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Thursday, May 21, 2009
Riding the recession: Selig pleased despite drop

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- While Major League Baseball's attendance is down 6.4 percent from a year ago and 20 of 30 teams have experienced drops, commissioner Bud Selig is pleased with how the sport is surviving a season of recession.

"The clubs are very aggressive now in the way they're reaching out. I actually complimented them today at the end of the meeting," he said Thursday after the owners' quarterly gathering. "You've got some teams in economic markets that are have really, really been hurt."

The 30 teams averaged 28,661 through Wednesday, down from 30,636 through May 20 last year. And Selig said per capita spending on tickets combined with concessions had been "quite a bit reduced, there's no question about it."

Moving to new stadiums with smaller capacities, the Mets saw average attendance fall 22 percent and the Yankees saw theirs decrease 14 percent. Other big drops were experienced by the Washington (34 percent), Detroit (30 percent), Atlanta (20 percent), Colorado (17 percent), San Diego (18 percent), Toronto (14 percent) and Houston (13 percent).

Just four teams have seen double-digit percentage increases: AL champion Tampa Bay (32 percent), Florida (26 percent), Kansas City (16 percent) and World Series champion Philadelphia (10 percent).

And eight of the 28 stadiums that were in use before this year have set their attendance lows for regularly scheduled games: Atlanta's Turner Field (15,364 on May 18), Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (9,878 on April 28), Cleveland's Progressive Field (11,408 on April 21), St. Louis' Busch Stadium (35,206 on April 7), San Diego's Petco Park (13,646 on May 5), San Francisco's AT&T Park (23,934 on April 22), Toronto's Rogers Centre (12,145 on April 8) and Washington's Nationals Park (12,473 on April 20).

In addition, the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field have both failed to sell out any game since their openers.

Selig said attendance should be viewed against the standards set in recent seasons. Baseball had a record average of 32,785 two years ago, breaking a mark that had stood since 1993, and the average declined slightly last year to 32,539.

"It's early. We've had horrendous weather," Selig said. "I'm encouraged. Look, I read people saying, `Oh, we're going to be down this, and we're going to be down that. And look at all the empty seats.' And then you compare to last year -- remember, let me remind all of you, we're going against numbers that are stunning."

He said 15 or 16 teams held ticket prices even, six or seven cut them and the rest raised them. Many teams instituted discounted tickets and cheaper food prices, including $1 hot dogs.

"Frankly, recession or not, this is the way it should be every year," he said.

Selig defended the Yankees against criticism that they unleashed class warfare at their new $1.5 billion ballpark, which has a concrete moat dividing the $500-$2,625 seats closest to the field from the rest of the lower deck. The Yankees won't let anyone into the first five-to-nine rows of the Legends Suite during batting practice who doesn't have a ticket for that area.

"The Yankees are as sensitive and fan friendly as all the other organizations," he said. "There always has be a real linkage between the management and its fans. ... and I'm satisfied that the Yankees understand that."

Selig was pleased Fox agreed to a request by baseball to move up the start time of World Series games. The network said Monday that weeknight games will begin at 7:57 p.m. EDT instead of the 8:28-8:35 p.m. range last year. Saturday starts could be even earlier; Sunday games will be played after the network's NFL coverage concludes.

He didn't think World Series day games would resume for the first time since 1987.

"Fox says absolutely correctly that Nielsen tells them that their ratings would be 30 percent less," Selig said.

And he defended the sport from critics who say late postseason starts have cost baseball young fans.

"We have not lost a generation, gentlemen," he said. "You don't draw 79, 80 million people and have lost a generation."

On the drug topic, Selig said he has not spoken with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who according to a book may have used human growth hormone after joining New York in 2004.

Selig wouldn't given an opinion on whether Congress should make HDEA a controlled substance, which would add it to baseball's banned list. He said the suspension of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez was proof the sport's drug-testing system functions.

"No one is above the law," he said. "What the Manny Ramirez situation proved -- no one can miss, and let me say this very, very clearly -- we have a tough program that is working. And that's what it proved. And anybody who didn't draw that conclusion then doesn't want to draw that conclusion."

Game notes
Owners approved new heads for the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. Jim Pohlad succeeded his father as head of the Twins. Carl Pohlad died in January at 93. Edward Rogers III replaces his father as head of the Blue Jays. Ted Rogers died in December at 75.