The misery of playing at the worst stadium in baseball got a whole lot worse for the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night.
The Rays, who were sitting just three games back of the wild card entering play Tuesday, drew the smallest crowd in the team’s 20 years at Tropicana Field, with just 6,509 taking in a 2-1 win over Minnesota.
We would like to say that crowd was an anomaly at “The Trop” but the Rays have had attendance issues for years, which isn’t all that surprising. It is a bad stadium, what with those catwalks and the tomb-like atmosphere.
The Rays are hardly alone in the “Big 4” for not being able to draw, though.
Across the spectrum of teams in the MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA there are many clubs who don’t fill the seats on a game-to-game basis.
Many factors come into play, chief among them team performance, cost to attend, atmosphere and location of arenas/stadiums/fields.
Here are the 16 worst attended big league teams (taking a five-year sampling), with four from each.
16. New York Islanders – NHL
The move to Brooklyn and the new and supposedly bad-ass black uniforms were supposed to put the improving Islanders on the path to glory. While captain John Tavares and the rest of the Isles’ crew have done fairly well in the last five seasons, making the playoffs in three of them, attendance has been embarrassing. And not just at that horrible hockey confines of the Barclays Center, where they have played the last two seasons. During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, when they were still in the aging Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders were dead last in the NHL in average attendance at 13,306 fans per game (319,362 total in 24 home games; 82.3 percent of total capacity). Since then, they were 26th in 2013-14, 25th in 2014-15, 28th in 2015-16 (first one at the Barclays) and 28th again last year. It was thought that moving out of the old Nassau and into a suddenly hot Brooklyn market was supposed to be the tonic. Uh huh.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves – NBA
In the last five years, the T-Wolves have not really been a good team, despite the presence of stars like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Little wonder, then, that the team scrambles to fill the seats at the Target Center. This past season, the Timberwolves were nearly dead last during a record (overall) NBA season where the league drew an all-time high 21,997,412 fans. Minnesota saw just 607, 203 fans pass through the turnstiles in 41 home dates. That averaged out to 14,809 per game, or a second worst percent of capacity at 76.5 (the Target holds 20,500). In the four previous campaigns, Minnesota was 29th of 30 in 2015-16 (73.2 percent of capacity), 29th in 2014-15 (75.1), 27th in 2013-14 (75.2) and 21st in 2012-13 (84.4). We wonder if making the playoffs would help. Maybe.
14. Cleveland Indians – MLB
One would think that making the World Series would have a direct effect on attendance. Not so at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The Tribe went all the way to the show last year and what did that do to put butts in the seats? Nada. One of the worst drawing teams in baseball is 24th this season in average home attendance at just 24,768 per game through 65 home dates (as of Thursday). That is particularly galling when taking into account that Progressive can hold 35,051. Just to put a spotlight on it, the Indians are on a 14-game winning streak, which started in August with a win over Boston and was followed by a series win against division rival Kansas City. In what was the fourth consecutive “W” of this streak, a 12-0 blowout of the Royals on Aug. 27, they drew just over 32,000. In four seasons prior to 2017, the Indians were 28th in 2016 (averaging under 20,000 per game!), 29th in 2015 and 2014 and finally 28th in 2013. We have to wonder what would actually happen if they won the World Series.
13. Cincinnati Bengals – NFL
Just like their record in 2016 (6-9-1), Cincinnati Bengals’ attendance tanked. They were 29th in average attendance last season, drawing 60,511 fans per game (92.4 percent capacity) to Paul Brown Stadium, which holds 65,515. However, even when they were a playoff team in the four previous seasons, the Bengals didn’t draw well. They were 28th in 2015 and 2014, when they won 22 total games, 25th in 2013 and 24th in 2012. In a study done by “Scholar Blogs” the Bengals were given a 28th overall rank, which also included a 27th in “Fan Equity”, 26th in “Social Equity” (following) and 21st in “Road Equity.” By week 11 in 2016, when the Bengals hosted Buffalo, attendance was at its lowest point in six years, no doubt due to the team losing in the wild card playoffs five years running.
12. Florida Panthers – NHL
Back we go to Florida, where fan apathy seems to be endemic. When the camera pans Florida Panthers games at the BB&T Center, the empty seats it catches is alarming. Announced crowds in Sunrise sure don’t match actual bums in seats, that is for sure. The Cats have been at or near the bottom of yearly attendance in the NHL since they came on board nearly a quarter century ago. In fact, in 2014-15, when they were dead last in league attendance (11,265 fans per game on average or 66.1 percent capacity), the team set a franchise record for the lowest attended contest. Only 7,311 fans — if there were that many — bothered to show up for an early season contest with the Ottawa Senators. That dubious mark is certainly not without precedent, as the Panthers five-year record shows. In 2016-17, they were 26th in the NHL, preceded by a 24th place seeding in 2015-16. In 2013-14, Florida placed 29th and in 2012-13 they were 22nd.
