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San Francisco Giants lose fans despite cheaper beer and new rules

J.D. Davis' hot start to the 2023 season has come in front of lukewarm crowds. | Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Through their first month of home games, the San Francisco Giants have seen a dip in attendance from past seasons, despite cheaper beer pricing and new rules to speed up the sport’s pace.

After 19 games, the average attendance at Oracle Park is 28,151 this year. That’s 3,109 below the 2022 average of 31,260 and 4,593 below the 2019 average of 32,744 at the same points in the season.

Perhaps most concerning is that those 19 games have largely been against opponents that usually bring in big crowds, including a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even with a visible chunk of the crowd at each game wearing Dodger Blue, attendance for the series averaged just 33,634. A four-game weekend set with the New York Mets drew an average of 27,409, and a four-game weeknight series with the St. Louis Cardinals averaged 21,536 per game.

Empty seats have been a constant at Oracle Park this season. | Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last year’s weeknight Dodger series averaged 34,426. The Mets, who visited on a Monday through Wednesday, averaged 26,935 in 2022. The Mother’s Day weekend set against St. Louis in 2022 brought in 32,442 per game, boosted heavily by the Saturday and Sunday totals.

“I think fans are frustrated that we always seem to be in the mix to get guys like [Aaron] Judge or [Carlos] Correa but, in recent years, haven’t gotten that top free agent,” said 23-year-old San Francisco native and Giants fan Sean White.

Apparently, faster games and $9 beers aren’t enough to move the needle for most fans. Those domestic brews, available at select stands throughout the ballpark, are 14 ounces, or two ounces smaller than the full-size $14 offerings.

‘The Team Just Hasn’t Been as Good’

“The most likely reason, I think, is that the team just hasn’t been as good the last few years, with the obvious exception of 2021,” said 26-year-old Derek Daniels, whose family has held season tickets in Section 304 since 2011. “They’ve been rotating through good players in lieu of signing guys to long-term deals, and in doing so, you lose the opportunity for fans to bond with and care about those players.”

The Giants, who once boasted a sellout streak of 530 games from 2010 to 2017 (with some admitted leeway to account for complimentary tickets), have sold out just one of 14 home games so far in 2023, a 3-1 home opener loss to the Kansas City Royals on April 7. That game had a paid crowd of 40,711; the official capacity is 40,260.

The team did note the official attendance figures displayed on MLB box scores are for the number of tickets sold, rather than the turnstile count. It also does not factor in comp tickets. Actual in-person attendance has looked far smaller than the listed figure on multiple nights.

“One of the Giants’ better-attended games this year was an exhibition game featuring a 40-year-old reliever making his final major league appearance—people cared about that because he was a key part of several championship teams and was on the Giants for the better part of a decade,” said Daniels, who now lives in Los Angeles but returns home to see his family for roughly 10-20 games a year. “It’s great that Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon had awesome seasons with the Giants, but the team has nothing to show for it now.”

Gausman, a central part of the 2020 and 2021 teams, is now in the second season of a five-year, $110 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Rodon was an excellent pitcher in 2022, opted out before the second year of his two-year contract and signed with the New York Yankees for six years and $162 million.

“The difference between owners who are willing to go into the luxury tax to acquire or keep great players around and those who won’t is telling,” Daniels said.

Fans have yet to develop an attachment to Sean Hjelle and other members of the San Francisco Giants. | Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To Daniels’ point, the Dodgers have averaged 47,982 fans through their first 18 home games. The San Diego Padres, whose stadium is slightly larger than Oracle Park but serves a smaller metro population, have averaged 38,398.

“Combine that apathy for unknown players with high ticket, parking and concession prices, fewer people working Downtown, and less parking, at least for now, and it’s kind of a perfect recipe for people saying, ‘Eh, I don’t need to go,’” Daniels concluded.

With that information in mind, some context is needed to put the numbers into perspective. Just as the 2023 attendance figures have been skewed by the Dodger series, the first 19 home games of 2022 were buoyed by a fireworks night, two Bay Bridge Series games against the Oakland A’s and Buster Posey Day, which drew 40,113 fans to honor the retired catcher. In 2019, the first 14 home games also included a fireworks night, three games against the Dodgers and three against the New York Yankees, who were making just their second visit to Oracle Park since its opening.

Monday night's loss to the Washington Nationals had a paid crowd of 20,502. With the Golden State Warriors playing simultaneously, the actual crowd was likely far less. | Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Comparing pre- and post-pandemic numbers creates more challenges in assessing the attendance figures, with capacity restrictions affecting the first half of the 2021 season and hampering season ticket sales, rendering attendance stats from that season firmly in the skewed category. It’s likely that 2022 saw some fans remain wary of the pandemic or were perhaps dealing with the economic fallout, and while the MLB lockout didn’t force any Giants home games to be rescheduled, it appears to have negatively affected season ticket figures.

In reality, 2023 is the first “normal” MLB season since 2019, with no pandemic or lockout effects. But comparing those two seasons also doesn’t account for the change in scheduling. MLB reduced division games in favor of more interleague games before 2023. That means the Dodgers play just six games in San Francisco this year, but the Giants will also host three games against the Boston Red Sox at the end of July.

Giants Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales & Services Russ Stanley did not respond to a request for comment on attendance in time for publication.