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The Rich and Poor Seating Divide at Yankee Stadium

In the world of sports entertainment, seldom does the “little guy” win. Fans often get short shrift on how new sports stadiums are financed, concessions pricing and of course, ticket prices. In the 21st century, in-person sports entertainment is a rich man’s game.

What makes this harder to digest, is the reality is that most sports franchises were historically propped up and built upon fan support of lower and middle class people. The ones who live and die by their team and are their through thick and thin.

An excellent article published today by Billy Witz of the New York Times, sheds light onto the New York Yankees struggles to fill seats at the big ball yard in the Bronx. It’s a highly recommended read that takes a turn toward showcasing the inability of baseball’s most successful franchise to lure millennials and young fans to their cavernous stadium.

All of Witz’ points are spot-on. Where I focus my attention is on the class divide. Age demographics matter. But ultimately, the wallet is often what determines whether you pay a price for entertainment, or whether you don’t. Especially with a sport like baseball, which has 81 home games each season, it’s not like you’re missing out if you miss a Wednesday game, in the way you would if you missed the Metallica show when it comes to town.

Money matters and the larger point is the Yankees inability to recognize that their product could thrive with pricing skewed mostly to the wealthy.

Pricing Out the Fans

Much has been made about the low attendance numbers in the expensive seats at the new Yankee Stadium since its inception in 2009. What’s evident each time you visit the new “House that Steinbrenner Built,” is the glaring number of empty seats in the lower levels of the stadium. In other words, where the seats get really, really expensive, there are only a smattering of fans.

In the nation’s largest city, amid the backdrop of a so-so economy, bleak job market and low consumer confidence in private enterprise, the Yankees continue to undermine many of their most dedicated fans by pricing them out of the most coveted seats in their palatial residence. Make no mistake, this is capitalism and, very often, to the rich go the spoils and finer things.

Money is money and the Yankees are no different than any business trying to maximize a profit. But at what expense?

As the Yankees have reloaded with an infusion of young talent and become one of the top teams in baseball through the season’s first two months, it is embarrassing to see the thousands of empty seats on the first level of the ballpark. This is the New York Yankees. The most popular sports franchise in the United States — in the heart of a pennant race!

An argument can be made that winning has spoiled some fans. The Atlanta Braves incredible sustained run of success over a period of 20 years made playoff games seem more like a right than a privilege. Many fans were no shows and home games at Turner Field featured loads of empty seats.

The Yankees will have no trouble filling field level seats during the postseason, of course, because this is the time of year that New York fans live for. High prices be damned, New Yorkers will turn out when the games matter most. But who will be sitting in those seats? Likely not you and me. Unless of course you’re partner at a prestigious law firm. If you are, maybe you can spot me a ticket?!

Instead, the wealthy will be sitting in those seats. Namely, the employees, family members and friends of those at companies like Citibank, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

In other words, corporations and individuals that have the spending power to easily lay out big green for prime seats at Yankee Stadium. Many lifelong, lower-to-middle class Yankee fans have bemoaned the exclusionary moves made by the Bombers’ front office management, particularly because of the greediness and less savory feel to some of them.

In sports, the saying, “Win at any cost” is a popular one. For Yankee ownership, it may as well be “Make money at any cost,” even at the risk of alienating some of their closest supporters. Count this writer among the thousands in paid attendance over the past several years who have flocked tothe secondary markets of StubHub and Ticket Exchange to purchase cheap seats.

Yeah, I’m not sitting behind home plate in prime real estate. I’m talking about watching from the 400-level Grandstand way up in the upper deck. No nose bleed here, thankfully.

Losing Money Due to Greed

The irony in all of this greed, as Witz artfully points out, is that the Yankees have lost money. By gunning for higher, larger profits, they’ve priced out many fans. Namely, the younger, millennial generation who don’t have as much disposable income, even though they’re more likely to spend it. Instead of making the trek up to the Bronx, they‘re allocating their resources elsewhere, shall we say.

There’s just so long that a sports franchise — even one with unprecedented history and allure like the Yankes — can piss off their most dedicated fans. Millions have realized there’s more enjoyment and comfort on their living room sofa watching the Bombers play on a large flat-screen television for a fraction of the cost of attending a game.

For fans from the suburbs — and even farther out of town — it’s the cost of a train ticket and then subway ride, which may not be expensive, but it’s more a matter of time over money after a long day’s work.

What about if you’ve moved out of the area? You may need to get a hotel for the weekend on top of some of the aforementioned costs. Then, to be shaken down for a cool $40 for three sodas, three hot dogs and two popcorns is added insult to injury. Hardly what you might pay at your local Nathan’s or the hot dog stand on West 47th.

In defense of the Bombers, they have historically catered to their fans of all ages — particularly senior citizens and school-age children — during the summer months and on Saturdays. They should be commended for this. The Yankees are one of the few major league teams that routinely play Saturday afternoon home games at 1:05.

The Yankees always play Sunday home games at 1:05 unless it’s the ESPN nationally televised game of the week.

Yankees management did adjust the outrageously grotesque ticket prices that they premiered for their new park at the start of the 2009 season by lowering them considerably from those opening levels. That was hardly enough.

Put the Fans First

There’s something disheartening and shocking about watching a pressure-packed game at Yankee Stadium and seeing most of the grandstand and mezzanine seats filled — and roughly one-third of the thousands of field-level seats empty. That’s not how you continue to cultivate future generations of fans. That’s more like a caste system.

Even in the city that never sleeps, no wonder many of the fans — no matter their age — feel left out.

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