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Published:May 22nd, 2009 00:15 EST
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

Commissioner Notes Decrease in MLB Attendance; Not Alarmed

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Even as Major League Baseball reports a 6.4 percent decrease in attendance from this time one year ago, MLB commissioner Bud Selig is surprised over how baseball is adjusting to the recession hitting many of the sport`s fans.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

Following a quarterly conference held by team owners with MLB management, Selig said: "The clubs are very aggressive now in the way they`re reaching out. I actually complimented them today at the end of the meeting. You`ve got some teams in economic markets that have really, really been hurt."

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

Of the 30 teams in National League and the American League, 20 have undergone declines in regular game attendance.

Though ten have recorded attendances that have basically remained the same at the same yearly milestone, the 20 that have suffered from the recession have brought down the average for the remainder of the franchises. By Wednesday, professional baseball teams reported an average of 28,661 spectators per game, a drop from 30,636 by May 20th last season.

Besides the noticeably low attendance numbers, teams owners approved the new heads of the Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Selig addressed the decrease in per capita ticket spending and concessions sales as "quite a bit reduced, there`s no question about it."

New York, the largest market in Major League Baseball, has experienced some of the most significant losses in attendance after both the New York Yankees and New York Mets unveiled their new stadiums forecast to be a draw for those teams` supporters. The Yankees lost about 14 percent from the attendance figure through this point last year while the Mets` home game attendance dropped 22 percent. Neither team has sold out any of their games since the 2009 season began.

Some of the other teams that posted smaller attendances include Washington whose figures fell the most by 34 percent, Detroit with 30 percent, Atlanta with 20 percent, San Diego with 18, Colorado with 17, Toronto with 14 and Houston`s numbers through the gate dipped 13 percent thus far.

On the other hand, four teams have experienced positive returns in the double-digits through the turnstiles: the 2008 AL pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays with 32 percent, the Florida Marlins with 26 percent, Kansas City with 16 and the reigning world champion Phillies with 10 percent.

Also, eight stadiums of 28 that were opened before this season registered new attendance rock bottoms for regular season games. The two lowest attended games were in Ohio with Cincinnati`s Great American Ball Park seeing only 9,878 on April 28th, while Cleveland`s Progressive Field (formerly called Jacob`s Field) saw only 11,408 on April 21st. Toronto`s Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) only had 12,145 on April 8th; Washington`s Nationals Park boasted only 12,473 on April 20th; San Diego`s Petco Park recorded 13,646 on May 5th; Atlanta`s Turner Field saw its attendance go down to 15,364 on May 18th; San Francisco`s AT&T Park counted only 23,934 in the seats on April 22nd and St. Louis` Busch Stadium saw a 35,206 low on April 7th.

In defense of the poor turnout all across baseball, Selig stated that the new attendance figures should be compared to the exceedingly high standards MLB teams have set for that aspect during the past several seasons. In 2007, MLB established a new average regular-season game attendance high of 32,785: a record that had not been broken since 1993 when more teams were incepted in both leagues, boosting each year`s cumulative totals for attendance.

"It`s early. We`ve had horrendous weather. 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,`" he stated. "And then you compare to last year - remember, let me remind all of you, we`re going against the numbers that are stunning."

He even said certain teams were making the necessary adjustments to accomodate the spectators to an extent that may provoke them into wanting to come out for the games. 15 or 16 teams kept their ticket prices stagnant from last year, and six or seven even slashed ticket prices in an effort to increase the number of tickets sold. Some teams have adopted value ticket promotions while many ballclubs have lowered concession prices, including $1 hot dogs. He also said that quite a few franchises, mainly in the largest markets, have raised prices for tickets even though the recession continues to pinch America`s wallets.

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

Selig stood up for the Yankees to critics who denounced the new Yankee Stadium`s concrete moat as an impetus toward a clash between fans of differing financial means. The moat was built to separate the $500-$2,625 seats nearest the field from the remainder of the lower deck. The Legends Suite, as the first five-to-nine rows is called, is to be guarded before the start of each game at the stadium to prevent non-ticket holders access to the area to watch batting practice.

"The Yankees are as sensitive and fan friendly as all the other organizations," Selig said. "There always has been a real linkage between the managment and its fans... and I`m satisfied that the Yankees understand that."

The commissioner stated his content over Fox`s acceptance of baseball`s request to schedule World Series games earlier. Fox, which is a principal flagship for Major League Baseball and sole carrier of postseason baseball on network television, announced on Monday that weeknight games during the Fall Classic will start at 7:57 p.m. EDT: about a half-hour ahead of the start time last season. The network also said that games held on Saturday may start even sooner, while games on Sunday will commence after Fox NFL coverage ends.

On the same topic, Selig responded back to the concerns that postseason games held at later hours couldn`t be seen by younger fans who had to be in bed at a certain time.

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

But when questioned whether or not World Series day games would be aired on network television, Selig said that he didn`t think they would be aired on Fox. Day games of the World Series have not been carried on basic television since 1987.

It was more of a ratings slip behind Fox`s decision not to broadcast the games rather than anything else, Selig stated.

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

Selig also touched on the subject of substance abuse in baseball.

Selig admitted he has not contacted Yankees` third baseman Alex Rodriguez who had confessed to using human growth hormone in his time with the Texas Rangers and is implicated in a upcoming expose about banned substances in sports as a HGH user since being traded to the Yankees in 2004.

When asked what his opinion was regarding Congress` decision to make HDEA a controlled substance, Selig declined to answer. If HDEA is ruled a controlled substance, MLB would then have to follow disciplinary action toward any player found using the drug.

But Selig defended MLB`s current drug policy, citing the recent suspension of Los Angeles outfielder Manny Ramiriez as an instance of how baseball`s drug screening and guidelines for punishment are operating efficiently.

On the scandal enveloping the slugger, Selig said: "No one is above the law. 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."