Magazine article Insight on the News

Baseball Now Mirrors NBA, NHL; Teams Try Discount Ticket Schemes to Bring Fans out to Parks Early in the Season. (Sports)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Baseball Now Mirrors NBA, NHL; Teams Try Discount Ticket Schemes to Bring Fans out to Parks Early in the Season. (Sports)

Article excerpt

The defining note in baseball's season this spring has been the large swath of empty seats in ballparks coast to coast. Nine stadiums in all have posted their worst crowds in the season's first month, a terrible indicator of the game's health.

Poor attendance no doubt owes greatly to the game's rising ticket prices and an off-season that saw Major League Baseball try to kill the Minnesota and Montreal franchises, send hated owner Jeffrey Loria to Florida and ultimately take over the Expos itself.

But fans have shown up to watch baseball in tough times before, and even with this season's attendance down about 8 percent, 70 million will attend a game sometime this season. Off-season ticket sales for 2002 indicate that many slower-starting teams, such as Houston and Cleveland, will rebound.

All this suggests that baseball, on top of all its other problems, also is learning a painful lesson now part of the normal business cycles in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL): the late-arriving fan.

In all three sports, the regular season is a six-month marathon that at times seems interminable. Though a game in the first week of the season counts in the standings the same as one in the last week, NHL and NBA fans long have found it difficult to get excited about games before Christmas.

"It just takes a while for the story for each team and each league to develop;' says Declan Bolger, senior vice president of business operations for the Washington Capitals and a former employee of the Pittsburgh Pirates. "When you have 81 home dates, or 41 dates, in front of you, it's very easy for a fan to procrastinate."

Many NBA and NHL clubs combat the early-season fan resistance by more aggressively promoting those games, packaging them into bulk ticket plans with more attractive games later on and stacking the giveaway schedule more heavily in the season's first half. …

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