Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The embarrassment of the rich

We're seeing the first signs of a collossal embarrassment for the NY Yankees. We've discussed this ad nauseum last season and this off-season: the out-pricing of the "average" fan while chasing the ultra-rich/corporate "attendees". I call them attendees as they are generally not fans like you and I, but rather using the game as a lure for future business/favors. Yankee Stadium, for all its $1.5 billion glory, is circling towards a caste system that threatens to treat its most loyal fans the worst. In what other industry would an organization seek to price out its best customers and treat them like second class citizens?

[In prior years, I'd get some tickets free and pay for others. It wasn't cheap, but I was lucky enough to be able to afford to take the family to the game and not crimp my budget. This year, however, will be different. The cost/value ratio for attending a game at Yankee Stadium, for a family of four, is getting silly. I can try to get the cheap seats, but even those are going for $50+++ a seat. Plus parking (unless MetroNorth is running), food, goodies. I'll do it but maybe only once this year and that's a shame. My boys love going to the games and I love taking them.]

But the point today is how patently absurd the Yanks decision to price tickets as if they were scalpers during the playoffs. They clearly saw gap between face prices and scalper prices and said "that's our money". So they devised a strategy that pegged the potential buying audience (ultra-rich and corporations) with their ability to pay scalper prices. Then the world changed, plus they made at least one tactical error:

  1. The economy tanked
  2. Personal wealth linked to the capital markets tanked
  3. Jobs disappeared
  4. Government bailout of Wall Street behemoths
  5. Many, many Wall Street financial institutions merged/disappeared
  6. Many "feeder" industries reliant on Wall Street (like the lawyers) to pay their hourly rates suffered
  7. Tactical error: The Yanks failed to realize that there were thresholds that firms could spend entertaining clients and the tickets (and dinner and car services) would put the firms over the threshold, making the expense non-reimbursable.
A few weeks back, we went to a friends' house for an afternoon. While watching the Masters with my friend (a Wall Streeter), we were discussing this and he made an interesting point. He said to me: "Jason, even if I had those great seats that cost $2500 a ticket, I can't take a client there. It's not worth the risk." I asked him about what risk he was talking about and his answer surprised me as I hadn't thought of that: "If someone recognizes me sitting behind the dugout and it comes out that I used my Firm's resources for those seats, and we've taken TARP money from the government, I don't want that sort of publicity or getting calls from The Post." He's not a famous guy at all, but there's a fear that someone might see him and he'll get "outted" for using Firm money to attend a game. He also told me that he's not alone with this fear.

That's some scary stuff. So how about some "proof", courtesy of a great entry on this blog, written by Paul Katcher, who also took these pictures. (h/t to Shysterball for the link)


Randy Levine, this is on you. This is your legacy, a ballpark for the rich, while utterly dismissing your loyal fan base. Your pomposity, your utter disdain for anyone and anything that doesn't agree with you, your bullheadedness in not doing something about this when it became obvious to everyone that there was going to be a problem.

This is hard for me as it's my childhood team, but I feel no sympathy for the organization. Sure, it fuels the spending to try to put a quality product on the field, but I can't help but chuckling as the spears and arrows are mid-flight towards Levine & Co.

Now, this is not solely a Yankee Stadium problem; attendance is down almost 7% across the board. Baseball, and all sports, will feel the pinch from the economy. But it just feels that other markets are being responsive to the economy whereas the Yanks are summarily thumbing their nose at it. Sure, the Stadium was built essentially before the floor fell out of the economy, but had the team used any modicum of common sense, they would have changed their strategy and been more flexible with their pricing schemes. Some teams are offering kid-friendly programs or discounted ticket nights. Not the Yanks. But we'll have a nice wide concourse, which is nice.

Courtesy of Pete Abraham (the LoHud of the Rings):
There are increasing whispers in Yankeeland that the team realizes they overpriced the good seats and a correction is coming. The issue may be how they compensate those dupes loyal fans who dropped $2,625 a seat already.
We'll see how that manifests itself.

Not to mention, the Stadium's inane "seating gestapo" who will not let the kids down close to the field during batting practice to get autographs unless they have one of those pricey seats. Meanwhile, how many kids are getting to sit in those ultra-premium seats? How many suits are showing up 3 hours early to watch BP anyways? Judging by the pictures above, not many.

Speaking of the "seating gestapo", there's an article out today that tells us that the fan institution known as "Freddy Sez" is being forced to beg for tickets to enter the game. Anyone who as hever been to a Yanks game knows Freddy, the older man who walks the Stadium with his pan and big metal spoon and lets everyone bang it for good luck. He used to be allowed in free as he never sits down, but now, not so much.

