LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Dodgers have suffered an 18 percent plunge in paid attendance this season, as experts say disgusted fans were turning their backs on the team's poor play and unpopular owner.
Figures provided by the Dodgers on Monday show the team, which has historically enjoyed among the best attendance records in Major League Baseball, has seen paid attendance drop by an average of 7,902 per game to 36,731.
The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the decline in attendance, said it represented the largest drop for any team in baseball this year. Major League Baseball declined to comment.
The season started with tragedy for the Dodgers, when San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow was severely beaten in the stadium parking lot following the game on Opening Day.
Stow remains hospitalized as a result of the beating, which touched off a furor in Los Angeles as critics accused Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and city officials of failing to ensure adequate security.
The Dodgers are 52-61 so far this season, a losing record that puts them 10 games back in their division. The team's best slugger is outfielder Andre Ethier.
Meanwhile, owner Frank McCourt has battled in court with ex-wife, Jamie, over whether she has an ownership stake in the team. McCourt also has fought with the league, which took over day-to-day operations of the financially troubled franchise. In June, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection.
All of these factors have contributed to the decline in attendance, said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute.
"The overall level of disgust from Dodger fans is not only at an all-time high, but I can't recall a time when a community was so adamant about ownership and was willing to vote with their feet by not showing up," Carter said.
"They're tired of the McCourts, they're tired of the controversy," he said.
The Dodgers declined to comment on what could be causing attendance to drop. But in court papers, McCourt has blamed Major League Baseball for poisoning fans' attitudes about him.
In comparison to the Dodgers' plunge in ticket sales, the rest of the league has seen attendance stay flat compared to last year.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)