11. Brooklyn Nets – NBA
The sad state of the Nets in the last couple of years has had a direct and alarming effect on attendance. And who can blame the paying public, since they have had to watch successive high draft picks go elsewhere after that disastrous trade for one big run in the playoffs in 2014. And in 2016-17, both the Nets and Islanders, who call the Barclays Center home, got hit in the wallet with extremely low turnouts. The Nets were the worst team in the NBA and were 28th in attendance, at an average of 15,429 per game, or 85.2 percent of capacity. That was preceded by a 27th place standing in 2015-16 and a 20th place finish in 2014-15, the year after the team went two rounds in the playoffs after acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in a doomed blockbuster trade. The Nets were actually a so-so 17th in average attendance that season.
10. Chicago White Sox – MLB
The poorer cousins in the Windy City have had an attendance problem for a long time running. A lot of it is due to a team that has only made the playoffs once since winning it all in 2005 and the rest owing to the fact the popular Cubs get to play downtown and not on the south side. The White Sox are the worst team in the American League, as of Thursday, and through 68 home dates have drawn just 21,183 fans per game to the aptly named Guaranteed Rate Field. That puts the Chisox a dismal 27th in attendance this season and the average number of fans is just over half the field capacity of 40,615. The team didn’t fare much better in 2016, when only 21,828 fans per game elected to come out to GarField (as it’s nicknamed), good only for 26th overall and the worst attendance the franchise had seen since 2002. Otherwise, the Pale Hose were 26th in 2015, 28th in 2014 and 24th in 2013.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – NFL
What is it about an agreeable climate, palm trees and beaches that makes sports fans in Florida so apathetic? OK, we just answered our own question, since most folks would rather lounge in a hammock and sip on a cool drink by the ocean than sit in a sweltering stadium or half-full arena. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play out of Raymond James Stadium, know this all too well. Even with an improved team and a dynamic young QB in Jameis Winston last year (they went 9-7 and narrowly missed the playoffs) the Bucs only filled the stadium to 92.3 percent capacity, which put them 28th in NFL attendance. Tampa Bay has been in the bottom 10 in fans per game for the last five years, finishing 26th 2015, 29th in 2014 and 2013 and a dismal 31st in 2012 (with over 10,000 empty seats per game on average).
8. Arizona Coyotes – NHL
Let’s face it, the desert is no place for a hockey team. But, in the infinite wisdom of Gary Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors, they put another desert-bound club in Las Vegas. We’ll see how that goes, attendance-wise. The Coyotes, whose owners can’t be thrilled with the average numbers showing up to the Gila River Arena in suburban Glendale, have been one of the lowest drawing teams since the club moved from Winnipeg in the 1990s. In the last 10 years alone, attendance at Desert Dogs games has gone down an average -12.9%. With the team on the skids last season, only 13,094 (average) occupied the seats in an arena that holds 17,125 for hockey. That put them 29th in the league, which is close to where they have been five years in a row. In 2012-13, the ‘Yotes finished 30th in attendance, followed by 30th and last in 2013-14, 28th in 2014-15 and 29th again in 2015-16.
7. Detroit Pistons – NBA
The recession in 2008 hit the auto industry hard and with that, Detroit became a bit of ghost town with the exodus of the unemployed. With that, attendance for a Pistons team playing at an arena in suburban Auburn Hills took a hit. However, with a new stadium being built downtown to house the NHL’s Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons might see an uptick in average fans. But, before the flight from the ‘burbs to new digs downtown Motown, the Pistons couldn’t draw flies to the Palace. Last year, Detroit was 25th in average attendance, but their 72.4 percent capacity rating was worst in the NBA. Only 15,979 fans (on average) felt it was in their best interest to go to an arena that can seat 22,076 for basketball. Before 2016-17, Detroit was 25th in 2015-16, 26th in 2014-15, 26th in 2013-14 and 28th in 2012-13.
