The success of a sports franchise is largely dependent on its ability to attract fans to games and sell tickets. The departure of the Rams from St. Louis after years of dwindling attendance in 2015 is certainly evidence of the importance of consistently filling seats with fans.
For every instance of a franchise such as the Rams, there are teams that have experienced a complete reversal in attendance in recent years. In fact, 10 major sports franchises have had at least a 25% improvement in the past decade. When this occurs, it is almost always the result of a team getting better results on the field. Attendance at Kansas City Royals games increased by more than 90% between 2005 and 2015. For such a team, the increased attendance can make the difference between being the next team to leave a market for Rams or becoming highly profitable.
An analysis of the performance and attendance records of professional hockey, baseball, football, and basketball franchises over the past decade or so reveals what is likely obvious to owners, players, and regular game attendees alike: nothing drives fans to games more than success, and nothing keeps them away more than the perception that the team is a lost cause. In the majority of cases for teams on this list with substantial improvements in attendance over the past decade, the teams were subpar at best — and often among the worst in the league. They then improved and are now winning games. The Royals, for example, had the worst record in baseball in 2005. Last year, they had the best record in the American League and won the World Series. This kind of dramatic improvement was the case for teams like the Detroit Tigers and the Arizona Cardinals as well, among others.
It might be easy to assume that and if the Royals should have a poor season next year, attendance — and ticket revenues — would drop dramatically. The fact is that a few promising years and the resulting increase in fans can have long-term residual effects. One of the teams to make this list — the Colorado Rockies — won the World Series in 2007 but has only been to the postseason once since then. Still, Colorado’s attendance figures remain up by more than 30% compared to 10 seasons ago.
Franchise failure can actually be a cause of long-term success. Finishing several seasons at the bottom of the league means a team is able to draft elite players and build a team around them. Ten years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins were two of the worst teams in the NHL and suffered poor attendance as a result. The Penguins averaged 11,877 fans per home game, and the Blackhawks averaged 13,253 per game, the lowest and fourth-lowest attendance in hockey that year. Those seasons finishing at the bottom of the standings, however, translated into drafting of star players such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Evgeni Malkin. Under the leadership of these players, the teams have become among the best in the league and have each won Stanley Cups — three, in the case of Chicago.
To determine which teams gained the most fans, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 10-year percentage changes in attendance at regular-season home games in the National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Football League (NFL). In the case of the NHL, NBA, and MLB, attendance figures are from ESPN and are as of the most recent completed season. Due to a lockout during the NHL season of 2004-2005, the 2003-2004 season was used as the benchmark in the case of hockey. NFL attendance figures were provided by Forbes and are as of the 2014 season. To avoid attendance increases based on an increase in stadium capacity, franchises that moved to a new facility with significantly higher capacity were excluded. The average percentage of capacity filled during home games in a season for all four sports also came from ESPN and is as of the most recent completed regular season unless otherwise specified.
These are the sports teams gaining the most fans.