On Sunday he stood outside the stadium holding his frying pan and a sign that read, "Freddy Sez, Yankees say 'I can't go in. Must buy ticket!"
Shame on you, Yanks. Of course, now they are calling it a "miscommunication", which, to me means they will let him in only because they got caught. Sorta like apologizing not because they are sorry for their action but sorry that their actions were outted.

The collateral damage from this seating "issue" is that, on a regular game day, the noise created by Yankee fans will be much less than in years past. Sure, during the Sox games, post-season games (I hope), the Stadium will be packed. But on an average midweek game, those cushy seats will be empty and the Stadium will be quiet. This is not good.

Remember, too, how I noted the profile of the upper deck will more closely resemble Shea... this puts the loud loyalists further from the field whereas once the upper deck essentially sat over first and third bases. Said me, last year:

I love how the upper deck in the current stadium is so close to the field. It's not a big bowl like Shea or some other stadiums. The fans are closer and louder. Now, as it seems, the new stadium will be a bigger bowl with the fans further away. Maybe the seats will be nicer or have a better "view", but I'd easily give up the perfect sightlines to be closer to the field, louder for the opposition. We'll have better bathrooms, though.
All of this will be something to watch and pay attention to going forward.

I hope I am wrong about most of this, but I fear I might be right.

UPDATE: From FackYouk, riffing on the same theme today:
I didn't take a picture, because that would be weird, but I found out something about the New Yankee Stadium during our descent into Section 112 that really pissed me off (pun intended... wait for it). There are dividers between the urinals on the Field Level, but not anywhere else in the Stadium.

Is it a huge deal? Of course not, but could there be a better symbol of how much the Yankees have bent over backwards to cater to the wealthiest customers and how they could care less about the core fans? By installing the dividers at the field level, they are acknowledging that it matters, but only providing the "luxury" to those purchasing the most expensive seats. It's an issue of simple human decency, and they can't possibly cost that much to put them in.

Have you ever had a friend who desperately tried to date someone who was out of their league while ignoring a person who was legitimately interested in them? The object of their affection was strikingly attractive, but even if they gave them the time of day, it was just to be nice. The second option wasn't as good-looking, but they had actual feelings for your friend and probably would have done anything to be with them. Guess what, Yankees, the corporate guy, who you want to sit in the insanely expensive seats... he's just not that into you.

Urinal dividers as an analogy for the Stadium's caste system. Bee-you-tee-ful!

33 comments:

Mark said...

I keep reading stories about how tickets for NYS and Citi are going for below face value on StubHub. If that's true in NYC, it's true in other places too. Could be it's time to take advantage of season ticket holders who thought they were buying an investment.

oldyankee7 said...

Right on. The yankees have priced the real fans out. I remember seeing my first game with my father in 1949. I remember taking my sons to the stadium. We attended the first game at the rebuilt stadium and went at least 4 times a year. I would love to attend with my sons and grandson but who could afford it.

Zach Sanders said...

This might be wrong of me, but this makes me happy.

Fans are showing that they aren't stupid enough to pay the ridiculous prices that the Yanks are asking for tickets.

It's a good thing.

Carl the Big Fool said...

We have something similar going on at Nats Park. Looking around the stadium on an average day, you can easily tell where the lines between cheaper and more expensive seats are. The $300 and $150 seats right behind home plate are mostly empty, which doesn't show well on TV.

(Also, our team is 2-10, so attendance sucks anyway.)

Josh said...

Maybe it's due to the new stadium, so fans are spending a lot of time exploring, but have you all noticed how quiet the games appear on TV? I watched all of Sunday's (which was exciting) game on TBS and it was alarmingly silent. Every stadium needs some corporate types to buy up the luxury boxes for the catered food and booze, but the rest of us buy some beer and dogs and cheer. The fans helped build that great late inning mystique we used to utilize.

Pete Toms said...

I think this is sad. Sad for all baseball fans, not just Yankee fans.

I've been to 4 games at the old stadium. I've been to several other parks but the atmosphere at he old stadium was far superior to the others. (not fair, the buzz at Fenway is pretty cool too). Once I lucked out and got a seat behind home plate, twice in the right field bleachers and once in the right field bleachers "upstairs". And what was great about the atmosphere wasn't necessarily the stadium, sure a thrill to be on some of baseballs most hallowed ground, but it was the Yankee fans. The accent, the passion, the profanity, the noise, the standing.....but above all, the Yankee fans LOVE the Yankees and know their ball stone cold. Every fan glued to every pitch. Its like watching hockey in Montreal. IT MATTERS.

