The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Sports teams taking closer look at secondary ticket market in move that could lead to changes

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CHICAGO - Chipper Jones was down to the final few games of his distinguished career when the Atlanta Braves opened a series at Pittsburgh last month. The Pirates, who play in one of the majors' most picturesque ballparks, were closing out their best season in 15 years.

And a few hours before Michael Bourn stepped into the batter's box for Jeff Locke's first pitch, there were 23 tickets listed on StubHub.com for 15 cents or less.

There were lots more bargains on that Oct. 1 slate of games. Two seats at Wrigley Field were available for six quarters, but you had to watch the Chicago Cubs take on the lowly Houston Astros. Miami's new ballpark had 881 tickets listed on StubHub for less than $5 apiece.

"For baseball games, it has been great because I spend a lot less money than I would if I was buying the tickets from Cubs.com," said Josh Shpayher, an attorney from Skokie who recalled paying more in taxes and fees than he spent on four tickets in one purchase on the website.

Such bargains have been a joy to fans but are drawing increased attention from sports teams concerned about the effect of the cheap tickets on their ability to sell their remaining inventory. It could mean subtle changes that impact how fans get into their favourite stadiums, ballparks and arenas across the country.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media and StubHub are in negotiations over the website's role as the official secondary ticket market for MLB after their first deal expired following this season. The NBA partnered with Ticketmaster to create a website which went live last month and is both a primary and secondary ticket outlet.

"The secondary market isn't going away," Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "It's always going to be a significant part of the ticket procurement process and an option for fans. As we focus on the primary market, we also have to look for ways to make sure the secondary market will not be a hindrance to the primary market."

Baseball's agreement with StubHub essentially means the website provides a secondary online platform for any team that wants one. Both sides seem to want to continue the partnership, but have yet to announce a new deal.

Matthew Gould, a spokesman for MLBAM, said talks are ongoing and detailed some of the positives of the partnership to date.

"We have seen benefits," he said. "While some of those are economic, the most important benefits have come from the amount of data that we have been able to have both on the buying and selling side, which will be very important as we formulate our future plans for the secondary ticket market."

StubHub spokesman Glenn Lehrman said Wednesday the San Francisco-based company has enjoyed a "great relationship" with Major League Baseball and is "cautiously optimistic about continuing that relationship moving forward."

One of StubHub's central tenets is a free market, with no ceilings and floors, and baseball could be pushing for more control over ticket prices, possibly complicating the discussions between the sides.

"It's been talked about, some type of a floor," St. Peter said. "Whether that will be a reality, I don't know. Some of the timings of offerings as well, maybe establish a window by which offerings for game tickets at certain levels are taken down. A lot of this is a promotional issue."

"We don't have a relationship with Ticketmaster because Major League Baseball's preferred ticketing method is through tickets.com, which it owns. So we wouldn't likely do a deal with Ticketmaster. We'd be more likely do a deal with StubHub."

StubHub struck one of its first major sports deals with the Seattle Mariners in 2001 and has separate partnership agreements with about half of the 30 major league teams, covering everything from signage to promotions. It signed a five-year deal to become the "Official Fan to Fan Ticket Marketplace" for MLB.com in 2007.

John Davis, the vice-president for ticket sales for the Cincinnati Reds, said the relationship with StubHub "provides valuable insight and data into the secondary market that we wouldn't have otherwise."

"Teams are provided a clear picture as to nuances of the secondary buyer by pricing categories, proximity to the ballpark, and timing in regards to time of purchase and the actual game," Davis said. "All these factors are extremely helpful in understanding our fan base, how best to message to them, and how to properly price our tickets."

Any new deal between the sides could have a much different feel without one of baseball's most popular franchises.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the New York Yankees are planning to opt out if baseball signs another deal with StubHub. The person said the Yankees would announce their own arrangement at some point soon.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing contract negotiations.

The Yankees groused about StubHub when they had some empty seats for some of their home games in the playoffs. The actual effect of their absence from any new arrangement is uncertain, since fans still would be able to buy and sell Yankees tickets on the site — the consumer may not notice much of a difference.

StubHub.com declined to release team-specific ticket sales, but acknowledged the big-market clubs generate the most business.

The NBA announced its partnership with Ticketmaster in August, and they opened their new website before the season started. Billed as the official ticket marketplace for the league, NBATickets.com provides access to tickets sold by the team and by other fans. The league says teams can set minimum ticket prices on the site.

"I think that you're going to see it move more toward where the NBA is," said Bill Sutton, who is the director of the sport and entertainment management program at the University of South Florida and spent four years as the NBA's vice-president for team marketing and business operations, "where it's going to be instead of rivals you've got to be partners, because neither seller is going away, so you've got to figure out a way to partner."

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AP Baseball Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati and AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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