When anyone, rich or poor, pays for something, they expect their money’s worth. Plop down $5 for a sandwich, and the presumption is that that sandwich will be better than a sandwich that costs $1. Except there seem to be exceptions to this rule, many of which fall under the domain of entertainment. Movies all cost the same upon their release into theatres, it doesn’t matter if they’re Oscar bait or souless eye candy. On iTunes, everything, provided there isn’t a particular promotion going on, typically costs the same. The vast majority of video games cost between $50 and $60 upon their debut.
Sports, a form of entertainment wrapped in the guise of Herculean competition, or I should say baseball in particular, have come under fire for their budgets and ticket prices. While many teams are trying to make things easier for their fans (over half of the MLB is either cutting or freezing their tickets prices this year) it seems as though the Yankees, ever the target of criticism, have found themselves riddled with arrows once again.
Whenever anyone opens a $1.5 billion stadium, questions are going to rise as to whether or not any sort of expendeture for athletics is sensical in such an economic environment. But it’s the Yankees, they have an incredibly storied history, a loyal fanbase and one could argue their story is interwoven with that of America’s 20th century. To celebrate the stadium’s grand opening, there was the typical fanfare, the commemerative activities and the media swarm, but the real celebration occured during the off-season, with the multi-hundred million dollar aquisitions of free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J Burnett and Mark Texiera. With that, and a bit of restructuring, the Yankees presented themselves to their fans as a brand-new, revigorated team that wouldn’t stumble its way out of the postseason like it did last year, and would end the lengthy World Series drought.
So far, the Yankees are 7-6 … not a bad record for the begining of the season, but nothing compared to the expectations put upon them, both from a diehard fan’s standpoint and from a ticket-holder’s point of view. The top seats at the new Yankee Stadium are now going for $375 dollars, with the lower top-tiers fluctuating in the $200’s, depending on whether or not the tickets are purchsed ahead of time.
While there are still nosebleed seats that can be obtained for less than $50, the fact remains that the Yankees are viewing themselves as a premium product, one laden with customer loyalty and the talent to support their lengthy history. But so far, the Yankees have been a mix of close calls (as evidenced by Posada’s “maybe it is, maybe it isn’t” game-clinching home run tonight) and abolute blowouts (a certain 22-4 affair comes to mind, and the opening series against the Orioles was at times equally ugly.)
There is an inherent joy in watching a baseball team you’re loyal to, and it many cases it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, just seeming them in action pays for itself. But there’s defintely more joy in watching a team win (as any loyal fan of losers as regular as the Orioles knows), and when a team plays ugly, gangly baseball while advertising itself as a piece of American brilliance, the high price of admission comes into question.
The Yanks are, at the moment, a Porsche without nice wheels, padding on the seats, a few dents here and there and a trunk filled with unsightly materials, going for a greater price as some less-illustrious, higher-quality models. Sure, there are going to be people who will buy the Porsche, warts and all, for the name. And they’ll be perfectly happy. But there will be plenty of others who will stray from putting down a large investment, or maybe they’ll just rent it for a day or two, never to return.
If the season is halfway through, and the Yankees are still toiling in mediocrity, plagued by a underachieving pitching staff, an implosive bullpen and streaky offense, will they still be able to justify the ridiculous price of a great many of their seats? It’s not just a problem for the Yankees, the Mets have the same concerns, though on a smaller scale. When the nation is tightening its belt, will customers be willing to put down massive amounts of cash for a 50/50 chance of seeing the home team win, and the outside chance that they’ll be blown out and embarassed, or will they just go home and for the same price, sign up for MLBTV and gain access to every single game of the season?