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Attendance at Arizona Exhibition Games Down 18 Percent

March 23, 1996

PHOENIX (AP) _ Attendance is down 18 percent at big league exhibition games in Arizona this year.

The eight major-league teams that train in the desert averaged 5,760 fans per game through Thursday, compared with a record 7,021 fans in the spring of ’94, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ attendance is down nearly 2,000 fans a game, to 3,403 from 5,441. Even the traditionally popular Chicago Cubs have felt the decline, dropping to 7,059 from 8,388.

With only about a week to go, there is still time and hope that attendance will come close to the 1993 level. Traditionally, the biggest crowds turn out in the closing days of the schedule.

``We have to be realistic,″ said Lanny Van Eman, director of the Office of Sports Development, a unit of the Arizona Department of Commerce.

``After what we went through last year, and considering that ’94 was the best year ever for spring training, I think we are back in business. If we get back to ’93 numbers, we’ll be pleased, and if we come close to ’94, we’ll be pouring champagne.″

Ron Pies, chairman of the Arizona Baseball Commission, said there’s no doubt that baseball is feeling the lingering effects of the strike.

``We had feared that after last season, people would find something else to do with their time,″ he said. ``This is just a gut-level impression, but I would say we have the usual number of tourists in our crowds, and it’s the locals who’ve stayed home.″

Polly Unger, an elementary school teacher from Surprize, Ariz., used to watch a game at every spring training site. But she waited until Friday to make the short trip from her home to the Peoria Sports Complex for a San Diego Padres-California Angels game.

``I was disgusted by the strike, and I won’t be going to another game this year,″ she said. ``But I guess my enthusiasm will come back gradually, and I’ll be the same as I always was when the (Arizona) Diamondbacks start (in 1988).″

The attendance decrease can’t be blamed on ticket-price increases because five of eight teams held the line on 1994 prices. Two others boosted prices on selected seats, ranging from 50 cents a seat by the Giants to $3 on box seats by the Padres. The Rockies actually lowered prices on bleachers.

In the biggest twist of the spring, it’s possible that the Seattle Mariners will replace the Cubs as the Cactus League’s No. 1 draw.

The Mariners, who averaged 7,234 in their first 10 home games at the Peoria Sports Complex, were expecting to average about 9,000 a game for their final five dates. That would put Seattle home attendance at about 103,000, an average of 7,700.

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