Overpriced tickets, empty seats, and clueless management

The fact that sports ticket prices are completely out of hand is far from a new revelation, and my favorite club in any sport, the New York Yankees, falls among the worst offenders, possibly even occupying the top spot.

Go team go!

Empty seats, especially in the premium sections, have become the norm, no matter how big the game, or how nice the weather. And as clueless as management at some of these teams can be, they are trying to remedy the problem. But are they trying hard enough?

I became a Yankees season-ticket holder (half-season through 2008, full season for 2009 and 2010) in 1997, and I gave my seats up after the 2010 season (click the link for the long list of reasons why). The Yankees have managed to treat me better as a former ticket holder than when I actually had the account active.

I have received several calls over the past few months from the Yankees ticket office, gauging my interest in rejoining the fold for the 2013 season. I am actually surprised that the club is putting that much effort into cases like mine. When I go to Dunkin’ Donuts, I usually drop the coins I receive as change into the tip jar. The $4,000 or so that my season tickets cost means less to the Yankees than those coins mean to me.

I don’t even bother answering anymore because, in all fairness to the Yankees, I am in no position to commit to tickets of any sort, and many of the factors have nothing to do with the team or its pricing. We are moving, which would make attending weeknight games virtually impossible, and our family expanded, which completely changes the priorities of our budget.

But the few times I did make last-ditch attempts to keep some kind of ticket plan, the seats they were willing to offer me at a reasonable price were pure crap. I may have tried to plead my case with Mrs. 9 if I could have gotten something in the first few rows of the 400 level, in the infield, but when I was offered high rows in the outfield, my response was, “Dude, I have a 50-inch TV. Why would I sit all the way up there?”

And it’s not just the Yankees: A good friend Is part of a group that splits premium (and I do mean premium) Mets tickets, and the Mets actually lowered their prices significantly. Still, the skeptic in me wonders: If the Mets had been a playoff team in any of the three seasons since moving to Citi Field, would they have extended that offer? My gut says no.

Another good friend stopped by tables that the New York Giants and New York Jets set up at an event, and he received the big-time hard sell from both teams. When they asked,” What’s it going to take to get you in these seats?” sounding like desperate used-car salesmen, his response was, “Drop the PSL.” Naturally, they refused.

For years, the only way to get Giants season tickets was to put your name on a waiting list and wait several years (my name was on one prior to the new stadium opening, and I was told to expect a 15- to 20-year wait). I find it almost laughable that I could pick up the phone today and become a season ticket holder if I wanted to, but that would require an investment beyond my means, especially when I don’t root for the team.

For those not in the know, PSL stands for “personal seat license,” which is the biggest scam in the sports ticketing industry. A PSL basically forces fans to pay a large lump sum of money, simply for the right to shell out more money for the actual tickets.

Some PSLs offer owners the right to purchase their seats for other events (concerts, other sports), but the Giants and Jets can’t even do that. When Bruce Springsteen plays MetLife Stadium, who gets the seat: The Giants fan, or the Jets fan? Those teams’ PSL holders receive perks, such as early access to ticket sales, but is that enough?

One of the most irritating things about PSLs is that teams pitch them to fans as investment opportunities, touting how much the fans can profit if they resell the PSLs. I realize running a sports team is running a business, but being a sports fan is an entirely different story. If someone is enough of a fan of the team to consider forking over several thousand dollars per seat for PSLs, selling those rights is the furthest thing from their minds.

Back on topic: It’s obvious that teams are recognizing the fact that the prices they are trying to charge in an economy that is still scuffling are completely out of hand, leading to the large pockets of empty seats in very visible locations (field level behind home plate for baseball, field level between the 40-yard-lines for football), but are they doing enough about it? My experience Saturday, which prompted me to write this blog post, suggests otherwise.

$275? Seriously?

A friend from college was nice enough to give me two tickets to Saturday afternoon’s Yankees game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and we took 0.9 to his first-ever Yankees game. They were fun seats, especially since I usually sit upstairs: section 117a (field level, behind the Yankees dugout), row 30.

However, when I looked at the ticket price, my jaw dropped. The face value of the tickets was $275 apiece. I am not by any means trying to sound ungrateful for the tickets, and I was happy to learn that my friend received them as a gift, so he didn’t shell out that ungodly sum of money for them, but seriously?

