- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

So far, Michael Jordan's latest NBA rebirth has been a more muted affair than the first two, at least economically.

The Washington Wizards' ticket office was busy handling calls the day after Jordan ended any doubt that he would return, and the team likely will be among the NBA's attendance leaders again. But his returns of last year and in 1995 touched off spending frenzies far surpassing anything seen yesterday.

"Phones have ringing today. It's been steady, but we're talking dozens of orders, not hundreds and hundreds or thousands," Wizards spokesman Matt Williams said. "There are a lot of reasons for that. This [return] was expected, but more to the point, look at the economy. The Dow went down, what, almost 300 points again [Friday]. People just don't have the money to spend like they did last year."

A year ago, the Wizards sold more than 1,000 season tickets in the first 24 hours following Jordan's comeback announcement. Season ticket sales stand at just under 12,000, about 1,500 less than its top level a year ago.

On the secondary markets, sales of Wizards tickets were similarly restrained. Last year at this time, when Jordan announced he would step down from the front office to play, more than 400 separate auctions involved Wizards tickets.

This year less than half as many such auctions are ongoing. And top prices for prime courtside seats now top out at around $700, compared to the $3,000 fetched privately for the best seats to the most prominent games. In most instances, tickets easily can be found at or near face value of $10 to $200.

"It's been absolutely dead for the Wizards. We've sold two tickets for them [Friday] that's it," said Danny Matta, president of Great Seats USA, a College Park brokerage. "We all basically knew for months this was probably going to happen, so the latest news didn't exactly touch off anything that was that radically different. But it's been dead for pretty much all the teams around here. Thank goodness the [New York] Yankees are in [Baltimore] this weekend."

Comcast SportsNet, the Wizards' local TV rights holder, predictably cheered Jordan's return. The cable network has 53 games scheduled for airing this year, along with 23 more on WBDC-TV (Channel 50) and NewsChannel 8. Last year's ratings more than quintupled the meager marks from the 2000-01 season.

"The great thing is, there is still plenty of room for improvement," said Sam Schroeder, general manager of CSN. "This team made a lot of moves this summer and should be more exciting and entertaining to watch. But Jordan, of course, is a major, major draw. The benefits of having him on, without question, spread across to our other programming."

The Wizards ended the 2001-02 season with their best attendance ever, nearly 848,000, and all but three road games sold out.

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