Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig recently lauded the parity in his sport, pointing out that all but two teams are no worse than five games under .500. Selig celebrates the attendance records, which he claims are a direct result of all the teams within reach of the postseason.
“We have unquestionably more competitive balance than at any time in history,” Selig told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “Our job was to provide hope and faith in as many places as possible, and today we have that. The fact is that this is the best ten years in attendance in history.”
The fact that Selig even mentioned ten years ago should provide alarm for anyone involved in baseball. After all, back then fans were filling the seats to see players crushing home runs aided by performance enhancing drugs, players who Selig now decries as men who ruined the game’s integrity.
Perhaps ten years from now a similar accusation will be made against this current era of so-called parity, which could also be construed as the era devoid of greatness. This competitive balance is likely to hurt baseball’s attendance, if the current trend continues.
That trend can be seen when examining the attendance numbers of small market clubs, especially those in the Midwest. While nearly every team is in contention, the only ones who draw big crowds on the road are the ones who have been dynasties or at least perennial winners.
The attendance in Cincinnati provides a perfect example of how perpetual parity will harm, not strengthen, attendance. Though the Reds are setting attendance records this year, it has only been because of the crowds they have drawn when four of the dynasties were in town.
Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, and St. Louis were the only four series to average 30,000 fans at Great American Ball Park. In the last five years, those clubs have made the playoffs more than any of Cincinnati’s other 2014 opponents.
Conversely, two of the teams in direct contention for the National League central have drawn sparse audiences. The series against Pittsburgh averaged under 20,000, and the four game set against first place Milwaukee Drew just over 20,000 per game.
Assuming Selig’s competitive balance endures for ten years, there will be be no dynasties or perennially great teams. When the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers play .500 ball like everybody else for a decade, they will be greeted in Cincinnati and other cities the same way they greet the Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, or Pittsburgh Pirates.
Perhaps Selig should view this competitive balance in the same way as the game’s all-time hits leader.
“I look around and I can’t put my finger on anyone that is a real good team,” said Pete Rose. “With all of the teams around .500, that’s not real good baseball.”
USA Today, 6/13/14