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Why I Don't Go to Yankee Stadium

Putting a priority on tickets paid for versus bodies in the seats.

Jim McIsaac

You've seen some new voices around the Pinstriped Bible of late. Mason Stark, longtime fan, is the latest.

I'm going to admit here that I wanted a new stadium for the Yankees. That doesn't mean that I didn't love the ballpark that I grew up with and learned to love watching on Channel 11 in the mid to late 70's. The truth is that as a kid, before I learned about the concept of home and away jerseys and could recognize the fabled pinstripes; I learned to figure out that the Yankees were at home by recognizing the facade of the court house over the center field wall. That was one of those childhood links that I knew was doomed to memory as soon as they began to dig the new stadium across the street.

I was more than willing to give up that view for an upgrade in a number of key areas that were lacking in the old stadium: beer, bathrooms, egress, and beer. Sorry, but if I'm going to pay that much for a beer, then I would like to have something better than walking half way around the stadium to upgrade to a Miller Lite. I built a little monument to that final season in the old stadium and hung it on our wall. It has all of my ticket stubs from the old eight-game plan that my friend and I had shared for years, plus a few extras including a stub from the All-Star game and a picture from the final game played, my wife and I with the field in the background. Still, I was ready for the modern comforts coming just across the street, and nothing on the outside of the new stadium suggested anything but great expectations for what lay within; the exterior looked truly awesome.

Here's my next admission: I haven't paid to go see a Yankees game at the new stadium since it opened in 2009. That doesn't mean I haven't seen any games, but I boycotted the first season after the way the organization treated us smaller season ticket holders. Mailing a letter one week before a due date riddled with misspellings and offering us materially inferior seats to what we used to have at the same time as forcing us to buy more games to get into the smallest plan was just too much. The tone of the letter, a quaint, "You'd better take this or you're going to be shit out of luck," was more than enough to get me to go tell the Yanks to go fly a kite. I had a new baby as well, so the decision to skip a year was a lot easier for me than if I had been younger, but at its roots was a clear philosophical shift in regards in the way the Yankees as an organization were going to relate to their fans.

The Yankees as an organization are in the entertainment business. Like any good capitalist enterprise, they should look to try and maximize their revenue and earnings streams as much as possible. However, there are many ways to try and accomplish this goal. The old philosophy was one that attempted to get the seats filled for every game for whatever price it took. People in seats means all of the extra revenue that comes with beer, hot dogs, and pretzels. In pursuit of that, the Yankees added flexibility to their product offers. So many types of season game plans appeared to the point that I wondered if they were going to run out of letters to label them with. Mid-week games against weak opponents would go for $5 per ticket to sit upstairs. All designed to get the seats filled. Let's call this the Capacity Utilization fan philosophy: empty seats = unused capacity = less than maximum revenue.

That all changed in 2009. The Yankees organization seemed to become convinced that capacity utilization was not an issue anymore, and assumed that it wouldn't be going forward. The result is the philosophy changed, and logically so. If you believe that demand will exceed supply no matter what, then your view is going to change to maximize revenue by raising prices. That's old news. The organization saw the crazy prices being paid in the secondary markets and wanted to capture as much of that as possible. Totally fair. However, they were wrong in their assumptions. They didn't recognize that what was driving the demand for their product was as fleeting as the security that came with the AAA rating on the equity stub of those 2007 CDO products getting hawked all over Wall Street. You can't blame the Yankees for missing that. Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke missed that. You can blame them, but it wasn't the Yankees' job to catch that. However, it still nullifies their assumption that the seats will be filled no matter what. They are wrong about that.

As you know, the Yankees organization has dropped StubHub as their official provider of a secondary marketplace for their tickets. Reportedly, the Yankees believe that StubHub has been the source of their declining attendances the last two years. There was no floor placed on ticket prices which allowed fans to grab tickets for just a few dollars just minutes before game time. In other words, fans didn't have to pay for the cheap seats to be at the game, because they can wait until the poor saps, who were forced into buying more games than they could go to, cave and unload the tickets for whatever price the market will bear at the eleventh hour.

There is a subtle shift here. The Yankees have gone from worrying about maximizing capacity utilization in the form of fannies in seats to just making sure at least that the seats are sold for the price they want. What does all of this mean? It means the Yankees organization can't admit that the aggregate demand curve for their product has shifted down. That means that Yankee fans aren't willing to pay as much as they used to in order to see a game. However, the Yankees aren't responding with small ticket packages or more cheap seat Tuesdays against perennial losers. Instead, we have the hope that by limiting prices, a.k.a. price fixing, that they'll get 5,000 more fans to pay for tickets this year than last year.

Note I didn't say 5,000 more fans attending games, because by the Yankees own admission, these are fans that attended the games already last year. We'll have to wait and see if their plan works, but one thing is for sure in my mind: the Yankees organization can't admit that they were wrong about their assumptions regarding demand, and subsequently, they can't admit that their ticket prices are way too high. I suspect that the marketplace will eventually deliver the message to them, but with TV money continuing to support them, I would expect to see more of what we saw last year; sporadically filled seats and whole empty sections even for premium games.

I mentioned that while I hadn't paid to see a Yankees game at the new stadium yet, I have attended a few games after my boycott of its inaugural season. I was invited to attend a game in the luxury seats; not the ones right behind home plate that they can't sell a lick of, but the ones higher up similar to the old stadium's luxury boxes. I went because I got to meet Bucky Dent there and have him autograph my first stub at the new stadium. You couldn't have set it up better in a movie. He was sitting in a tall chair by a window that looked out on what was left of the old stadium. All that remained standing was the right side of the Stadium, including my old Section 21 in the Loge seats.

We chatted a little while, and of course he reminisced about the memories of the old park. Bucky will always be remembered for the Green Monster, but for six years that was his home. I added that stub to my monument case to the old stadium as a gesture to the future I guess, but I doubt I'll be paying for a new one any time soon. Price fixing didn't work in the 70's for the gasoline shortage, and I doubt it will work in this case either. Closing your eyes to what the market is telling you isn't going to fill the seats. StubHub wasn't the problem. They're not causing the demand curve for the Yankees to move lower. That's being caused by what you would expect: lower Yankee fans' disposable incomes. StubHub was a manifestation of this reality. Building fences around the closest seats or raising floors in the secondary market isn't going to raise the demand curve, and until the Yankees realize that, I'm going to keep getting my baseball fix satisfied in Staten Island, or worse: Flushing.