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2016 Cactus League attendance notes

Are the Cactus League crowds smaller this year?

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The topic first raised its head last Monday, in an Arizona Republic article entitled: Spring training in Arizona is great, so where are the fans? In it, was reported that "attendance was down 7 percent from the same period in 2015." However, since the report, the Diamondbacks have seen strong ticket sales at Salt River Fields,including a single-game record for the complex of 13,514 set on March 12. They have had a total of six sellouts including the last five games at SRF, with the next three games for Arizona expected to follow suit.

They haven't been alone. This weekend, saw the Cubs set a Cactus League single-game mark at Sloan Park, not once but twice, peaking with 15,523 there this afternoon. And even the traditionally lightly-attended park out in Goodyear, saw its own record set when the Diamondbacks visited them this afternoon, with over eight thousand showing up, the most there for a Reds game. But a Tucson News report this weekend also said crowds in the valley have been down, although less than the Republic: "From March 1 to March 17, attendance at the Valley's 10 ballparks is down by 45,309 fans compared to the first 17 dates last year. That's a drop of about 5 percent."

I figured this weekend might be a good time to get a handle on this, so the chart below shows the attendance for all the games played in Arizona on Saturday and Sunday, and also for the comparable weekend last year (the 21st and 22nd of March), two weeks before Opening Day in both cases. Not included are extra-curricular games, such as the ones last year between the Dodgers and Rangers in the Alamodome - fortunately, there was one between the Royals and the Rangers there this season, so it should balance out!

March 21, 2015 March 22, 2015 March 19, 2016 March 20, 2016
ARI@SD 11,474 CWS@MIL 6,950 CIN@OAK 6,769 ARI@CIN 8,036
CIN@OAK 9,057 CLE@LAD 12,349 LAD@CWS 13,203 CWS@OAK 7,668
COL@CLE 4,765 LAA@SF 11,303 OAK@SF 12,095 KC@CHC 15,523
KC@CWS 7,734 OAK@CIN 5,447 SEA@KC 10,638 LAA@TEX 7,325
MIL@TEX 8,027 SD@CHC 15,206 COL@SD 7,552 LAD@MIL 6,139
SEA@CHC 15,323 SF@KC 9,184 MIL@LAA 9,620 SD@LAD 12,476
LAD@COL 13,126 TEX@SEA 9,543 TEX@ARI 13,360 CLE@SEA 8,641
SF@LAA 9,641 COL@ARI 13,507 CHC@CLE 11,616 SF@COL 13,236
ARI@SEA 11,319
TOTAL 79,147 83,489 96,172 79,044
Weekend 162,636 175,216
Per game 10,165 10,307

All told, allowing for the fact there was an additional game this year over 2015, the figures are very little changed - fractionally up, if anything. Of course, you can argue there may be differences in the scheduling, that helped one year or the other, and it's also possible that the Royals being World Series champions boosted their attendance more than doing the same thing did gor the Giants in 2014. But putting that aside, the overall tally seems basically the same: The average per game this season is 1.4% up, within the margin of statistical noise. Maybe the weather - it hit 90F yesterday, five degrees warmer than the comparable day last year - also played its part.

All told though, it seems that, as with Mark Twain, reports of the Cactus League's death have been greatly exaggerated. There may have been a slow start to the crowds, but if this weekend is anything to go by, numbers for the spring as a whole appear to be rebounding nicely, and by the end of play in a couple of weeks, should be there or thereabouts when compared to 2015.