By IAN WILSON
Attendance in the Western Canadian Baseball League reached record-breaking levels this summer.
The WCBL cracked the 300,000 mark for the first time with its regular-season schedule, with 305,425 fans showing up to 275 games in Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2023. That surpassed the previous high established in 2019, when crowds of 274,939 came out to 316 games.
The Okotoks Dawgs led the way in fan engagement in the WCBL. Through 28 home dates, the Dawgs welcomed 127,622 spectators to Seaman Stadium for an average crowd of 4,558 people. Both figures are up from record levels that were established in 2022.
“This has just grown so far beyond what we could have ever imagined,” confessed Dawgs vice president William Gardner after Seaman Stadium was recognized as the Best Ballpark in Summer Collegiate Baseball by Ballpark Digest earlier this year.
“It really is a testament and tribute to those great fans, who we call the greatest fans in all of baseball, for standing with us and supporting us, year-in and year-out.”
Attendance records were shattered across the league, with half of the teams achieving new highs.
The Sylvan Lake Gulls greeted 45,105 spectators – 1,611 per game – at Gulls Field, while the East Division champion Medicine Hat Mavericks saw 35,449 people file through the gates of Athletic Park, an average of 1,266 for each home contest. Those were franchise bests for both Alberta clubs.
In Saskatchewan, Regina had a banner year at Currie Field, where 23,688 fans cheered on the Red Sox, making for an average attendance of 877 per night. The Moose Jaw Miller Express built on their stellar crowds of 2022, setting new overall (11,932) and average (442) records at Ross Wells Park this summer.
Tickets sales were robust in markets that didn’t set records, as well. The Lethbridge Bulls finished fifth in WCBL attendance, with 23,462 people checking out Spitz Stadium, while the Fort McMurray Giants were sixth in popularity, with over 17,000 fans showing up to support the orange and black during the regular season.
PACKING THE PARK IN THE POSTSEASON
Playoff action also proved to be a hit with baseball watchers in Western Canada.
The WCBL topped the 40,000-fan mark for the first time in league history when the games really mattered in August. A total of 40,370 people attended 16 postseason games, resulting in an average attendance of 2,523 fans per game.
Once again, Okotoks was the biggest draw, as the Dawgs marched towards back-to-back championship titles. Seaman Stadium registered 21,849 spectators over four games, for an average attendance of 5,462 people. The final contest of the summer – which saw the Dawgs defeat the Mavs 13-5 in the third game of the WCBL final best-of-three series – established a single-game playoff record for Okotoks. A total of 5,888 people attended that game.
Other teams tested the limits of their ballparks in the postseason. The Giants made their lone playoff game in Fort McMurray count when they recorded a crowd of 5,011 at Legacy Dodge Field during a 4-2 loss to the Dawgs.
The Gulls, meanwhile, witnessed 4,231 fans show up for two home dates in Sylvan Lake, an average crowd of 2,116 baseball enthusiasts.
In three postseason dates at Athletic Park, the Medicine Hat Mavericks had an average attendance of 1,616 people.
New playoff attendance records were set in Okotoks, Fort McMurray, Sylvan Lake and Medicine Hat.
In addition, solid crowds showed up for high-stakes matchups in Moose Jaw, where the Miller Express welcomed 2,158 boosters over three games and Regina, where 1,110 fans saw the Red Sox lose to the Mavs.
This summer marked the second straight campaign of attendance gains for the WCBL. With the addition of the expansion Saskatoon Berries and the return of the Edmonton Prospects in 2024, there remains even more room for ticket sales growth next season.