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New York Baseball Stays No-Go Zone as Mets-Yankees Series Begins

Not even winning records have helped New York’s baseball teams at the turnstiles this season.

With average attendance up about 7 percent throughout Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees are drawing about 2,000 fewer fans per home game this year than in 2011, and the New York Mets are down by about 1,000.

The Yankees, 31-25 and in third place in the American League East, tonight host the Mets, 32-26 and in third place in the National League East, to start their interleague series. Johan Santana pitches tonight for the Mets a week after recording the first no-hitter in their 51-year history, and the crosstown meeting may be a wakeup call to both teams’ fans, sports business analysts said.

“It’s happening at the right time, with the Yankees playing the way they are and the Mets surprising everyone,” said Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at New York University. “This is the spark that everyone needs to get back out to the ballpark.”

The Yankees, winners of a record 27 World Series championships and participants in the postseason all but one of the past 17 years, are 10-4 since May 22. The Mets, who last made the playoffs in 2006 and finished eight games under .500 last season, haven’t had a losing record so far this year and were tied for the division lead as recently as June 1.

Attendance generally has exceeded 90 percent capacity for Mets-Yankees series since interleague play began in 1997, and this year’s matchup is likely to be heavily attended again, McDonnell, who created NYU’s “Business of Baseball” course, said in a telephone interview.

Seats Available

As of yesterday, the cheapest ticket available for tonight’s game on was a single upper-deck seat for $53.80. The most expensive, down the third-base line, cost $515.80. Hundreds of initial-sale tickets were available on the official team site for all three games, mostly at field level and costing more than $250 each.

On the resale market, fans may even be getting a bit of a bargain. The average secondary-market ticket price for the Yankee Stadium games is the lowest in three years, according to TiqIQ, an aggregator of the online resale ticket market. The $102 resale average is 46 percent lower than the $188 price in 2010, while fans can get into any of the three games for less than $40 because of the large quantity of seats available on the secondary market, Chris Matcovich, a spokesman for TiqIQ, said in an e-mail.

‘Gold Standard’

Both Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and the Mets’ Citi Field in Queens opened in 2009. The “gold standard” for successful seasons is 4 million Yankee Stadium tickets sold and 3 million at Citi Field, according to Michael Cramer, a former president of MLB’s Texas Rangers and now director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at the University of Texas at Austin. Games at Yankee Stadium, which has about 50,000 seats, averaged 40,838 as of yesterday, fifth in baseball. The team ranked second in attendance last season behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Forty (thousand) a game for them isn’t great,” Cramer said in a telephone interview. “Their budget is probably based on 45 or more. That’s hard to sustain and they don’t have that kind of team this year, although a pennant race ultimately will help them.”

Jason Zillo, a Yankees spokesman, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking an update on ticket sales for the series. Danielle Parillo, a spokeswoman for the Mets, didn’t return telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment about the Mets’ sales this season.

Mets Attendance

The Mets are ranked 18th in attendance, having averaged 27,458 in 30 games at Citi Field, which seats about 42,000. They were 14th last season, finishing in fourth place in the National League East with a 77-85 record and an average home attendance of 30,108.

The Mets have said they lost $70 million last season and didn’t try to re-sign All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes when he became a free agent. Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins.

On March 20, the Mets’ owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, agreed on a $162 million settlement that ended a lawsuit by Irving Picard, the liquidator of Bernard Madoff’s firm, who initially sought $1 billion for the benefit of former Madoff customers defrauded in a Ponzi scheme. The suit had clouded the team’s financial future and ability to field a championship-caliber franchise, and Wilpon and Katz sold minority shares to help pay off loans and regain stability.

‘Not Pretty’

“It wasn’t pretty, both on and off the field, and quite frankly people got tired of it,” Cramer said, also pointing to high ticket prices and a still struggling economy. “It was time for a breather.”

The Mets’ attendance will continue to lag behind this year due to dropped season-ticket plans, although solid play would lead to improved game-day sales and a productive offseason, Cramer and McConnell said.

“All they have to do is field a competitive team for the rest of the year,” Cramer said. “Not win it. Field a competitive team and they’ll build momentum.”

Santana, who is 5-3 with a 4.18 career earned run average against the Yankees, will be taking the momentum of baseball’s third no-hitter this season into tonight’s game. After throwing a career-high 134 pitches in the 8-0 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, he was given extra rest in favor of a start against the Yankees.

Attendance for the no-hitter officially was 27,069 at Citi Field. His first time back on the mound won’t immediately benefit the Mets’ ticket sales.

“It is unlucky that they don’t get the gate for it, but it is lucky that it’s in New York and it will catch the fans’ interest,” Cramer said.

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