First of all, they were technically field level seats, but they were nowhere near the field. As I said, they were in row 30, but the Legends Suite seats are in front of the field level seats, so they were really about 40 rows up.

Second, they were in the back row, and the condiments station was directly behind us. I joked about getting something spilled on me when we first got there, and somebody with an $11.50 cup of Miller Lite soon obliged.

Third, the section to our right had a handicapped seating area in place of rows 26-30. I am all for ballparks having as much handicapped access and seating as possible, and I applaud the existence of this seating area, and all of the others in the ballpark. However, because of the location of this particular handicapped seating area, I could not see anything hit down the right field line.

Charging $275 for those tickets is beyond criminal. I would have been irate if I actually paid that silly price to sit there. And despite the beautiful weather and excellent opponent, there were plenty of empty seats around us.

Also, I have no way to prove this, but if you look at StubHub, there are usually thousands of tickets available for every game. In the case of Saturday’s game, there were more than 2,400 available on the morning of the game. Yet, despite the fact that StubHub users can assign any price they wish to their tickets, there are often large groups of listings at the exact same price, all for seats in sections like 117a, and all from a handful of user names. So, either a few people are rich enough to own several-hundred field level season tickets apiece, or the Yankees are flooding the secondary market with tickets they can’t sell. You decide. I already have.

Sports teams have a choice: Either take a serious look at your pricing policies, or continue to see more and more empty seats. But despite recent economic struggles, the teams’ management remains far too arrogant, for the most part, to admit that the current structure is out of hand. It will be interesting to see if this ever changes.

Advertisements

Email subject lines that make me cringe

I absolutely love working full-time on an established blog, but every job comes with things that make you just shake your head, no matter how content you are overall, and mine is no exception. And the thing that makes me shake my head on a regular basis, often several times daily, is my email inbox.

Me, several times a day, minus the suit and tie

I have posted repeatedly about the emails I get that are in unrecognizable languages, or that come from people who think that a blog that covers Facebook is Facebook, but plenty of contributions in perfect English and (allegedly) targeted specifically toward our blog make me wonder what people are thinking.

When I see the following subject lines, I know a migraine is sure to follow, and I’ll tell you why.

Article, article idea, story, story idea: I have pretty much stopped reading emails that come in with these subject lines. For every 1,000 I get, 999 are completely useless, and I will gladly run the risk of missing the one that isn’t. The vast majority contain stories about topics not even remotely covered by our blog. And the miniscule percentage of emails that do involve Facebook are either stories that state the obvious (This Just In: People Use Facebook To Communicate With Each Other!), ancient news (how to use Facebook’s new timeline, which debuted months ago), or babbling by someone claiming to be a “Facebook expert.” I have been working full-time on a blog about Facebook for nine months, and I still don’t consider myself a Facebook expert, so you are not a Facebook expert, either, just because you helped the flower shop down the block create their page.

Bylined article: These are even better. Instead of writing an article that nobody asked for, how about bringing me a steak and a bottle of wine that nobody asked for? It would be a lot more useful, and tasty, too. Do we run guest posts? Sure, but it makes much more sense to have some communication beforehand. Besides, most of the ones that come in have many of the same issues as the ones described in the last topic, and most have already been published elsewhere.

Is available for comment: Whenever a big Facebook story breaks, we get bombarded with “experts” who are “available for comment” on the news. And in 99.9% of the cases, I have never heard of the person or the company. I would be better off walking around the streets of Hoboken and stopping random strangers to ask their opinion. In some cases, I would be better off interviewing my cats.

These aren’t email subject lines, but since I’m on a roll, here are a couple of tactics that annoy the living hell out of me:

Trying to bullshit a bullshitter: While I already admitted that I don’t consider myself to be a Facebook expert, I do have somewhat of a clue after covering the social network for nine months. When people try tricks like tying together two things that have nothing to do with each other, it gets annoying, and I’m not falling for it. You may have updated your marginal Facebook applications, and it may have coincidentally happened the week before the company’s IPO, but the two have nothing to do with each other, so don’t even try this approach: “In conjunction with Facebook’s IPO, we added the following features to our app.” In conjunction with the Yankees losing to the Braves this afternoon, go fuck yourself.

