NEW YORK (AP) - Major League Baseball attendance is down 7 percent and the average crowd for 19 of the 30 clubs has dropped from a year ago. The NFL, NBA and NHL are nervously monitoring the recession but hope they will weather the downturn.
Despite ticket prices at Yankee Stadium that climb to $2,625 and empty seats near the field at every game since opening day, MLB commissioner Bud Selig is confident teams have established enough bargain admissions for the current economy.
"I think overall the clubs have been remarkably sensitive," he said on Wednesday following a panel discussion of the commissioners of the four major U.S. sports leagues. "I think it's the reason our attendance is holding up as well as it is. We have fan initiatives everywhere."
Through Wednesday, the MLB average was 28,591, down from 30,751 through May 5 last year. Among the big drops: Washington (39 percent), New York Mets (23 percent), Toronto (23 percent), Atlanta (21 percent), Detroit (17 percent), Cleveland and Houston (14 percent) and the Yankees (12 percent).
Moving to new ballparks, the Mets and Yankees have lower capacity combined with far higher ticket prices.
"I really believe the clubs know their market better than I do," Selig said. "The clubs I think have done more marketing this year and been more aggressive than I've ever seen, and I hope that will continue. So I've got to let the local clubs make that decision."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said 24 of 32 teams didn't increase ticket prices for next season. Full houses are important for his league because unsold tickets lead to television blackouts.
"We want every game to be sold out," he said. "It also helps on the television side in the sense that when you're showing a game with 75,000 people screaming and yelling, and they're enjoying an afternoon or an evening, that's great for television."
In the NHL, about two-thirds of the teams are leaving ticket prices flat.
NBA commissioner David Stern said 27 of his 30 teams will have ticket prices that are either flat or down next season.
"I think that there are going to be adjustments based upon the economy," he said. "I think there will be some repricing mechanism built in."
With economics at the forefront, Selig and Stern said they weren't worried about teams defaulting on debt payments for their new buildings. During the discussion, Selig didn't like when a questioner called the new ballparks "gilded palaces."
"The stadiums have been great public-private partnerships," he said.
Said Stern: "There's no chance of a foreclosure."
On another topic, Stern sounded worried about the spread of gambling and cited the presence of betting windows at European football stadiums, specifically Manchester United matches.
"Gambling is the American way. Some 40-some-odd states probably have lotteries. Those that may or may not, they authorize reservation gambling. Now it's the slots being at racetracks, and more is coming," he said. "This is an issue that over the course of the next decade we're all going to have to deal with as a country and a business and as sports leagues. I don't know where it's heading."
Selig sidestepped questions about Alex Rodriguez, MLB's highest paid player. MLB is investigating whether Rodirguez was truthful when he said he used steroids only from 2001-3. Officials also are deliberating whether to check into allegations contained in a new book that he tipped pitches to opponents in blowout games.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.