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“I think people were kind of just waiting to see if they were for real. It’s been a long time, you know,” said Natalie Johnson, another fan at the park on Monday. “I don’t know if it’s the wild card or anything, at least not here. I think people just like that the Pirates are good again.”

Some of the MLB-wide jump doesn’t pertain to winning, though. A new ballpark opened in Miami, where despite an underperforming team the Marlins are selling 10,614 more tickets per game this year than last season in cavernous, football-centric Sun Life Stadium.

The weather has been warmer and drier in the Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard states, where unfriendly weather helped keep crowds smaller in the spring of 2011. MLB tallied 51 rainouts last season, the most since 1997. The game has also enjoyed almost two decades of labor peace since the devastating 1994 player strike, while collective bargaining clashes have hit the NFL, NBA and NHL in the last 15 months.

Then there are the ways teams have tried to keep fans coming despite a down economy shaping a give-me-a-good-deal-or-else customer attitude.

“The clubs have done a wonderful job,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. “You can go to any website and see the packages that they offer, whether it’s a four-pack of tickets that includes food and parking or any of these other types of discounts designed to bring people in.”

Creativity is likely what will really count in the long run. Winning doesn’t last forever.

“Fans start to ask, `What are you offering me that I didn’t get before?’ Bobbleheads only go so far,” said Lee Igel, an associate professor in the sports business and management department at New York University.

Jonathan Norman, who has analyzed sports attendance trends as part of sponsorship evaluations for his Milwaukee-area agency GMR Marketing, praised the boom in “dynamic pricing” that teams have started using to compete with brokerages like StubHub that re-sell seats online. Teams will tweak prices all the way up until to game time to match demand or package tickets in more-attractive ways.

“It’s not just a response to the secondary market,” Norman said. “It’s more of an adjustment to the consumer mindset. People are used to Google offers, Groupons and everything else these days. People are used to getting a deal on things.”


AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis, Will Graves in Pittsburgh and Joe Kay in Cincinnati and AP freelance writer Alan Eskew in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.


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