English as a fourth language: I realize Facebook is a global company, and I am not one of those snobs who thinks every inhabitant of planet Earth should speak English or go drown themselves, but our blog is written in English, by people who speak English, so if you want us to write about your application, you need to find someone to help you describe its features in English. If I don’t understand it, I’m not going to write about it. I don’t expect a press release to read like John Steinbeck, but if it reads like Latka from “Taxi,” I will give up and move on to the next story.

The only bright spot about all of these annoying emails is that when I click open and find something useful, I appreciate it that much more. So the next time you want to send a “story idea” to a blog that covers Facebook, and your story is “How The Brady Bunch Would Have Used Twitter,” walk away from your PC, drive to the nearest store, and buy yourself a clue.

Another day, another dolt

The text box with the tips email for the blog I work on says, “Send us a tip.” It doesn’t say, “Please come to us for Facebook technical support.” Nor does it say, “We are Facebook. Email us, and we will solve all your problems and send over a case of beer for your troubles.” Yet emails dripping with stupidity continue to swim through the broadband pipes and into my inbox.

Here is the latest gem, unedited except for removing names and email addresses.

WHY?

I don’t know. You tell me.

I certainly hope that this email gets to a real live human being at Facebook.

Well, maybe actually contacting Facebook would be a step in the right direction, ass hat. We are not Facebook. We are a blog that covers Facebook.

I, like many Facebook Enthusiasts, have two or more Email address..  One is for personal use and the other for business.  You have had my PERSONAL ADDRESS FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS – as it is my personal address.

I also have two or more Email address. Maybe we should date.

I’ve kept my business address to myself – because my boss does not permit anyone to use a company email address for non-business purposes.  Why?  I neither know nor care.  It does seem prudent however.

Someone hired you? Great Caesar’s Ghost!

Somehow Facebook accidentally found out my business Email address.

Somehow, as in, you probably did something stupid. Facebook is closing in on 1 billion users and getting ready to go public. I’m sure snooping for users’ secondary email addresses is not on the to-do list in Menlo Park.

Since this happened Facebook has sent me NUMEROUS EMAILS TELLING ME TO USE WHAT IS, IN FACT, MY BUSINESS ADDRESS.  ALL OF MY PLEAS TO CONTINUE USING MY PERSONAL GMAIL ADDRESS HAVE GONE UNANSWERED.

Well, that sucks, and I can’t really think of an explanation, but what do you expect me to do about it? Pick up my red phone that gives me instant access to Zuck?

I really like Facebook and would really like to continue using it – but not at the potential cost of losing my job over it.

Yeah, this is probably the first wise thing you’ve said, because if I were you, I wouldn’t want to run the risk of hoping someone else gets suckered into hiring me, either.

Could you PLEASE find someway to adjust you polices, procedures, operating practices, or whatever to return my personal email address back to me?

Dude, I am not trying to adjust any polices. They carry guns. I could find some way to adjust my personal policies, sure, but making fun of dolts like you is just too enjoyable. As far as adjusting Facebook’s policies, well, that’s slightly above my pay grade.

What the hell is wrong with people? When did, “Send us a tip,” become, “Please allow us to drop everything we’re doing and help you with all of your Facebook difficulties?”

Do yourself a favor … save that press release for Monday

As I type this, it’s late on a Friday afternoon, which means that at some point in the next couple of hours, I will most likely receive a press release via email, well after my work day, of minimal to zero importance.

Don’t get me wrong: I am more than willing to do work after-hours or on weekends if news of some importance happens to break. I have never thought of my job as a 9-to-5 (or a 5:30-to-2:30, as it may be). News happens when it happens, and the timing and flow can’t be controlled.

But the key word is “news.”

I would conservatively estimate that 99.9% of the press releases I’ve received late Friday afternoon or over the weekend are of questionable news value at best, or completely useless at worst.

Again, I am not lazy, and while no one wants their evenings or weekends to be disturbed, it’s part of the job when big news breaks.

But the 200th press release about a website that offers cover images for Facebook’s timeline profile is not big news. Nor is the 500th different ad-management platform. And a contest on your Facebook page? Nope … not big news.

I’m sure I speak for most reporters, bloggers, and whatnot when I say that at the end of the work week, our brains are deep-fried. If you’re going to get our attention Friday afternoon or over the winter, you need to kick our asses. So far, you’re not doing it. Not even close.

