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Attending New Yankee Stadium is a Case of Central Caste-ing PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 22 April 2009 02:15
 Empty seats new Yankee Stadium
Nationals Park
 
Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park see their
most expensive seats going empty.

“Supply and demand”
Answer from MLB exec on why ticket prices have gone up

As much as a Joe Six-Pack, or the family guy gnashed teeth each and every year that ticket prices have been released over the past few seasons, the fact remained that due to supply and demand at Major League Baseball ballparks, the increased price could not quell the siren song of attending games. Fans would bite the bullet and go, even if they cursed a bit under their breath. In 2007, MLB saw its highest attendance ever, and last year came in a close second. The cost, it seemed, simply wasn’t causing ticket sales to drop.

But, with the opening of Nationals Park last year, and new ballparks for the Yankees and Mets this year, the model of “less seats, higher prices” (much higher prices) has added a visible and striking sign that “demand” is on the wane due to the cost of attending games... at least in the most ritzy sections.

As mentioned, the Nationals offered the first glimpse of this last season when the "Presidential Seats" section directly behind home plate, where prices ranged from $300 for season-ticket holders, $325 for an individual game, went largely unsold. With the center field camera used for the vast majority of MLB games, televised games from Nationals Park showed mostly empty seats behind the plate, an embarrassing visual for a brand new ballpark in a top 5 market.

But, the visuals at Nationals Park are nothing compared to what is occurring at new Yankee Stadium, and to a somewhat lesser extent at the Mets’ Citi Field.

Ken Belson of the New York Times covers this increasingly popular topic in today’s edition (see Is This Seat Taken? In Front Rows of New Ballparks, Not Yet)

As Belson opens up with in the article:

Odd patterns have been forming inside New York’s two shiny new baseball stadiums, ones not seen in years. Clumps of empty blue and green seats are painfully obvious because many of them are in the best sections or right behind home plate, while fans are concentrated in the more remote parts of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

Granted, these are incredibly tough economic times, but the difference between Nationals Park and especially Yankee Stadium are striking.

While I covered the attendance woes for the Nationals earlier this week, in the case of the Yankees you have this clear delineation of fans – a caste system being formed.

And while baseball in D.C. is incredibly rich, the Nationals, or Senators, or for that matter any club in the history of the game can’t hold a candle to the shadow that the Yankees cast over the game.

So, when asked of what I thought of the empty sections of an otherwise packed Yankee Stadium, Belson published this:

The price of an average premium ticket is $510 for the Yankees and $150 for the Mets. The prices of nonpremium tickets rose 76 percent this year at Yankee Stadium, which goes a long way toward offsetting losses from unsold premium seats.

“But it doesn’t look good,” said Maury Brown, president of the Business of Sports Network, a research Web site. “It’s the Yankees, not the Nationals. On television, it stands out like a big sore thumb.”

In other words, the Nationals are losing (badly, mind you), don’t have the seamless history that the Yankees have, and therefore, if the seats are empty behind home plate, it does not stand out nearly as much because, at least for the moment, so is most of Nationals Park.

What Belson didn’t use from my interview with him, but Jon Greenburg of Team Marketing Report said as well is that regardless of the empty seats, ticket revenues for the Yankees will most likely not diminish over the course of the year, rather, revenues will not be increasing at the significant rate that the Yankees were surely anticipating.

“I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘It’s just April,’ ” Jon Greenberg, executive editor of the Team Marketing Report, said of the lack of sellouts. “But it’s lost revenue they anticipated getting. This is the worst possible time to debut a stadium.”

As Jon notes, it is just April. But, it is April during incredibly harsh economic times, on top of incredibly expensive ticket pricing for premium seating in these new ballparks.

Something has to give.

Granted, the prices were set before the bottom dropped out of the economy last September. Granted, Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ general managing partner, said recently that “small amounts of our tickets might be overpriced.”

Peter Abraham of the LoHud Yankees blog wrote on Monday:

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.

If you’re a Yankee fan, don’t get too excited about that based upon what I’m about to write next.

There’s a slight problem with how much of a “drop” the Yankees can apply, if they choose to do so.

Remember, that $2,625 is for the Legends section of the ballpark at the single-game price. Season ticket prices for the same seats run $2,500 (see details here). So, lowering prices for single games to try and fill the empty seats has to come with season ticket holders in mind. Don’t look for some dramatic cut in prices by mid-season – if at all – should the seats remain unfilled. As Belson further reports, even with the bad press that the Yankees have received over the empty premium seats, the club plans to, not lower, but raise ticket prices 4 percent next season.

The Yankees are most likely thinking long-term. The recession won’t last forever, and lowering prices right after a their new ballpark opened would be, well... embarrassing for a vaunted brand, such as the Yankees. Raising prices? That's part and parcel for the club. That means, the caste system has been cast. You can’t remake the mold when the mold is the Yankees.

For more on this topic, see great pictures and commentary from Jason at IIATMS: The embarrassment of the rich


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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