Mets attendance a growing concern

Third baseman David Wright experienced two extremes of September baseball in recent days.

At Citizens Bank Park last weekend, sellout crowds jeered the New York Mets as the Philadelphia Phillies closed in on clinching the NL East.

On Wednesday afternoon, a few hundred people filled the Citi Field stands for the first pitch of a meaningless rainout makeup against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"That's what happens when you win," Wright said, contrasting the atmospheres. "We've experienced both sides of that. When we won the division, or when we've been right in it down to the end, the atmosphere here is just as electric. Of course, you miss playing in front of that. But in order to play in front of that, you've got to have that winning product out there on the field."

Because attendance is based on tickets sold, and not actual turnstile count, the Mets' dropoff in Year 2 at Citi Field has not appeared as precipitous as anyone inside the ballpark has observed.

The reality is it's trending significantly downward. And it does not bode well for 2011.

For instance, because of a season-ticket base and other presold tickets, the announced crowd for Tuesday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers was 24,666.

"Divide by three and you probably have the actual attendance," tweeted Tom Haudricourt, Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Depite 92 losses in 2009, their inaugural season at Citi Field, the Mets announced a total attendance of 3,168,571. That's an average crowd of 39,118 for each of 81 home dates.

This year, through 74 home dates, with a single-admission doubleheader counting as one gate, the total attendance is 2,416,138. That's an average crowd of 32,651.

Dropoff: 16.5 percent. And it's likely to be greater than that by season's end, since the final-week crowds for meaningless games against the Brewers and Washington Nationals will be a further drag on this year's average.

The dropoff, while steep, isn't record-setting.

At 16.5 percent, the attendance decline would be the eighth-worst one-year drop in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. (The seasons in which the Mets moved into new ballparks -- 1964 and 2009 -- are omitted since the older venues had different capacities.)

The worst declines: 24.6 percent in 1977 (when attendance was 13,504), followed by 23.6 percent two years later (when attendance was 9,621). Those were 98- and 99-loss seasons, during Joe Torre's tenure as manager.

As poor as the attendance has been this year, it is entirely possible it will get worse in 2011. Fan enthusiasm is low. And while hiring a manager such as Wally Backman or Bobby Valentine might provide a little buzz, fans recognize there is a limit to the impact of a manager. With the payroll commitment for next year at roughly $130 million before the offseason starts, it's likely the annual big-ticket import fans have grown accustomed to each winter -- including Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana in recent years -- will not be forthcoming this time to seduce potential ticket buyers.

Mets officials would not publicly discuss their attendance, saying they will refrain until after Sunday's series finale. Privately, they acknowledge the obvious: winning is a major factor. They also cite the economy. Still, they note, the Mets will have sold 2.6 million tickets this season when all is said and done.

The Mets did modestly reduce some ticket prices for this season, but a team official insisted the organization is only in the planning stages of a pricing strategy for next year.

Data accumulated by Team Marketing Report earlier this year placed the Mets with the sixth-highest average price of a ticket in the majors at $32.22. The major league average was $26.74.

Team Marketing Report's Fan Price Index, which incorporates such items as food, parking and souvenirs, also ranked the Mets as sixth costliest, behind the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, White Sox and Phillies.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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