The recession has hit hard for millions of individuals and businesses. Sports franchises are no exception, especially those teams at the bottom rung of their league. To help fill those empty seats, many teams are offering reduced ticket prices and promotional giveaways for fans. The name of the game: Get people in the building and hope they open their wallets a bit more on souvenirs, food and other concession items. (For related reading, also check out Who's Cashing In On Pro Sports Revenue?)

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Here's a sampling of some of most enticing ticket offers of the season:

NBA
Ever dream of being a professional basketball coach? If you're a Utah Jazz fan, you may get your chance with an online promotion that offers one lucky fan for each home game a chance to sit on the bench and hobnob with the big boys. The prize also comes with a big-screen intro, t-shirt and two upper-tier seats.

The Washington Wizards are giving students a break with their Study Break ticket offer. For $15, you can get a ticket to any Wednesday, Thursday or Friday night game at the Verizon Center (with the exception of the Miami Heat contest in late March) and a free burrito gift card. Beats working on a term paper, huh? (Take a look at the flip side of cheap tickets in The Most Expensive Sports Tickets.)

MLB
The New York Yankees had the highest attendance in all of professional baseball this past season with more than 3,700,000 fans to see the Bronx Bombers. Still, that number was just shy of 89% of total stadium seating availability.

"Good seats for teams like the Yankees and Mets are going unsold because they're usually so expensive, so the ticket offices are coming up with incredible deals to offset [the deficit]," said Dave Popkin, Vice President of Positive Impact Partners, a sports marketing firm in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Yankees have already announced select dates for $5 tickets for terrace level, grandstand or bleacher seats. And the Mets, who completed a dismal 2010 season, slashed their ticket prices for 62% of the seats at Citi Field home games next year. (For diehard fans who don't want to miss out, approximately 384,000 seats priced at $15 or less will be available soon.)

During the regular season, Cleveland is just as lovely a location to watch a ballgame as any other Major League city. Too bad the fans didn't think so. Averaging just slightly more than 17,000 fans a game (about 40% of capacity), the Indians have converted Progressive Field into an off-season snow-lover's mecca. General admission is $5; pricing for individual activities varies, but for $25.00, you can purchase a pass to ice skate, and snow tube on man-made (and nature-made) white stuff. Cleveland Snow days are also available for private rental. Hey, it may not be baseball, but it's another way to garner revenue in an otherwise empty stadium.

NHL
With the exception of a few franchises like the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, which routinely have packed houses, many hockey teams are struggling to fill their arenas. So the marketing departments have come up with some creative promotions to get fans in the seats. Perhaps the most interesting offer has come from the St. Louis Blues, who offered a half-price-due-up-front deal on season ticket packages – with one condition: the other half of the ticket price would only be due if the Blues make the playoffs. If the Blues, who currently are in the middle of the pack in the Central Division, don't finish in the top eight in the Western Conference, those fans don't have to pay half the bill. It's a win-win, or lose-lose, situation all around, isn't it? It has brought fans in, however. So far, St. Louis has had 19,150 fans per home game – that's 100% of capacity for every game.

Conversely, the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets are giving away everything from scarves, hats, calendars and player bobble-head dolls for paying fans. Phoenix even has all-you-can-eat nights included with a ticket price (a good deal at $30), but the promotion hasn't translated to packed houses. Columbus is averaging just 65% seat capacity and Phoenix is last of all 30 teams with only 10,000 or so fans attending home games (but they're well-fed).

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MLS
Despite Major League Soccer's best efforts to get fans into its spanking new stadiums to see world-renowned stars, the world's most popular sport has yet to take off in the United States. So, the promotion folks have come up with some pretty creative offers.

The New York Red Bulls, who finished atop the Eastern Conference, have jumped on the holiday shopping bandwagon for next season with its soon-to-be offered Holiday Packs (four tickets to opening day and a team logo fleece blanket) starting at $96. A pretty good deal for a family outing, although kind of routine. But the ticket offer for this past season's Red Bulls-FC Dallas game had to be one of the most unique and weirdest ticket promotions of the entire season.

For $40, fans got to see an exciting match with Red Bulls newcomer Thierry Henry (of World Cup Team France fame) and with the same ticket, attend a Kiss concert two nights later. Hopefully, whoever thought that one up received a bonus. Both events were sold out. (And the poster of Thierry in Kiss make-up was, like, awesome.)

The Bottom Line
There's no denying that economic times are tough, but at least there are some benefits. The many bargains and freebies available make it a great time to take in live professional sports. (For additional reading, check out 5 Top-Paid Sports Commissioners.)

Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: Insiders, Door Busters And Debt Contagion.

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