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MLB.com Plays Ball with Ticketmaster

Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), which runs the MLB.com portal, has struck a multi-year distribution deal with online ticket-seller Ticketmaster .

The deal makes Ticketmaster the site's preferred provider for all online ticketing services, including ticket sales, printing them at home, selling other tickets in online auctions and managing season ticket accounts.

Ticketmaster, which is a subsidiary of e-commerce holding company USA Interactive , is to provide all the back-end ticketing infrastructure for the MLB.com site.

The deal comes as spring season is just getting underway in major league baseball, and owners look for ways to get more fans into stadium seats. Although Ticketmaster says sales of baseball tickets online more than doubled to four million in 2002, the baseball industry is looking for ways to improve overall attendance, which has slipped in the past few seasons.

The 30 major league teams that own the MLB.com site are adding new features that are expected to make ticket-buying easier, such as Ticketmaster's "ticketFast" service that lets people purchase and print tickets online. Another is Ticketmaster's AccountManager system, which lets season ticket holders manage, renew and pay for their season tickets online.

Other features include a ticket forwarding service that lets holders of unused tickets forward them to other people electronically. Ticketmaster is also about to unveil a feature called TeamExchange, a type of secondary online forum where season ticket holders can sell unused tickets to fans. MLB.com had signed a deal in 2001 with Liquidseats to set up online ticket auctions within the MLB.com portal in a bid to thwart scalpers. Whether the new contract with Ticketmaster takes the place of Liquidseats' deal was unclear.

Ticketmaster is also offering to MLB teams its "AccessManager" product, an automated ticketing system that would let MLB teams validate event tickets in real-time and provide teams with immediate inventory and attendance management abilities. The companies said the technology would cover replacement of lost tickets, real-time traffic monitors, authentication of event admissions and parking passes.

Terry Barnes, chairman of Ticketmaster, said in a statement that the company is "committed to helping fans get to games and helping teams fill seats."