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MLB commissioner is optimistic about league's ticket sales in 2011

By Jerry Beach

Most of the 30 Major League Baseball teams opened the season last week with World Series aspirations. Commissioner Bud Selig has a couple big goals of his own which are likely intertwined: Continued labor peace and reaching an all-time record in single-season attendance.

Selig told reporters in Arizona at the end of spring training he would like to see attendance reach 80 million, a mark Major League Baseball fell just shy of when the economy was thriving a few years ago. The current record for single-season attendance is about 79.5 million, set in 2007.

"Business is up from last year," Selig said in quotes published by the Chicago Tribune. "Ticket business is up. I feel good about this year. I have a goal in mind, which is a substantial increase over last year."

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported last week that Major League Baseball is expected to draw between 75 million and 78 million fans this year, which would indeed be an impressive spike from last season, when 73.06 million fans took in a ballgame. That figure was down 0.4 percent from the previous year. If this year's estimates are accurate, it would represent an increase of between 3 percent and 7 percent.

"I feel good about it," Selig said in Arizona. "I feel the sport is in excellent position. For the most part, ticket sales really have been good."

Major League Baseball tickets have remained mostly steady, according to the Team Marketing Report, which reports that the average ticket price this season is $26.91. That represents an increase of just 1.2 percent, the smallest increase since the Team Marketing Report began its "Fan Cost Index" in 1991.

"All sales have been good I think we'll set records in a number of areas," Selig said. "I feel very good about the sport."

One reason for his optimism is the sport's unusual position as a symbol of labor peace. Selig has long been known as the commissioner who was in charge when the players strike killed the 1994 World Series, but now that the National Football League is embroiled in a lockout, Major League Baseball has, by far, the longest stretch of uninterrupted unity between owners and players.

While the last two Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreements have been reached without a work stoppage, the 2004-05 National Hockey League season was cancelled because of an owners' lockout while the upcoming National Basketball Association season may not happen because of a possible owners' lockout. The owners' lockout almost cost the NBA all of the 1998-99 season as well.

The current deal between MLB players and owners expires at the end of the year, but optimism is high on both sides that a new contract can be reached without the rancor or stoppages endured in the NFL, NBA and NHL.

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