6. Miami Marlins – MLB
Many things have conspired to make the Miami Marlins one of the least-watched teams in the Big 4. Principle among them are a dodgy owner (Jeffery Loria) who actually sued his season-ticket holders and refused to put any money into improving the team on the field. As well, the team has been poorly managed, giving away much of the club’s talent, which has shown in the results (seven straight losing seasons). Again, folks in SoBe would rather be frolicking on the many beautiful beaches and drinking and eating at posh watering holes than plunking their money down to watch a mediocre ball club. The Marlins, who have actually played some entertaining ball this year and 53-homer hitter Giancarlo Stanton in the line-up, are 28th in attendance, putting only 20,378 fans in seats on average in a park that holds 36,742. If that isn’t embarrassing enough, the Marlins drew just 1,590 (the lowest mark since 1989 in a game in Atlanta) for a contest with Philadelphia in late May. We will spare everyone the rest of the Marlins ugly attendance figures for the years between 2013-16.
5. St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams – NFL
Rams fans in St. Louis, if they want to thumb their nose at vilified owner Stan Kroenke, can at least say they filled the dome in St. Louis to 80.2 percent capacity in the team’s last season in the Gateway City. Even though that rate was dead last in football, remember that the faithful knew the team was going to leave anyway. And, when the Rams made the hyped return to La-la land they still didn’t fill the Coliseum (though it does seat over 93,000, so take it with a grain of salt). Even still, Los Angeles is a monster market and the Rams could have done a whole lot better than being fourth worst in average attendance last season. The fans in St. Louis, from 2012-15, didn’t do themselves any favors and could partially be to blame for Kroenke packing it in. In order, the St. Louis Rams were 30th in attendance in 2012, 31st in 2013, 30th in 2014 and finally 32nd and last in 2015.
4. Carolina Hurricanes – NHL
Now we are down to the worst attended teams in the “Big 4”, starting with the Carolina Hurricanes. It is so bad south of the Mason Dixon line we think that management has probably a stash of mannequins in ‘Canes jerseys that they can strategically place for broadcasts so the arena doesn’t look so empty. It was reported earlier this year that the Hurricanes, according to financial news website “24/7 Wall St.”, have undergone the second largest attendance drop in major league sports over the past 10 years. The Hurricanes, who have reached the post-season just once since winning it all in 2006, have seen their attendance dip 32.3 percent from roughly 17,000 average attendance 10 years ago to just 11,776 in 2016-17. The team’s average fill capacity was also recorded at 63 percent – the worst among NHL teams. The Canes have finished dead last in attendance for two straight years, after being second last in 2014-15.
3. Milwaukee Bucks – NBA
At least the indifferent sports fans of under-attended teams in Florida have an excuse to do other things. Up in Milwaukee, where cold winds whip off Lake Michigan in the winter, Bucks fans are fresh out of excuses for not supporting their club. Well, except maybe for the fact they haven’t won a playoff round in 16 years (but have been to the post-season three times in the last five campaigns and employ the Greek Freak, for Pete’s Sake). Or maybe they would rather head to Lambeau in Green Bay to tailgate and root, root, root for the Packers. In any case, the Bucks have finished in the bottom five of NBA attendance every season since 2012-13, which no other team has done. In order, Milwaukee was 27th in 2012-13 when they made the playoffs, 30th and last in 2013-14, 27th in 2014-15 (playoffs again), 26th in 2015-16 and then 27th last year (followed by a first round loss to Toronto).
2. Tampa Bay Rays – MLB
That crowd of 6,509 they had the other night at “The Trop” was not a rarity in the history of the Rays. Even though they are still in the playoff hunt, Tampa players have stared at too many empty seats through 69 home games, to the tune of just 15,309 per game, or less than half the 31,042 capacity of baseball’s worst park. Who, then, can blame the denizens of the Tampa/St.Pete’s area for not showing up to a stadium with all the ambiance of a yurt (no offence to yurts, which are at least functional). For five seasons running, the Rays have logged the worst attendance in baseball, even though they made the playoffs in 2013 and were ousted in the ALDS by Boston. It is so bad in Tampa that even in 2008, when the franchise had its best season ever and made it all the way to the World Series, they were 26th in attendance, filling the Trop to only 52.8 percent capacity.
1. Oakland Raiders – NFL
The Raiders, in due time, are re-locating to Las Vegas. Which means all those rabid fans who paint their faces and don scary looking Raiders-inspired costumes have a long drive ahead of them on Sundays in the future. With an aging stadium and fans not really wanting to pack it anymore, Bucky Larson lookalike owner Mark Davis decided enough was enough and announced the dynamic move his Dad Al could never quite bring himself to (other than that sojourn in L.A.). The ugly truth is that the Raiders have been near dead last in average attendance, including a 32nd place finish last year, when the team was actually good (going 12-4 and making the playoffs). Otherwise, the Raiders were 3oth in 2015, 31st in 2014 and last again in both 2013 and 2012. Not a hard decision for Davis to make, considering the low numbers.