Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

There is no telling whether the (relative) optimism among Mets fans will pay off on the field this season, but it already is paying off at the box office.

Ticket sales were up 22.6 percent as of yesterday compared with the same date in 2014, said Lou DePaoli, the team's executive vice president and chief revenue officer.

That figure is 3 percent better than it was a couple of months ago and figures to rise a bit more before the home opener.

Keep in mind that last year's first home game was March 31 and this year's is April 13, allowing for two more weeks of advance sales.

DePaoli noted other positive signs within that overall number, including a rise in season-ticket sales. He said new full-season packages, many in relatively pricier lower-bowl areas, are up nearly 450 percent over this point last year.

"There's a lot of excitement on and off the field," he said, "and it's being proven out with ticket sales."

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DePaoli joined the Mets in July 2013 and for last season set as a goal simply to stop the slide in attendance that had marked every season since Citi Field opened in 2009.

He succeeded.

The Mets' average attendance was 26,528, a slight rise of 162 per game over the previous season, according to That ranked 21 among the 30 MLB teams. The '13 average (26,366) had been the Mets' lowest paid attendance figure since 1997.

This season, there are higher aspirations.

"We've budgeted for attendance to go up," DePaoli said. "Obviously, we won't give out a public number, but we expect the attendance to go up this year regardless of what happens on the field."


To help that along, the Mets have planned a number of promotions, starting with the first "Free Shirt Friday" of the season April 17, featuring (who else?) Matt Harvey, who helped with the design.

Speaking of Harvey, there was speculation -- not denied by general manager Sandy Alderson -- that the Mets had business reasons at least partly in mind when they set up the rotation to have Harvey pitch April 14. The second home game traditionally is one of the hardest sells of any season.

So did DePaoli have something to do with that?

"I tell people all the time, I'm just a fan like everybody else," he said. "I'm the business guy here. Whatever baseball operations needs to do, they make those decisions without consulting me."

Ticket prices on the secondary market are running four times higher for the home opener April 13, which Jacob deGrom is slated to start, than for Harvey. But DePaoli said the Mets have seen a "slight uptick" for April 14 compared with the second home game last year.

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DePaoli said the Mets also are seeing higher-than-expected sales for April 19, which would be Harvey's next turn in the rotation. Throw in the Friday T-shirt promotion and that's three "Harvey Days" in the first homestand.

The Mets set their business plan for the following season the previous summer, in part to drive home the point that it must be approached independent of on-field prospects, which are by nature fickle.

"We have to be nimble," DePaoli said. "If the team gets off to an amazing start and looks like we're going to win 95 games, then yeah, we have to shift our plan a little bit one way or the other.

"And if the team looks like maybe it's not going to hit the mark and maybe win 75 games, we have to be able to adjust as well."

The actual victory total figures to fall somewhere between those extremes, but according to DePaoli, there are enough optimists that good tickets at Citi Field look like a growth stock.

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"There are a lot of smart people out there that think as a consumer there is inventory available in the lower bowl, and if this team gets hot, there might not be inventory in the lower bowl for a long time," he said. "It's a real-estate play for people."

Moving day is April 13.