Where Have All the Yankees Fans Gone?
photo by Neil deMause
Following last night's ten-inning loss to the Twins, the Yankees' record stands at 3-2 (good!) and the team trails Buck Showalter's undefeated Orioles by a game and a half in the AL East (bad!). But since everybody knows that early April stats don't matter (remember how the Yanks started off 1-4 in 1998 and went on to set a new AL wins record?), instead everyone is focused on the acres of empty seats that have suddenly sprouted up in the Bronx: Last night's paid attendance of 40,267, notes River Avenue Blues, made it four straight nights of new record low ticket sales at Yankee Stadium: The Reboot.
We've been through this before, of course — the Yanks famously had trouble selling their most insanely expensive tickets before giving prices a haircut halfway through the new stadium's first season — and New York baseball ticket sales always perk up once summer comes and the tourists arrive. Still, it's a puzzling trend for the universe's most popular sports franchise. Some of the leading theories for Yankee fans' sudden disappearance:
It's cold out: The baseball season started in March for the first time ever this year, as part of an attempt to accommodate FOX's and TBS's demands for more postseason off days without pushing the World Series past Thanksgiving. Still, it hasn't been that frigid — it was in the 50s at game time for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday's games. Considering that at Derek Jeter's first home opener in the Bronx it snowed, that's positively balmy.
The Yankees sucked last year: There's a strong correlation between a previous year's on-field success and current year's ticket sales, and the Yankees did miss the World Series last year. By, um, two games, and Cliff Lee is no longer in Texas to stand in their way. Okay, so maybe it's...
The Yankees suck this year: The starting rotation features one 35-year-old whose last really good year came in 2005 and one lightly regarded rookie, and even pinstriped diehards seem to be acknowledging that Derek Jeter is starting to show his age. Still, the Yanks project to be in the thick of the AL East race this year, and plenty of people showed up to watch the likes of Jaret Wright and the desiccated husk of Bernie Williams in past seasons.
These Yankees are too mercenary: "They are going to need the next generation's Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada to get the juices back," opines blogger Mike Silva, arguing that "the Yankees run of success through free agency has become a bore." As opposed to 2009, presumably, when it was still new and refreshing.
The parking is too damn high: The operator of the Yankees' publicly subsidized parking garages, facing default on its construction bonds because nobody wanted to pay $23 to park there when there's a subway station mere steps away, decided to respond by jacking up prices to $35 per car this spring. Add in $4 a gallon for gas, and pretty soon you're talking real money.
The tickets are too damn high: Notwithstanding those price cuts to the empty front-row seats in 2009, the Yanks have raised ticket prices again this year, which may finally be driving fans away, at least for games against the Twins in April. As Yankee Analysts notes, tickets to most games that didn't feature the Red Sox or Mets as opponents were available for dirt-cheap prices on StubHub last year, so it's possible that fans are merely getting smart about waiting till the last minute to decide if the game is worth going to — which is inevitably going to lead to lower sales than if there's a mad scramble for tickets when they go on sale in March. Which is related to...
Stadium fatigue: The "honeymoon period" for a new stadium is well-established as being five to seven years, but there are plenty of examples of new buildings where the shine came off even faster: Ticket sales at the Tigers' Comerica Park dropped 21% in its second season, and another 22% in its third. Of course, those Tigers teams really sucked — that third season was marked by 106 losses, en route to an AL record 119 the year after — but it probably didn't help that Detroit hiked prices a record 104% compared to those at Tiger Stadium. Fans will flock to new buildings, seems to be the lesson, but once you drive them away through poor play at high prices, they could take a long time to return.
You can see the game better on TV: "Our seats in section 428, row 10 offered an awful view of the playing field and they weren't going to get any better," wrote NYY Stadium Insider in a January post on "Why We Canceled Our Yankees Season Tickets." When the new stadium opened, they write, they put up with it for the new-car smell, but "in the 2009 ALDS when Joe Mauer hit his controversial ground rule double that was incorrectly called foul, and when Mark Teixeira hit his game winning home run to left field, we were completely in the dark. There are blind spots in the wings of the far-recessed upper deck at Yankee Stadium III and as the season wore on, we realized that we'd be better off watching the games at home."
StubHub makes it too easy to buy tickets on the spur of the moment: "It appears that more fans are ditching package-based season ticket licenses featuring static, per-game pricing," adds NYY Stadium Insider. "Pricing on the secondary market is dynamic and fans aren't forced to attend early-season games in sub-optimal viewing conditions."
The answer could easily be all of the above, but it's worth observing that the Yankees management appears to have taken note: They're offering bucketloads of ticket specials this year, including $5 nights for midweek games that project to be tougher sells. Most of those tickets look to be sold out on the official Yankees site, but there are still tons up for grabs on StubHub, at those same $5 prices. If this keeps up, broke New Yorkers might once again finally be able to drown their sorrows by taking in a Yankee game — even if they won't necessarily be able to see the game once they get there.
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