LEE COUNTY, Fla. — One day after 2023 spring training ended in Florida and Arizona and one day before the regular season starts, attendance figures show most of Florida's 15 Grapefruit League teams were flat or down slightly from 2019.
Last year, the lockout between owners and the players' union meant a late start and a shorter spring training season. The opening days of the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2020 Major League Baseball spring training short and the 2021 season had restrictions on game attendance.
Lee County leaders have noted, during a "normal" spring training, having the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins playing in Fort Myers leads to about $70 million of economic impact.
For 2023, home attendance for the Twins and the Red Sox was down 14% and 16%, compared with 2019. Note: the 2019 attendance data is coming from Enterprise Florida.
2023 announced attendance: 98,318 in 16 home games. Average: 6,144.
2019 attendance: 121,798 in 17 home games. Average: 7,165.
Attendance down 16 percent from 2019 to 2023.
Boston Red Sox:
2023 announced attendance: 134,976 in 16 home games. Average: 8,346
2019 attendance: 147,151 in 15 home games. Average: 9,850
Attendance down 14 percent from 2019 to 2023.
Hurricane Ian, of course, presented special challenges all throughout Southwest Florida as baseball fans had fewer playing to stay on Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Bonita Springs, and numerous other favorite spots. However, our comparison from 2019 to 2023 found nearly all teams with similar levels of attendance of lower.
In North Port, the Atlanta Braves also saw a smaller dip in attendance.
2023 announced attendance: 87,103 in 15 home games. Average: 5,806
2019 attendance: 110,749 in 17 home games. Average: 6,515
Attendance down 11 percent from 2019 to 2023.
However, a different story for the Tampa Bay Rays. Hurricane Ian damaged the Charlotte Sports Park, the longtime spring training home of the Rays, forcing the team to hold 2023 spring training in Orange County at ESPN's World Wide of Sports.
Tampa Bay Rays:
2023 announced attendance: 68,361 in 14 home games. Average: 4,882
2019 attendance: 71,438 in 16 games. Average: 4,465
Attendance up nearly 10 percent from 2019 to 2023.