15 July 2008

No "Cheap Seats" In New Yankee Stadium

New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick laments the staggering increase in prices for some of the tickets to the Yankees' and Mets' new digs next year.

Well, not the price increases per se, but the fact that none of the nationally telecast games feature any discussion of said increases.

But what prevents McCarver and other national commentators who work Mets and Yankees games from adding that the cost of tickets to these new parks will price many longtime and even lifetime patrons right out of their seats and even out of the parks?

What prevents them from simply stating, "By the way, the cost of many of the tickets will be staggering"?

The story's out. And it's a sensational story. So why the silence?

Oh, I dunno...maybe because they don't really care? McCarver or Jon Miller or anyone else who does commentary on a baseball game is supposed to be talking about the game. It's only on the FOX post-season broadcasts that anybody pays any attention to who's in the stands, and then it's only to notice celebrities in the stands, to plug the new season of Lost or The Hills or CSI: Ulaanbaatar.

The announcers aren't paying for their tickets. They're not reporters, and probably aren't even aware of what tickets will cost in Yankee Stadium next year. If Phil Mushnick wants to complain about that stuff, he's free to do so. Or, alternatively, he's free to try to get a job as a color commentator on a national network, so he can air his complaints there. But I think he'll find that there's not much tolerance for that kind of thing. people tune in to those broadcasts to watch and listen to the game, and don't much want to hear how much more money it's going to cost to attend such a game next year.

Think about it: The people watching the game on TV are, by definition, not at the game. Most of them won't attend a game all year. They either live too far away, or can't afford the time or the money or both. And those who do attend games probably already know that their prices are going up. They know the new park is going to be smaller, which means that the prices will be that much higher, besides the normal increase you would expect with a new park. They have to choose whether they're going to

A) pony up the money for the kind of seats they usually buy,

2) spend the kind of money they usually spend for lesser quality seats, or

iii) spring for MLB.tv or satellite television.

There really aren't any other options, and that's true for season ticket holders, too. Well, except that if someone who has two box seats this year decides to go for the satellite TV deal instead, he can buy tickets to a game or two through an online broker and then drive to the game in the brand new Lexus he bought with his savings. What a pity.

I don't have much sympathy for people who can afford to spend half my salary on season tickets but can't afford to spend all of it. I do, however, feel that the casual fan is being squeezed out. I am more than a casual fan myself, but due to my distance from the team I follow, I only attend games at Yankee Stadium once or twice a year, and the rest of the time I have to make do with an occasional Phillies game or a minor league game when I'm on the road for work or something.

My mom's a lifelong Yankee fan, now in her, um...well..she reads this blog, so I can't tell you how old she is. But she 's old enough to remember the one time the Yankees lost to Brooklyn in the World Series. Let's just leave it at that. Anyway, I got to take her to her first game ever about ten years ago, when I was right out of college. Back then, I could afford to go to three or four or five games a year.

While I was still in college in 1994, and almost literally dirt poor, I got to take two friends to a game on a Wednesday night, back when "half price nights" for students applied to any seat in the park, not just the seats that you need a Sherpa to reach. We paid about $12.50 each for (half-price) seats in the Main Section, right behind first base. Those seats cost $100 each now, and no discounts are available unless you have seven grand burning a hole in your pocket and you want to buy a full season plan. Oh, and that's for one seat.

Another time I went with one friend and got seats right behind home plate for $25/each, seats that now cost $400/each.

Now I'm married and my wife and I make almost four times as much as I was making then, but we can only afford to take my mom to about one game a year because the tickets are ten times as expensive. I have no delusions about entitlement. There are much greater problems in the world than how many baseball games per year someone like me gets to attend. I wish things were different, that there weren't so many people these days who wanted to go to Yankee games.

But I also understand that there are market forces at work here about which I cannot do anything. The Consumer Price Index in cities in the northeast has risen about 53% since 1993, while ticket prices have gone up, in some cases, 1500%. Sure, part of that is due to the legalized monopoly the baseball owners have, but most of it is just due to demand. The supply has decreased (since the Yankees don't sell those seats out in the black in center field any more) and the demand has increased because the Yankees have been good, so they can afford to charge more money for the same product.

When I travel to other cities, I find that the demand for tickets there is not nearly as high. I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and had hoped to go to a Dodgers-LAnahfornia game. Alas, my work schedule wore me out and I had nobody to go to the game with, so I passed up a chance to see a no-hitter in person, even though the other team won the game. Woe is me, right? Well, me and Jered Weaver.

But I looked for tickets, and if I had wanted to, I could have bought two tickets right behind home plate for the Friday night game. Not from a broker/scalper, but from the Dodgers themselves. Granted, those seats were $400/each, so it wasn't all that difficult to turn them down, but still. There was no shortage of tickets still available at face value, from the Dodgers, just days before the interleague rivalry. In New York, tickets for the Subway Series get snatched up within nanoseconds of when they go on sale. Not just the good seats: ALL of them. Brokers are already selling them for ten times their face value within minutes. The demand is simply higher there, and therefore so are the prices.

Rob Neyer commented on Mushnick's article and had this to say:

Yes, baseball teams are businesses. But they're not run like businesses. Owners routinely lose money on purpose. Owners benefit from being parts of a legally sanctioned monopoly that should, by almost any standard, be illegal. Owners buy teams not because they want to make money, but because they like baseball (usually) and because they want to see their names in the newspapers. Baseball owners derive immense benefits -- many of them falling under the heading of psychic income -- from their teams, far different from those enjoyed by the owners of, say, trucking companies and widget factories.

So, don't tell me it's all about the free market, because it's not and shouldn't be. I don't expect the owner of my favorite team to lose money every year, but I do expect him to have a heart. And that includes somehow ensuring that fans who can't afford $70 for one ticket can still occasionally watch a game without needing binoculars.

I'm not an economist, but then neither is Rob. While I think that what he said about teams losing money may have been true years ago, I doubt very seriously that many - if any - of the owners are actually losing money any longer. Thirty five years ago, when George Steinbrenner's group bought the Yankees from CBS, they were paying another network to broadcast their games! Those guys were losing money. Baseball owners didn't know what they had in baseball, how much money there was to be made. Now they do, and they've spent the last ten years or so making up for lost time.

Today's owners are smarter, at least about the business end of things, if not about how to develop talent. Whether they are obviously making money is tough to determine, because rich people can afford to hire expensive, sneaky accountants and attorneys, but it seems to me that in a monopoly like Major League Baseball, which collects something like $4 Billion in revenue per year, some of which is shared even with inept teams like the Royals, it's hard to imagine that owners would not be in it for the money.

Sure, they like owning a baseball team more than they'd probably enjoy owning a mid-range paper supply company, but they get some money from it, too. Probably a lot of money. Many of the teams are owned by groups of people, and many of those people remain predominantly anonymous. They're not in it for the ancillary benefits. They're in it because they like baseball, AND they like making money, not necessarily in that order.

Ticket prices have gotten to the levels they have because that is what the market will bear. Until people start saying "no" a little more, nothing - absolutely nothing - is going to change. Owners have the right to charge whatever the hell they please, and consumers have the right to tell them to take their $400 box seats and put them where the sun don't shine.

And I don't mean in the back of the Loge in right field.

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