Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taking Away The Baseball - The Ugly Side Of High Ticket Prices And Exclusionary Stadium Design

Souvenirs can take on many meanings when referring to "a small and relatively inexpensive article given, kept, or purchased as a reminder of a place visited," even when the place visited is a Major League Baseball stadium. For some, it can be a ticket stub, for others, a foam finger from the team store. But for many people it is about 5 ounces and 9 inches of cushioned cork, covered by stitched rawhide leather, and topped with the signature of Allan H. "Bud" Selig. An official Major League Baseball - $12.99 in price, but worth a lifetime of memories.

All the discussion lately is about baseballs flying out of the park and into the stands at Yankee Stadium. Too bad for the average fan, these balls are flying into seats that cost hundreds of dollars. When home runs sailed into the seats at the old Yankee Stadium, the fans sitting in those seats paid as little as $12, and only as much as $70 for that once in a lifetime opportunity. If one's dream was to catch a home run at a baseball game, that dream was within affordable grasp. Today, the balls are rocketing out of the new Yankee Stadium in right-center field, but most of them are flying into seats with a game day face value of $150.

Home runs in the "2nd deck" (the 200's section) in left or right field at the new Yankee Stadium have a game day face value of $60. The only "cheap" seats within realistic home run territory are the $12 seats in the far right field section of the bleachers.

Going to a baseball game with the expectation of catching a home run has always been a recipe for shattered dreams. At most ballparks (not in New York City), however, there is an affordable choice of seats that will provide the opportunity to walk away with a foul ball or at the very least, a ball from batting practice. Unfortunately, the pricing and design of the new Yankee Stadium prevent those chances. Even the mainstream media has caught on - the prices for the best seats at Yankee Stadium are absurd. The closer you get to home plate, the more expensive the seats become. The new hot bed for foul balls is in the vicinity of section 215. Those seats cost $95 on game day, as compared to the $70 that the old hotbed in the Tier Box MVP seats used to cost at the old Yankee Stadium.

At the old Yankee Stadium, the close proximity of the Upper Deck allowed for the chance of a ball making it up to the "cheap" $25 seats in the Tier Reserved. Upon evaluating the new Yankee Stadium, we have come to the conclusion that a foul ball will never even reach the upper deck - not even the Terrace Level. In the few games that we have been to (including exhibitions), a ball nary sniffed the vicinity of the upper deck. The balls are now sailing into the seats on the main level. Once again, money talks.

An unpublicized, but popular method of catching a foul ball at the old Yankee Stadium was to circle the walkways on the field level. Security guards didn't let people stand around and block the narrow walkways, but as long as there was movement, there was nothing they could do to prevent it. This hypothetical person, pining for a foul ball used to have a chance. That is no longer the case. You'll never catch us complaining about the wide, open air concourses that provide optimal views of the field, but those concourses are completely under the structure of the stadium. They leave no chance for a foul ball to ever enter the public walking areas.

The last resort for the souvenir aficionado was always batting practice. Those arriving early enough to see batting practice from the field level raised their chances of going home with a Major League baseball exponentially. As long as you were a ticketed fan in the old Yankee Stadium, you could go anywhere before the game started outside of the areas closest to the dugouts.

As kids, we took advantage of this policy. We went to games on a regular basis and sometimes would leave with multiple balls from batting practice. There were days in the late 90's and early 00's when we used to give Major League baseballs away to little kids because so many had flown our way. It was a fun exercise in tracking major league fly balls and building camaraderie with fellow Yankee fans.

The new Yankee Stadium has taken away the easiest way for the average fan to go home with a lifetime memory, bundled in a 9 oz. package. Without tickets for seats that cost a minimum of $95, fans are not allowed anywhere near the actual field of play. Lets forget baseballs for a moment - there isn't even a way for a young baseball fan to have any memorable contact with the players that they idolize. In 1998, we attended the World Series and had our ticket stubs signed by the already-iconic Derek Jeter. Meeting our idol before a World Series game is a memory that will never fade. It has now become an opportunity that will only be afforded to spoiled, rich children.

Even through our early adult years, catching a baseball at a Major League Baseball game has stuck out as the aspect of attending that particular sport in person that set it apart from other sports. Nobody has ever gone to a football game with the idea of going home with a game-used pigskin. One would have to be crazy to go to a basketball game possessing thoughts of leaving the arena with a LeBron James game-used basketball. After a tragedy in a hockey arena some years ago, even the NHL has significantly lowered the odds of ever walking away from attending that live sport with a game-used souvenir. There is now a net around the seats closest to play.

With baseball, the possibility exists for a Miguel Cairo foul ball to land right in your seat, while you scramble into the walkway, spastically misjudging the trajectory of the ball. Or the Jim Leyritz ball off the plate that strangely bounces into the box seats and into your outstretched hand.

The Major League Baseball itself only carries a value of $12.99, and costs even less when using the discount at Modell's Sporting Goods that the Yankees and Modell's team up to offer annually. At the new Yankee Stadium, the opportunity of walking away with a ball of the game-used variety only exists for the privileged few, and many of the seats capable of producing these lifelong memories are left unsold. Probably not what George Steinbrenner had in mind when he announced during the groundbreaking ceremony that this stadium would be "for the fans."
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