I even got a press release about a photo contest on a Facebook page at 4 p.m. on the Saturday of President’s Day weekend. Seriously? STOP THE PRESSES! At 4 p.m. on the Saturday of a holiday weekend, Mark Zuckerberg better be selling Facebook, or Sheryl Sandberg better have resigned, or Facebook better have bought its own country, or started charging $20 per month. The chance for Facebook users to win $50 worth of dog food for the best picture of their pooch doesn’t cut it.

I’m not saying that these releases are totally worthless, and I’m not saying I won’t look into them and possibly cover them and write something about them during the week. I’m just saying that it would be smarter to just save them for Monday morning. You may think you’re drawing attention to your news by sending it at 7 p.m. on Friday or noon on Saturday or whenever, but the attention you’re drawing may not be positive.

For the love of God, respect the weekend.

Employed Nine: Post-mortem, part III: The cackler and 3%

We pick up the story of our hero about a year-and-a-half after his Pointy-Haired Boss was abruptly fired, without anyone bothering to share the news with our hero.

Things were finally stabilizing after doing the equivalent of three jobs for a year-and-a-half. An absolutely fantastic person was hired to handle the operational aspects of the job, which never should have been mine to begin with. And the publication I worked for was now under the purview of a new boss, who, unlike PHB, was a good person. He wasn’t very popular, but to be fair, even those who disagreed with his ideas or policies knew they weren’t done out of selfishness or with ill intent.

Please, for the love of GOD, make the cackling STOP!

This will instantly give away the new boss’ identity to anyone reading this who was with the company at the time, but whatever. His most distinctive feature was his laugh. It was a cackle that went in one ear, bounced around your brain while swinging a jackhammer and a hockey stick, and went out the other ear. This cackle could be heard from miles away, sort of like a train whistle, only nowhere near as pleasant.

That being said, I actually like the guy, and I still do. As I said, his heart was in the right place, although after PHB, the bar wasn’t set very high. Let’s put it this way: If I ran into the cackler in the street, I would stop, say hello, ask him about his job, and be absolutely pleasant. If I ran into the PHB in the street, it would take every ounce of self-control in my body not to break his jaw.

My main disagreement with the cackler revolved around the fact that he managed “by the book,” even when the situation demanded an alternative action. And the “situation,” in my case, was the fact that I did three jobs for a year-and-a-half without getting one extra dime, other than my annual “merit raise,” and I was determined to do something about that.

I’m sure everyone reading this has gone above and beyond the call of duty at their job at some point. No one ever handles their “job duties,” and nothing else, and no one really works 9-5. I’m not trying to sound like a martyr, or like the first person to ever take on a huge work load. But after doing three jobs for a year-and-a-half, being told that there was no way I could get fairly compensated because of “company policy” just didn’t cut it. Kindly find me the parts of the “company policy” that cover not being told your boss was fired, or that cover doing three jobs for a year-and-a-half.

“Company policy” can be bypassed under exceptional circumstances, and it took me another year of constant fighting to finally get something resembling a fair raise, even though it was one-half of what I deserved. After a year of trying to hammer my points home at every opportunity, the fight had left my body, and I settled for the raise I was offered. No matter how fiercely I believed in my cause, there comes a time to just let it go, and I had reached that point.

One thing that always amused me about the cackler was that he always attempted to pacify disgruntled employees with American Express gift cards of $50, and sometimes even $100. It was a nice gesture, and my hunch is that the money came out of his own pocket, even though he always made us sign an acknowledgement that we had received the gift cards. But in my case, I wanted recognition for my efforts and something resembling financial stability, not a gift card.

I mentioned our annual merit raise earlier. The way our company handled these raises was the source of my most frustration in the 13 ½ years I spent there — yes, even more frustrating than dealing with PHB — and it directly or indirectly led to my exit, depending on how you look at it.

Let me pre-empt my vent by saying that a 3% raise a few years ago, before our country’s economy went into the shitter, was quite different from a 3% raise now. I know that members of the work force who were fortunate enough to hold onto their jobs were subject to the elimination of raises altogether, pay cuts, being force to take unpaid vacation time, and other financial penalties. A 3% raise doesn’t seem so bad today. But at the time, it barely covered the cost-of-living increase. In my case, the increase in my rent and parking usually swallowed up the entire raise, leaving no opportunities to better my situation or to actually put money away in savings.

