 2012.
Contrast the teams that fell with the teams that rose. The Blue Jays led the way with an increase of 20.8% over 2012. Trailing Toronto were the Dodgers (12.6%), Orioles (12.1%), Nationals (11.9%), Pirates (7.9%), A's (7.8%), and Reds (7.2%). For the most part, the group includes winning teams, but just like above there are some outliers. The Blue Jays and Nationals, despite a late-season run, had mostly disappointing seasons. The one thing the Blue Jays and the Nationals did have, as well as those other teams, was increased expectations. The Dodgers and Blue Jays spent big while the Orioles, Nationals, A's, and Reds came off playoff seasons, and the Pirates moved gradually into contention. I've written before that winning the previous year and big expectations have more of an effect on attendance than winning in the current year or having stars. Unfortunately for the Yankees, those factors could cause significant problems for Yankees attendance next year.
Last offseason, the Yankees made no significant moves and expectations for the team dropped. Despite a hot April, contending into the final weeks of the regular season and a final sendoff for Mariano Rivera the Yankees never solved their attendance woes in 2013. Going into this offseason, expectations are likely to be low again. Even if the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda, they will need to make noise to gain the attention of Yankee fans. Attendance is not likely to fall as much next year because they are still the Yankees, but any drop has to be of concern to Yankees ownership.
Due to television deals and the overall health of the game, the Yankees are still in excellent position to flex their financial muscle. Whether it is prudent to make noise, when a series of smaller moves may serve the team better in 2014 and beyond is a reasonable question. Re-signing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin may not have helped attendance this past year, but it may have made them a playoff team and provided momentum going into next year. The 189 million dollar question is how focused the Yankees brass will be on winning in 2014.