And that is what is sad. That the most passionate, the fans who most enjoy it, who benefit most from it, are priced out.

What was once the greatest place in the world to watch baseball is not anymore. That is sad.

Subway Squawkers said...

Yesterday, I was able to get tickets which go for $55 ($60 day of game) on StubHub for tonight's game for $12. And Ticketmaster (!) also offered me discounted prices:

http://subwaysquawkers.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-i-got-two-main-level-yankee-tickets.html

Anyhow, great post. It's amazing how the Yanks have messed this up, on so many levels.

Lisa
Subway Squawkers

e-5 said...

HIM has been dealing with the Randy Levines of the NYC Political system throughout HIS career. They never change...just the names..."greed is good"...too bad the Yankees brought this PUTZ in. He certainly will add alot of heart to this organization... please excuse HIS sarcasm!!!

e-5 said...

HIM thinks they should install a urinal divider on his desk chair.

Kermit said...

Excellent post.
I went to the 22-4 blowout on Saturday and the empty seats in front embarrassed me almost as much as Wang's pitching.

On the plus side, the view from the concourses are great.

Anonymous said...

I hate to nitpick such an excellent post, but for the LOVE OF GOD, can you properly distinguish the use of "its" (the possessive) and "it's" (the contraction for it is").

The best way to be error-free for life is to decontract "it's" into "it is" and see if it works in the sentence that you're writing. You'll immediately know when you've erred.

You made this mistake twice in the first paragraph and....it's... frankly...beneath your intellect.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Anon: Thanks for pointing that out. I usually catch that sorta thing as it's (OK, that's correct) one of my pet peeves, too. In my mental rush to get my thoughts down, I just missed it.

Thanks for keeping me honest.

Chris said...

It seems to me that the Yanks have finally done to their own fans what they are doing to the entire league.

Somehow I do not feel sorry for the fans. Now they finally get a first hand chance to feel how small market franchises do as the great Yankee corporation makes free agent acquisitons impossible for the majority of the league, thus impacting fans all over the country.

Suck it up Yankee fans... still think we don't need a salary cap and a competitive league?

Anonymous said...

It might be hard to feel sorry for a guy who spent a couple of grand for his tickets, but wouldn't you feel like a pimple on a monkey's bare ass sitting by yourself in the rich seats, with the rest of the world looking down on you?

Kevin Fitzpatrick said...

You swiped all these photos from PaulKatcher.com and didn't even give him credit? Shame on you.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Kevin: There is a link to the blog where I took the pictures from. I didn't name it, but I sure as heck referenced/linked to it.

I will never take credit for something that's not mine.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Kevin,

Here is the EXACT reference to his site, where I got the pictures from:

"That's some scary stuff. So how about some "proof", courtesy of a great entry on this blog"the embedded link: http://paulkatcher.com/archives/001191.shtml

tadthebad said...

Hey Chris, Red Sox fan here. No, MLB does not need a salary cap, the league is already competitive. There is greater parity in MLB than there is in the NFL...check out the number of different champs in this decade. Check out Tampa Bay. Smarts, not money, is the biggest competitive advantage.

But, um, yeah...too bad about those NYS prices.

Kevin Fitzpatrick said...

I still don't think using 4 photos from a guy's site and not calling him out for it, prominently, is good policy for a blogger. Elsewhere in the same post you use just two sentences from someone else, and say "Courtesy of Pete Abraham (the LoHud of the Rings):" so how come one blog gets a mention and another, which you took all the photos from, just gets one link? It does not seem prominent enough to me, or others. I also think it violates the Creative Commons license.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Simply because Pete Abe is a Yanks beat writer and the other is a blog. No disrespect to Mr. Katcher, but I never heard of him prior to seeing his site from Shysterball.

That said, I will update the post, giving Mr. Katcher more credit for the pictures.

Believe me, there's no intent to claim as my own.

Chris said...

tadthebad:
I don't discount that a great front office can help offset the financial disparity between teams in this league. I also don't think that you can use Tampa as a fair example at this point since they are just as likely to return to the cellar this year. If they continue to be a force then great, but it will only last a couple of years and then Kazmir, Upton Crawford, Shields will undoubtedly play for the Yanks, Bosox, Dodgers or Mets.

Its easy to not want change when your team can compete on the field and in the free agent market... there are at least 20 other teams and millions of fans that don't have that luxury.

