Now that the city has finished throwing money at the new Yankees and Mets stadiums, fans can settle in for the next debate: What will the House That The David Ortiz Jersey Defiled and Bankrupt Bank Field actually be like as places to, you know, see ballgames?
For my Baseball Prospectus colleague (and creator of the old-school blog Futility Infielder) Jay Jaffe, the answer came this weekend, and it wasn’t pretty. As Jaffe writes today at BP, he and four friends have shared a Yankees mini-plan since the championship season of 1998, and hoped to carry it over to the new place — albeit in a cheaper section, after finding that their old front-row upper deck perch would be both more expensive and farther from the field. After a winter-long wait, Jaffe and friends finally learned — via an ungrammatical memo posted to a blog — that they’d been reassigned to an “alternate” plan:
Unable to get through on the provided number (callers aren’t even put on hold and are instead told via recorded message to call back later before being unceremoniously disconnected), we logged into our account to discover the damage. Instead of being offered our $25 seats, or even anything between the bases, we had been assigned $85 seats in section 107 … right behind the right-field foul pole. Obstructed view, at more than triple the price of what we were prepared to spend. Are you kidding me? No, really, ARE YOU &*^%$#@ KIDDING ME?
Jaffe’s group declined the opportunity to spend three times the money to stare at painted yellow wood for nine innings, and is now awaiting word (hopefully spellchecked this time) of whether they’ll be allowed to purchase tickets at all.
So is this a nefarious plot, or just the kind of ham-fisted customer service that Yankee fans have come to know and love? While that’s a fine line, it’s worth noting that the Yankees have previously reported that seven luxury suites remained unsold; there have also been unconfirmed reports that the high-priced corporate seating that raised Assemblymember Charles Lavine’s eyebrows are selling at a somewhat lesser pace than hotcakes. If the Second Great Depression is sending fans running for the cheap sections, the Yankees could well be reacting with an attempt to arm-twist ticket plan holders into plunking their fannies into more expensive seats.
If you’re really up for some tea-leaf reading, meanwhile, cruise over to StubHub, where thousands of seats are up for grabs for this season’s Yankees and Mets games — and that’s before either team’s miniplan holders have gotten their hands on their ducats, let alone single-game tickets gone on sale. That can only mean one of two things: Either scalpers have gobbled up all the season ticket plans in hopes of making a killing (in which case, you’d think they’d try to do better than $10 for bleacher seats to a game against the A.L. Champion Rays), or formerly well-heeled fans are dumping tickets to less-desirable games on the market like crazy to try to recoup some of their five-figure investments.
Either way, it’s a sign that the sports bubble may well have popped. There’s been much speculation of late about whether sports are somehow immune to the effects of economic downturns, usually with reference to the fact that attendance remained relatively strong during the 1930s. But of course, sports then wasn’t a luxury item, where seats with padded armrests and waiter service could run you more than the median annual salary — and where corporate buyers, not individual fans, are who make or break your ticket sales.
There are already signs that sports are headed for a fall: The Detroit Pistons’ five-year-long sellout streak came to an end recently, after months of discounted ticket offers designed to fill seats by any means necessary — something that has become commonplace around the NBA. Sports teams will do this because they know that if fans realize that games aren’t selling out, they’ll no longer jump to buy whatever tickets are available, even if they’re high-priced or obstructed view. If a similar dynamic takes hold on the New York baseball scene, the Mets and Yanks could end up with a much shorter honeymoon in their new parks than they ever anticipated — and Jaffe, no doubt, will be laughing all the way to the upper deck.