Mets' drop-off in attendance the largest in MLB

Opening Day at Citi Field as Mets face Opening Day at Citi Field as Mets face the Florida Marlins. (April 5, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Robert Cassidy

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Citi Field was not supposed to look like this, not one month into its second season.

Not after the Mets strategically limited capacity, figuring it would foster consistent demand.

Not during those innocent days of 2008, when it widely was assumed that nearly all seats in the city's two new ballparks would be filled - not only in their inaugural seasons but for years to come.

But here we are. Through 16 games, the Mets' paid attendance compared with last season at this point has declined by a greater average than any other team in baseball.

That figure is 8,930, according to a daily tally maintained by Baseball-Reference.com. But that number is based on 16 home games, including a single-admission doubleheader against the Dodgers.

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After 15 home dates, the decline is a more modest 6,874 to an average of 31,246 - about 75 percent of capacity. That still is the highest such figure in the majors, worse than the Blue Jays' 6,211 decline.

The Mets still rank in the top half of baseball, more than doubling former attendance leaders such as the Blue Jays and Indians. But they never sold fewer than 35,000 tickets for a game in 2009, a figure they have not reached in 12 of their past 13 home dates.

And many of those who did have tickets did not show up for the cold, rainy games typical of April - a month the Yankees were fortunate to spend mostly on the road.

Granted, it has been only a month, with warm weather, summer vacations and perhaps a pennant race to come. But it is extremely unlikely that the Mets will come close to matching last season's final attendance figure of 3.15 million.

Are they worried?

"We're not concerned," said Dave Howard, executive vice president for business operations.

"We thought coming into this year the composition of our sale would be different. We couldn't count on season and plan sales being where they were last year, obviously being the inaugural season and then given the way the season unfolded."

That means relying more on sales to individual games, select "packs" of games and group sales, just like in olden times at Shea.

Howard said the formula is showing positive signs. "The energy has been very good the past couple of weeks," he said. "Sales are definitely picking up."

Howard declined to reveal the Mets' season-ticket base or the overall number of 2010 tickets sold. But he said the recent eight-game winning streak "absolutely" provided a boost, including for brisk walk-up sales.

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Many 2009 season-ticket holders struggled to sell tickets for face value on the secondary market and did not renew, even after the Mets dropped prices by an average of more than 10 percent.

The best way to win them back is to contend and qualify for the postseason. Access to playoff tickets is one of the most powerful lures for season subscriptions.

"We have got some work to do, but the indications are very good that the market is responding, and the team's play is the key," Howard said.

"Certainly the team is showing signs they're going to be a fun team to watch. I'm very confident we'll do well as we get to the peak selling season."

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