SBJ/May 16-22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLB keeping closer tabs on turnstile trends

MLB continues to take a more active league-level role in attendance and ticket sales tracking than it has in the past, with the new Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee making a presentation last week before the owners. Club executives from Atlanta, Cleveland and Cincinnati, three of six teams on the panel, in particular discussed their local sales and marketing efforts, data tracking and overall work on behalf of the committee, as the turnstile counts remain among the most hotly discussed topics of the young season.

MLB attendance thus far is down 1 percent leaguewide through games as of May 10, with an average of 28,105 a game. More pointedly, 20 of the 30 teams are showing declines so far, including 11 of 14 American League teams.

It’s early in the season, though, and Commissioner Bud Selig stands firm in his projection of posting a year-end increase to end three consecutive annual attendance declines. Early-season weather in the Northeast and Midwest has been quite poor, forcing 21 rainouts through May 11, up sharply from a year ago.

But hall of famer Yogi Berra once quipped, “It gets late early out there,” an apt metaphor as many owners and league executives are growing more concerned regarding ticket utilization, overall ticket and per-cap revenue, and the ugly optics surrounding empty seats.

“We should be OK, but this is something we’re continuing to keep a close eye on,” said Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff. The team is one of the league’s attendance success stories thus far, albeit from a relatively low base; an increase of 14.5 percent at the gate this season has the A’s per-game average at 18,792, sixth-worst in MLB.

“We’re still not out of the woods with regard to the economy and personal spending,” Wolff said.

AP IMAGES
The commissioner would not put any timetable on the league’s monitoring and investigation of the Dodgers.
DODGERS UPDATE:
Selig, in an unusual turn of language for the particularly word-conscious executive, reverted last week to basketball metaphors when describing his struggle with financially embattled Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

“Nobody is using the Dean Smith four-corner offense,” Selig said, referring to the league’s monitoring and investigation of the Dodgers by former U.S. ambassador Tom Schieffer and MLB outside legal counsel Proskauer, which exists without any firm timetable. “We’re trying to move as fast as possible.”

But the owners meetings concluded without any identifiable direction or schedule regarding the Dodgers’ precarious situation, meaning the calendar will increasingly become a factor.

Recent reports have indicated the Dodgers will fail to meet their May 31 player payroll, a rare-for-modern-times occurrence that could render the team’s players free agents. It’s expected that the league will not allow that last step to occur, but will somehow intervene to ensure the players are still paid. But that move in turn could prompt a permanent removal of McCourt from the Dodgers.

Selig last week refused to discuss the club’s payroll situation. He also has no timetable for making a final decision on whether to approve a proposed $3 billion TV deal between Fox and the Dodgers that McCourt claims will alleviate the team’s fiscal problems.

McCourt, for his part, again pressed Selig on the urgency of the situation in their first face-to-face meeting in weeks, setting up a high-stakes race against the clock leading up to the payroll date later this month.

“We’re moving as expeditiously as possible. But we’re also doing this with a lot of thought,” Selig said. He added he is “very comfortable with where we are,” with the investigation, a feeling no doubt not shared by McCourt.

One thing that was clear even before the meetings: If any piece of the Dodgers saga comes to a formal vote before the other 29 owners, McCourt doesn’t stand a chance.

“I can’t imagine him getting a single vote on any of this,” said another team owner. “For this all to be happening, with their revenues, and in a labor year, no less, it’s still just so unfathomable.”
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