NPB Attendance Up in 2014
Attendance was up 3.7% for Japan’s NPB this year compared to 2013. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp set an all-time attendance record with 1.90 million fans, and six other teams had their highest attendance since at least 2005.
The three top drawing teams remained the same — Yomiuri Giants at 3.02 million, the Hanshin Tigers at 2.69 million, and the SoftBank Hawks at 2.47 million. However, the Tigers’ attendance was down 3% from a year ago.
The Chunichi Dragons just broke two million fans, which is what the team typically draws in a successful season, at least in recent seasons. The Nippon Ham Fighters were up slightly to 1.90 million, just slightly behind the Carp (by about 5,000 fans).
The Orix Buffaloes, who made the play-offs this year and presumably spent heavily on advertizing as the Orix Corporation was celebrating its 50th Anniversary, had attendance of 1.70 million, up 18.4% from a year ago, but still not truly removing the team from the poor half of NPB teams.
Rakuten Golden Eagle attendance was up 13.2% to 1.45 million following their Japan Series win in 2013. However, the team has played its home games in Kobe since the 2011 earthquake damaged their ballpark in Sendei, which means they can’t have much of a fan base in a market already shared by the Hanshin Tigers and the Orix Buffaloes, much longer established teams. Also, the Golden Eagles went from first to worst in the Pacific League this year following Masahiro Tanaka‘s defection to MLB.
The Yokahama Bay Stars’ attendance was up 9.7% this year, but still below 1.6 million. The Seibu Lions’ attendance fell from just over 1.6 million in 2013 to just below 1.5 million this year. The Yakult Swallows and the Chiba Lotte Marines round out the bottom at 1.44 million and 1.22 million respectively.
In short, except for the Hiroshima Carp, who moved up from the bottom to the small middle realm of NPB attendance, the rich teams remained rich and the poor teams remained poor, at least in terms of attendance revenues. However, there is little reason to believe that other revenues, such as television and radio don’t track roughly with attendance. You can bet that Yomiuri and Hanshin game broadcasts get far better ratings than any other team.
The consistent and almost immutable disparity in attendance between NPB’s rich and poor teams has a profound impact on competitive balance, much more so than in MLB, and is consistent drag on NPB growth. Moving an expansion team to Sendei in 2005 was a good move, but even that small change for the better was wiped out by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.