Last Updated on October 8, 2023 at 8:26 am by Inna Zeyger
Contrary to a fall in the number of fans attending Yankees games in the Bronx, their minor affiliate the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders have achieved a remarkable feat in the past season. Their attendance surpassed the previous year’s figures despite playing fewer games, outperforming all but four teams in their league.
The rise in RailRiders’ game attendance is tied to the Yankees’ exciting prospect pipeline. Throughout the year, farm names, such as Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells, get immense media coverage for their big-hitting games. Also, prospects, such as Estovian Florial, Oswald Peraza, and Everson Periera also invited fan attention with big performances.
RailRiders enjoy record crowds this season
As the New York Yankees‘ Triple-A minor league baseball affiliate, they proudly recorded a paid attendance of 336,162 for the recently concluded season, a notable increase from the 331,286 fans in 2022, marking a 1.5% growth.
Over the course of 68 games, taking into account that seven matches were postponed due to adverse weather conditions or Canadian wildfire smoke, the RailRiders achieved an impressive average of 4,944 paid attendees per game. This figure represents a 6% rise compared to the 4,666 fans per game in the 71 games played in 2022.
In the expansive 20-team International League, the RailRiders experienced impressive growth in their average attendance figures, placing them among the league’s top performers in this regard. According to data analyzed by the Times-Tribune, provided by a spokesperson from Major League Baseball, only a handful of teams outshone them in terms of growth.
Specifically, the Norfolk Tides led the way with a remarkable 15.8% increase in attendance, followed by the Gwinnett Stripers with a solid 9.8% growth, and the Durham Bulls and Toledo Mud Hens, which both achieved commendable growth rates of 7% and 6.4%, respectively.
Comparatively, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies, secured the top spot in attendance for the 2023 season, drawing an impressive 567,322 fans. They also demonstrated notable growth, with a 4.2% increase in attendance.
While the RailRiders ranked in the lower part of the league in terms of overall attendance, it’s important to note that many of the teams ahead of them are located in larger markets. Nonetheless, the International League as a whole experienced a collective growth of 1.3%, amassing a total attendance of 8.6 million fans.
RailRiders made efforts to boost fan attendance
Adam Marco, the RailRiders director of communications and broadcaster, mentioned that in 2021, they had implemented pod seating, limited seating, and social distancing during the first month of the season. He explained that these measures had significantly affected the attendance figures. Additionally, he attributed the attendance fluctuations to people’s comfort level, with some individuals gradually becoming more willing to attend public events and be in close proximity to others as the world readjusted to the new circumstances.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought Minor League Baseball to a halt in 2020, resulting in the cancellation of all games. Teams gradually resumed their operations in 2021 as the pandemic began to recede.
In the last full season before the pandemic in 2019, the RailRiders boasted an impressive average attendance of 5,885 fans over the course of 70 games. When comparing this figure to their average attendance in 2023, it becomes evident that they reached approximately 84% of their pre-pandemic levels. Among the 17 International League teams that were based in the same cities in 2019, only the Charlotte Knights, with 81.7%, the Louisville Bats, with 79.5%, and the Memphis Redbirds, with 65.5%, reported lower attendance percentages in relation to their 2019 figures.
During the 2023 season, there were notable highlights for the RailRiders. They reached a full capacity crowd of 10,000 fans on July 4, a date traditionally significant for minor league teams. Furthermore, they drew a strong attendance of 8,322 paid fans on August 12, an occasion marked by the presence of Kate Flannery, known for her role as Meredith in the Scranton-based TV show “The Office.” Additionally, a giveaway of throwback hats and an appearance by The Tag Team, famous for their hit song “Who Let the Dogs Out?,” contributed to a crowd of 7,988 fans on another notable game day.
Marco expressed his belief that the event provided a foundation for future endeavors. He mentioned that they would be able to expand on similar initiatives, such as featuring three or post-game DJs, concerts, or musicians in addition to the baseball game.
The actual attendance figures for RailRiders games during this season occasionally appeared to be smaller than the announced paid attendance figures. However, Marco refrained from disclosing the specific actual attendance numbers. This decision was made in accordance with a baseball-wide policy that restricts the release of attendance data to paid attendance figures only.
Tops the MiLB
In terms of road attendance, the RailRiders claimed the top spot in the league, as their games hosted in other stadiums collectively drew 479,978 attendees. This impressive figure equated to an average of 6,575 fans per game across 73 dates. The RailRiders’ road attendance ranked second only to the Syracuse Mets, who averaged 6,796 fans per game in 72 dates, as reported by Marco.
Kevin Reichard, the founder and publisher of Ballpark Digest, an entity that monitors attendance figures at various sporting events, pointed out that Minor League Baseball, due to its smaller number of teams, is unlikely to return to the record attendance levels observed in the past. However, the improvement in attendance seen across the league reflects a broader trend in the world of entertainment.
Reichard pointed out that the absence of COVID-19 led to an increase in the number of spectators in the stands.
Since the inception of Triple-A baseball in this region back in 1989, the highest single-season attendance figure on record stands at 580,908, a record achieved in the year 2007. Significantly, this milestone coincided with the inaugural season of the local team’s affiliation with the New York Yankees.
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