If your name is Hal Steinbrenner, then you probably aren’t too worried about money— at least not in the day-to-day sense of, “Hey, I don’t know if I have enough money for dinner tonight.” You are concerned, however, about dips and jumps in revenue, in the ebbs and flows of business. That is necessarily a sign of the value and health of a franchise.
In an overall sense, the Yankees are doing quite well. They are valued at $3.7 billion, the highest of any major league franchise. Their revenue climbed to $516 million in 2016, obviously the highest in the sport as well. That doesn’t mean it’s all roses, though. In a new report from Billy Witz at the New York Times, the Yankees’ “...ticket and suite revenues through last season had fallen by a staggering $166 million since the end of 2009,” equating to a “a 42 percent loss in ticket and suite revenues” in that time.
Steinbrenner, quite simply, called this the “millennial problem” of drawing younger fans to the Stadium where an increasingly older and dwindling fan base doesn’t care about a team with expensive ticket prices and players with no name recognition. Witz did note that they made concrete efforts to combat this issue:
“They removed 2,100 obstructed-view seats in center field over the winter, and created plazas — the kind of gathering spots in the outfield that have become popular at other ballparks. They have also made more than 200,000 tickets available for $15 or less, including the Pinstripe Pass, which comes with a drink (soda, water or beer) and park entry, but without a seat. They hired a new social media director to help better connect with young fans... They have been more aggressive with advertising and also took to the streets during the winter, parading young players around the city... on publicity stops that the Yankees might have once felt beneath them... they cordoned off 18 seats in right field, some of which have an obstructed view, and declared them The Judge’s Chambers, an attempt to whip up more excitement about their rookie right fielder.”
These are good things! I think they can go further, though. So, if your name is Hal Steinbrenner, here’s how you can increase the attention of a younger audience:
This one is obviously easier said than done, but it is the most foolproof way to pack the Stadium. Vince Gennaro, the President of SABR, puts it well in the Times article: “I was always a firm believer that if the Yankees faltered on the field with this economic formula, there’s no question attendance would drop more than another team because of the aggressive pricing.”
That’s the heart of the issue. The Yankees are a franchise so easily positioned for massive revenue, but also sitting on a precarious cliff of immediate revenue decline. Gennaro had an excellent chart in his book showing how poor results can really impact the team:
While a smaller-market team like the Braves has more “fair weather” fans, under the assumption that they won’t be perennially good, they will not exhibit massive drop-offs if there is a decline. The Yankees, on the other hand, are severely punished if they do poorly. This is a disincentive for a big market team to rebuild, which is why they “didn’t.” In short, if the Yankees win over 90 games this year and make the postseason, the results will show.
Price tickets for a college student
Just this month, the Oakland Athletics introduced a monthly pass: for just $20 a month, you can get into any A’s home game beginning in June. Just prior to game time a seat is randomly assigned to you based on availability, and even though the tickets are non-transferable, this deal comes out to $1.54 per date per ticket.
The Yankees have made a habit of arguing that their prices actually aren’t that high, that most tickets are actually reasonably priced, and that the luxury tickets are the real culprits. They’re mostly correct. If you’re going to play that game of charging $250 for field level seats, however, don’t be surprised when those are empty.
If you’re fine with that, and you think the optics of empty seats is worth the corporate sponsors those seats draw, then you better throw a bone to people with less money. Cheap seats, flash deals, season passes, and ticket deals for students are a few ways to bring younger fans to the ballpark.
Market your stars
Since 2013, one thing that was abundantly clear when going to a game with a non-hardcore fan: the average person doesn’t know a single player on the team! They may know Brett Gardner, or CC Sabathia, but that’s about it. If you want people, especially young people, to flock to the ballpark, then you need to make sure everyone in New York knows the players’ names.
Playing well is part of that, and that’s why Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge kind of marketed them themselves. They shouldn’t stop there, though. The fact that I heard friends mention Judge’s name even though they’ve never turned on a game in their lives is a good sign. Press the envelope. In a way, the names should be everywhere.
Do not condescend, embrace fun
Finally, and this one is specifically for ownership: keep your damn mouths shut. Do not tell fans that people getting luxury seats “may be someone who has never sat in a premium location, so that’s a frustration to our existing fan base”; don’t tell fans that people have to just “forget” about Aroldis Chapman’s domestic violence suspension; don’t have such a draconian facial hair policy.
The Yankees have made legitimate progress. I’ll give them that. They have a younger, more exciting core; the Judge’s Chambers are an excellent addition; the center field renovations give the Stadium a much more open and inviting feel; and the Yankees have done a decent enough job making sure people know who Sanchez and Judge are in the area.
It can’t end there, and it shouldn’t. If the Yankees win a lot of games, heavily market and promote their young stars for the great personalities they are. Offer ticket price plans that are attractive to younger people, then the seats will fill. Even though Hal Steinbrenner says his “overall philosophy... [is] to roll with the times and really take a look at the team every year and what we need”, meaning every year could mean something completely different, let’s hope that doesn’t apply to fan outreach. Listen to us, and we will come.