Playing in the Southern League championship series wasn’t even enough to boost Biloxi’s continuing flagging attendance at its taxpayer-funded ballpark.
Average attendance at MGM Park this season was almost half of what was expected by city leaders when the ballpark was in the planning stages.
Attendance at MGM Park has decreased every season since the inaugural one in 2015 and was down 8.3 percent from last year. The Biloxi Shuckers drew 146,845 fans in 63 home games, an average of 2,331 fans per game despite losing in the championship series to the Jackson (Tennessee) Generals.
The Shuckers are the Class AA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and they play in the 10-team Southern League, which includes teams in Pearl (Mississippi Braves); Birmingham; Chattanooga; Mobile; Pensacola; Seiverville, Tennessee; Jackson, Tennessee; Jacksonville and Montgomery, Alabama.
That’s not what was expected.
A $25,000 feasibility study commissioned in 2013 by the city of Biloxi predicted the stadium would draw 280,000 fans annually, or about 4,117 per game. That’s 43.4 percent less than what the Shuckers drew this year.
Those numbers would’ve put the Shuckers fifth in attendance in the Southern League this season. This season, the league average was 224,230 fans and 3,392 per game.
Instead the Shuckers finished in front of only the eventual league champions, the Jackson Generals, who drew 107,131 fans to their ballpark (1,756 per game) and a relocating team, the Mobile BayBears (95,087 total attendance for a 1,585 fans per game average).
Birmingham has led the league in attendance since moving to its downtown ballpark, Regions Field in 2013. This year, the team drew 379,707 fans with an average attendance of 5,424.
Mississippi’s other minor league team, the Mississippi Braves, had an 8.2 percent surge in attendance at Pearl’s Trustmark Park, improving from 151,352 fans in 2018 to 163,841 this season.
The BayBears are relocating to Madison, a suburb of Huntsville, Alabama. The city agreed to pay for a $46 million stadium and a related mixed-use development to lure the team to town. The new team will be named the Rocket City Trash Pandas, a slang term for a raccoon.
Ironically, the Biloxi Shuckers were once the Huntsville Stars before leaving the Rocket City due to low attendance and an aging stadium that was the oldest in the league.
In 2018, the Shuckers had 160,364 fans through the turnstiles, an average of 2,259 per game. The team ranked seventh in the Southern League in average attendance. League averages that year were 226,183 fans and 3,388 per contest.
|Year||Total attendance||Average per game|
The best year for attendance remains 2016, the second season for the Shuckers at MGM Park. The Shuckers drew 180,384 fans through the turnstiles or about 2,692 per game.
That’s still 34.6 percent fewer fans that the feasibility study predicted.
The city of Biloxi borrowed $21 million to help build the $36 million stadium, which was also funded with BP settlement money and tourism rebate money from a state program.
Biloxi Baseball LLC could also receive up to $6 million from the state from the Tourism Rebate program. The state also provided $15 million in money from the BP settlement to help build the park.