As the All-Star break in Kansas City fast approaches, the 2012 Major League Baseball season is headed for what could be an all-time record for overall attendance.
Signs continue to point toward a serious run at the 2007 mark. MLB entered the week with an overall attendance of 33,486,813 after a banner Interleague Play schedule, averaging 31,064 total fans per game across 1,078 dates. Overall attendance is running 8.1 percent ahead of the total through the same number of dates in the 2011 season and slightly behind 2007.
The last eight years represent the eight best-attended individual seasons in baseball history, including four successive record seasons from 2004-2007, but the difference-maker in 2012 could be the addition of an extra Wild Card berth in each league. Four out of five teams are within striking distance of at least the second Wild Card, carrying more collective suspense across suddenly fired-up markets and bringing more people to MLB.com/Tickets.
"Major League Baseball is enjoying a remarkable first half of the season," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "With strong competitive balance, historic milestones, five no-hitters, and outstanding performances from our game's young players, our attendance is a reflection of the great momentum we have as we approach the All-Star Game."
MLB drew 8,742,577 fans to Interleague games this season, the third-highest total in the 16-year history of Interleague Play behind only 2008 (8,932,384) and 2007 (8,795,939). The 2012 Interleague average of 34,693 per game is the third best of all-time, behind only 2008 (35,587) and 2007 (34,905).
Fanning the fever
A new ballpark has meant a 67-percent increase in Marlins home attendance for 2012 vs. the same number of dates in 2011. Here are Major League Baseball's top five clubs for percentage increase:
A total of 1,637,954 fans visited ballparks this past weekend, marking the fourth weekend of the year -- and the third straight -- that attendance has eclipsed the 1.6 million mark. The last time a season had four weekends of more than 1.6 million before the end of June was in 2008. The last a season had three consecutive weekends of more than 1.6 million before the end of June was in the record-setting 2007 season.
The indicators of something special in 2012 are seen routinely in club announcements as well. Consider, for example, the defending American League champion Rangers. They announced on Sunday that their 22nd sellout that night marked a club record for home sellouts in a season, breaking the 1994 record. The Rangers' total home attendance is 1,532,530 in 35 dates, marking the earlier number of dates in which they reached the 1.5 million mark.
"On behalf of the entire Rangers organization, I want to thank our tremendous fans for their support this season," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said of his club's fifth sellout in its last six home games. "Playing to capacity crowds every night is a real home field advantage for the club, and this fan response is greatly appreciated."
Miami's new Marlins Park has made a difference. That franchise ranks No. 1 in the Majors for largest percentage increase in home attendance for 2012 relative to 2011. Miami is followed by Detroit, Baltimore, Toronto and Washington.
It is not surprising to see both Beltway franchises on that top-five list, either. Consider:
Baltimore: On the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards' beginnings, the Orioles sold out Opening Day with 46,773. But there were more big crowds to come as the team emerged as an American League East contender and then matched its best Interleague record in franchise history (11-7). The Orioles drew 133,983 total fans for their three-day weekend series with the Nationals.
Washington: Prior to this season, there had been 10 games held at Nationals Park (2008-2011) with attendance of 40,000 or more. There have now been 17. Through 34 games there, average attendance is 29,482, an increase of 28.5 percent through the same number in 2011.
FOX broadcaster Joe Buck told MLB.com he thinks the provisioning of enthusiasm in more markets is a key difference in 2012, citing the Nationals' rise to the top of the National League East and the recent charge of an A's team that looms just 5 1/2 games out of a Wild Card position.
"When you talk about overall attendance figures, you've got a lot of markets that are excited about their teams again," Buck said. "Whether you're even talking about the Oakland A's, or the Washington Nationals, who have a legitimate chance of not only getting to the postseason but of winning their division. They're a fun team to watch. The Angels have come back around, the Mets are a team no one expected to do anything, then you have the usual suspects . . . You get the Cubs going, and the numbers will really go through the roof.
"I just think it's a result of how many teams are in it, and how many marketplaces are now rejuvenated and excited about how their teams are playing. . . . That's what I like about baseball in general in 2012. I just think you see a lot of additions to the postseason conversation. . . . You say well, it's time to start paying attention to teams that we haven't looked at the last few years on the national level. That's good for this game. Parity is great."
After the big Father's Day weekend, MLB announced that 2012 attendance was running 7.6 percent ahead of last season. Now it is 8.1 percent ahead, so the trending is upward approaching the break and the potential of more contenders means there is suspense not only in the upcoming races but also in the race for an overall MLB record.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.