In the pandemic season of 2020, it seemed that everything about the game was under review and subject to change – often on short notice.  To get safely through the 2020 season changes were made to the length of games (7-inning doubleheaders), the number and timing of off days, and game sites.

In 2021, we can be confident that many of us will be able to attend games in person for the first time since 2019!  But a lot has changed, and some “temporary” changes will be slow to unwind.  It may well require some creativity to return to baseball in 2021, so I encourage baseball fans who want to join in to think outside the box. 

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I appreciate the game so much that watching any game any time is enjoyable.  If your appreciation of the game is at a high level, then you need not be limited by the shortage of tickets when social distancing is in place during the 2021 season, even if – as I’m starting to hear is increasingly likely – the 2021 season is shorter than 162 games. 

Here’s a question as you contemplate getting back to baseball in 2021.  Will you drive farther to see a AAA game if tickets aren’t available to see your favorite MLB team?  Such devoted fans will be popular with teams hurting after a year of lost revenue and little chance of full stadiums in 2021.   If you could go anywhere to see AAA baseball in 2021, where might you find the best chance of success? 

As the starting point for considering the balance of supply and demand for tickets in spring of 2021, let’s look at AAA attendance from the most recently-played season.  Of the 27 AAA teams expected to maintain the same affiliation status as in 2019, five teams averaged less than 50% of capacity in 2019.  These were Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League (PCL), and Buffalo, Syracuse, Norfolk, and Gwinnett of the International League (IL). Jacksonville, moving from AA to AAA for 2021, also averaged less than 50% of stadium capacity during the 2019 season. Part of the picture for the low percentages in Buffalo (with the 9th highest average attendance in AAA) and Salt Lake City (near the middle of the pack in AAA attendance) is that they have the largest stadiums in AAA.  If you’re near these cities, you might find it easier to get in to a socially-distanced game! 

On the opposite end, there were two teams in the PCL (Nashville and Las Vegas), and three teams of the IL (Charlotte, Columbus, and Lehigh Valley) which averaged more than 85% of capacity during the 2019 season. The new Twins AAA affiliate in Saint Paul drew remarkably well when operating as an independent league team, regularly selling out 7210-seat CHS Field.  Each of these teams have newer stadiums, (all opening since 2008), and four of the six had winning records.  It’s very possible these may be among the harder tickets to get in the restart of the minor leagues!  Where does your local team fit into this picture?  Below is the list of AAA affiliates and their average 2019 attendance compared to their listed stadium capacity.

Here is the ranking of AAA teams from lowest to highest percentage of average attendance capacity in 2019. I have not included Fresno and San Antonio (moving from AAA to other levels this season) and New Orleans (whose franchise moved to Wichita after 2019 and will now be at the AA level). 

  Another option for some fans would be to look at games in the lower levels of the minor leagues or even the independent leagues, many of which were able to play a shortened season in 2020.  These independent or non-affiliated leagues include the Northwoods League (which boasted the largest attendance of any US baseball league in 2020), the American Association, the Atlantic League, and the Pecos League.  Their schedules start later which combines with limited travel and player movement to give these leagues better opportunities to play full seasons in 2021.  The Appalachian League (southern mid-Atlantic region) is newly non-affiliated in 2021 and recently released a 54-game schedule (down from 68 games in previous seasons when it was a low-A league).