AUG. 13, 2002
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu

If past history is any indicator, a Major League Baseball players strike would have no long-term affect on attendance, a joint study by a California State University, Bakersfield economics professor suggests.

David Berri, who co-authored the study with Martin Schmidt, an economics professor at Portland State University in Oregon, found that after the player strikes in 1981 and 1994-95, despite claims to the contrary, fans returned to the games almost immediately.

The study, titled "The impact of the 1981 and 1994-95 strikes on Major League Baseball attendance: a time-series analysis," was recently published in the journal Applied Economics.

The two strikes examined by the economists were the most prolonged work stoppages in Major League Baseball since the advent of collective bargaining in the early 1970s. "While there exist episodes of discontent between owners and players in baseball's early years, the first significant work stoppage dates only to 1972," Berri and Schmidt wrote in their study. "Not surprisingly, this coincides with the removal of the reserve clause and the introduction of collective bargaining between the two sides."

The first work stoppage, a player strike of 13 days, occurred in 1972 and caused the cancellation of 86 games. A 17-day owner lockout in 1973 and a 17-day owner lockout in 1976 preceded an eight-day player strike in 1980. No games were lost in those work stoppages. Likewise a two-day player strike in 1985 and a 32-day owner lockout in 1990 cost no games.

But the 1981 and 1994-95 strikes were long and bitter. The 1981 strike, "the first significant loss of regular season games," Berri said, lasted 50 days and caused 712 games to be cancelled. The 1994-95 strike lasted 232 days, caused 920 games to be lost and the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, an unprecedented event in Major League Baseball history.

But "in the end, it appears that neither strike has had a lasting effect on attendance," Berri said. "Basically, what we found was that strikes do not have any permanent impact on attendance in Major League Baseball. In other words, even though fans claim they will never come back, the data says they do and that they come back immediately.

"One might expect that attendance would recover from a strike, but given the rhetoric of fans, such a recovery would take a period of years. Our research suggests that the recovery occurs immediately."

Berri hesitated to say that that would happen if a strike occurred in 2002. "We can say that fans came back right away after the two previous major strikes," he said. "The evidence presented here would suggest that despite contentions presented in the popular press, labor disputes have not had an appreciable effect on fan attendance. In the end, the fans do come back."