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The Price of Success


Going to a ball game was a big deal when I was in high school. It started with my father getting a schedule a couple of months before the season and circling the best games—well, the best games you had a shot at going to. Forget the really good games with traditional opponents, but against some second division patsy, maybe you could get tickets. Weeks in advance, we’d start collecting loose change for food and souvenirs.

My father didn’t graduate from high school, but he knew more about economics than most sportswriters. “You might want to think about eating before we get in the ballpark,” he’d advise us. “Once you’re inside, they can charge you whatever they want, and it always costs more. Outside, it’s the free market—inside, it’s a monopoly.”

When I was 15, that’s what we went through to go to a pro football game every year. Two generations later, as Yogi said, it’s déjà vu all over again: Today, that’s what you go through if you want to see major league baseball in New York.

This is the first year since 1996 that my family and I haven’t seen the Yankees or Mets play live, in person. After the new ballparks opened, I started calculating the costs. Team Marketing Research of Chicago tells me that, in 2009, a family of four can see a Yankees game, on average, for $410.88. That’s bullshit. All of the projections are false. No one who leaves the house at, say, 4:30 to 5 p.m. to go to a ball game that starts at 7 p.m. and will last past 10 p.m. is going to eat just one hot dog and drink just one beer or Coke, and I’d like to know where you can find a decent souvenir cap for just 10 bucks. Their estimate, for God’s sake, doesn’t include peanuts or crackerjacks. If you’re nuts enough to drive to either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, you’re going to pay tolls somewhere; if you park in Lower Manhattan to avoid the traffic tangle of the Bronx, you’re going to pay the same parking cost you’d pay at the stadium, plus subway tokens.

The bottom line is, realistically, that a family of four is easily going to spend in excess of $500—more than likely $520 to $550 from door to door—and that doesn’t include the traditional stop at a midtown Mister Softee truck on the way home. Hell, it doesn’t even include decent seats: The whole plan is based on a ticket cost of $72.97, for which, I’m told, good visibility is a crapshoot.

A game at Citi Field is more affordable. By my calculation, you can expect to pay in excess of $400 (Team Marketing Research’s number is $258.97).

Something has gone very wrong here. Just a couple of short years ago, baseball was the sole remaining sport where you could get together with your friends on an impulse or simply scoop up your kids and go without the kind of preparation reserved for major vacations. Now, if you’re like me, you’re looking at that tab and weighing it against what your kid needs to go back to school or what you need to cover the increase in your health care premium.

And, if you’re like me, you’re deciding it’s not worth it.

Some of you, at least, are like me. Attendance at Yankee Stadium is down 14.8 percent from last year, the biggest dip since 1995. At Citi Field, attendance is down a whopping 20.9 percent, about a fifth of ticket sales in 2008. Please don’t try to tell me that ticket sales are down because fans were weepy over the old ballparks. Traditionally, fans have always flocked in greater numbers to check out the new parks. And this isn’t about the economy: In times of economic hardship, sensible management has always adjusted, as scores of minor league franchises around the country have shown this season by lowering ticket prices for their fans’ budgets.

If the Yankees and Mets haven’t done this to any great extent so far in 2009, it’s because they haven’t yet been stung by a significant loss in revenue. The big spenders are buying enough tickets—a 76.3 percent markup from last year in the Bronx—to justify a continuation of current policy.

If there was one huge political issue that didn’t get enough attention last year during the election, it was the results of the so-called Bush Recovery—the ugly fact (proven by IRS data) that during Bush’s eight years in office, about 95 percent of the new wealth created in this country went to the richest 10 percent of families. To a large extent, what we’re seeing now at Yankees and Mets games is a reflection of that. The working people of New York underwrote a huge portion of the bill for these new ballparks and their infrastructure, but were ignored when the plans were set. Instead of including more seats, which would have brought ticket prices down, the new parks were designed with fewer seats and more luxury boxes—which increased revenue while shutting out average fans.

“Supply and demand,” said the Steinbrenners and Wilpons when they raised ticket prices. This is the free market that Republicans have pushed on us: a market free for them to manipulate.

What burns my butt as a journalist is that for more than 20 years, we’ve been writing articles, editorials, and books to try and raise fan consciousness of what these bastards were trying to do with their schemes to get rid of Shea and the real Yankee Stadium. In the end, none of it mattered—they just went and did what they wanted to do, and got away with it. It was summed up by Rudy Giuliani when he was asked by a reporter why the fans weren’t allowed to vote on the issue of a new Yankee Stadium. “Because,” he famously replied, “they wouldn’t have voted for it.”

I’d love to tell Rudy to his face what my vote would have been, but I don’t think I’ll be rubbing elbows with him at the ballpark this year. Baby needs a new pair of shoes.