I am a lifelong baseball fan and find myself losing interest... Is it possible that it's not me and that the game has lost its way?

Michael Castillo said...

Not only were these seats overprices as it is, bu it shows how badly the Yankees messed things up. They didn't do wind tunnel testing, they overpriced tickets, and from what I've seen, Citi Field is a far better looking facility than NYS.
The Yanks got greedy(there's a first!), so now they get it back in their face.

Erik Swanson said...

Can we stop repeating the lie that "attendance is down 7%" in MLB? It's April. It's cold. Compared to last season the numbers are virtually identical; they've actually gone UP. That 7% figure compares last year's FULL SEASON AVERAGE with the first two weeks of the season this year. I'm pretty sure MLB is just sending out woe-is-me press releases.

And you know what makes me SICK? Nobody from the AP just ran the numbers and checked. It's not like the attendance numbers from last April are a secret! Attendance is UP!!

Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are MUCH smaller than the parks they replaced.Can we all stop pretending that attendance is some giant factor in MLB revenues? It's a part of the pie, but a small part. The money from Fox and regional sports networks is FAR more significant. If attendance was SO IMPORTANT, then WHY did the Yanks and Mets CUT the number of seats??

AND: why are people complaining that the Yankees priced these seats so high? Shouldn't the TEAM get the money, and not scalpers? I live in the Boston area, and despite having the highest priced average ticket in baseball, there's still PLENTY of money to be made reselling those seats at much higher than face value. Check out stubhub or ticketsnow. There's no fire sale, let me tell ya.

That's who these $2400 tickets really affect: the scalpers. They're scared to buy them up. GOOD! Those seats will be full once the weather gets warm. I'd rather look at empty seats on TV than have to deal with scalpers breathing down my neck!

Hobbes said...

Interesting that PeteAbe, your LoHud of the Rings, is writing about your story, but claiming he heard it through his Yankee sources.

Jen said...

I'd like to point out that as of 1pm this afternoon there were still a ton of tickets available on the yankees site for the May 4th game against Boston. At this point, not even a huge rivalry game is going to fill those expensive seats. Someone needs to wake up the yankees management to the huge mistake they've made.

Josh said...

Well put, Jason.

Mr. Greg B said...

Excellent post. I just wrote a similar one that touched on the lack of urinal dividers, along with concession issues and the absurd amount of advertising that makes the stadium look like a NASCAR vehicle instead of Yankee Stadium:

http://www.mrgregb.com/gb/2009/04/whats-wrong-with-new-yankee-stadium.html

Rich said...

I agree 100% with everything said except this:

"Now, this is not solely a Yankee Stadium problem; attendance is down almost 7% across the board. Baseball, and all sports, will feel the pinch from the economy."

This wouldn't be a stinking problem if the suits didn't get greedy on ticket prices.

A spanking new stadium, 3 great big FA acquisitions, and LOADS of Yankee fans would have kept his stadium filled in ANY economy!!

ben said...

Rude ushers did not allow me and my friends down into the outfield sections to try to catch batting practice balls or try to get autographs. I have now been to 10 stadiums including Old and new yankee and Citi. Of those 10 exactly 1 did not let fans try to enjoy batting practice or obtain autographs from their heros. NEW YANKEE. We were not even allowed in the bleacher section over 2 hours before game time. I don't know if its a team policy or poorly trained non-baseball educated ushers, but c'mon 2 hours before the game fans should be able to go anywhere in the stadium aside from luxury suites and maybe any club rows. Its not bad enough that NYS seems like the food court at the mall, but as expensive as the tickets are, why may only the chosen few who purchased outfield seats get to fight eachother for baseballs? Not to mention the empty section along the 3rd baseline. I dont think it has been occupied since opening day. To save face they should choose some random fans to occupy the section to look good on TV. I don't think there is a single baseball fan that sits below the 400 level in NYS. Its 10 out of 10 in my stadium rankings so far, and I've been to Olympic Stadium in Montreal and Shea Stadium.

Deaner said...

Great post! I've linked to it over at Blue Collar Baseball.

Anonymous said...

Funny how Yankee Fans like to act up then complain when precautions are taken to buffer the unruly fans from the calmer ones. I think it was this blog that last season when reminiscing about old Yankee stadium thought someone punching a Toronto fan during the national anthem was funny. Having gone to multiple games the only positive the fans bring to the game is the role call(Great). You can't relish certain actions then complain if you are excluded.

Anonymous said...

I would love to link this on my facebook. Can you put a share button on your blog???

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Done!