3%

That being said, moving past the amount of the raise, this was my issue, and I will fight this point to the death: Every single employee got 3%, regardless of their performance. Excuse my language, but this has to go down as the single fucking dumbest management move in history.

There are always some people who work harder than others. What is the point of going the extra mile, extending yourself, sacrificing things that are important to you, and burning yourself out, only to be “rewarded” with the exact same raise as the person who does the bare minimum, shows up late, leaves early, and never steps up to the plate when things are crazy? Where is the incentive to maintain that sort of pace when it’s not rewarded at all?

On a side note, while implementing its policy of 3% raises across the board, the senior management had the balls to call a special, all-hands-on-deck meeting with the purpose of having every employee come up with one “million-dollar idea.” Hey, jackasses: If I actually came up with a million-dollar idea, don’t you think I’d pursue it myself, rather than watching the company implement it and receiving a thank you and the same 3% raise? My “million-dollar idea” was the fictional doctor’s appointment that kept me out of that meeting. I have a few other million-dollar ideas, but I’m really trying to limit profanity on this blog.

The final straw for me came when we underwent another Dilbert-like reorganization for no reason whatsoever, and responsibility for the website I worked on was split between myself and another co-worker. Did you assume that when I said “split,” I meant that the work load was divided 50-50? You’d think that, wouldn’t you? Needless to say, that’s nowhere near what actually happened.

Our “split” work load was basically yours truly getting up early in the morning to edit and deploy a daily email newsletter, and then getting to the office at normal time, working a full day (doing most of the work), going home, and covering any stories that might have broken after-hours. Meanwhile, my co-worker (and I use the term “worker” very loosely) would show up at 11 a.m. on a good day, but often not until the p.m. hours, and vaporize by 5:30 at the latest, claiming that he was “working from home.” Yeah, that old gag, except that when two people work on a website, it’s pretty easy for one of them to tell what the other is doing, or, in this case, not doing.

My breaking point: One Friday, when the shit was hitting the fan, with several news stories breaking and most of the editorial staff wrapped up with closing the print edition, he walked into the office at exactly 2:30 p.m. Rather than making up some sort of excuse or apologizing, he joked, “I had a rough commute.” He lived on the same subway line as the office, about 10 stops uptown. Needless to say, I did not find humor in his attempt at a joke.

A couple of months after his 2:30 arrival, our fiscal year ended, and our merit raises went into effect. I actually heard this person on the phone, bitching to a friend of his that he had “only” gotten 3%. There have been few times in my life when I was mad enough to kill, and this was one of them. I had to leave the office and walk around the block a couple of times to stop the shaking. The person who did maybe 20% of the work got the same raise as the person who did the other 80%, along with a higher salary, yet complained about it? Folks, you just can’t make crap like this up.

So this is where things started to go downhill, about two years before my layoff. I still worked hard because I had pride in the website. If the website looked bad, I looked bad. But anything resembling passion had vanished, and, while I would still do my best to handle any important news that broke after hours, I absolutely refused to extend myself one minute more than necessary. What was the point? It wasn’t appreciated, and it wasn’t rewarded.

But our hero’s story isn’t done yet. In the next installment, I explain how I was uprooted from the publication where I had worked the entire time and forced to join another magazine with a completely different culture, only to find out that the move was made to save my non-working co-worker’s job. I shit you not.

Employed Nine!

On Oct. 2, 2008, I was laid off from my job of 13 ½ years. On Sept. 12, 2011, I officially became a member of the full-time work force again. Three weeks shy of three years, the misery has finally ended. If I were a betting man, I’d have risked my entire bank account on the prospect of finding a job in three months, and I’d have lost all $27.14. I never thought it would take this long in my worst nightmare scenario. But it’s finally over.

Praised be Jeebus!

So, what the hell am I doing? Well, I’m still blogging, for mediabistro.com, the same company I’ve been with on a per-post basis since June 2009. But rather than posting on a couple of different blogs, I am now the lead writer for AllFacebook. If I have to tell you what it covers, I’m going to punch you in the head.

If you happen to see a ton of activity on my Facebook page, it doesn’t mean I’m goofing off at work: It means I’m working. I have liked a bunch of pages I have no personal interest in, played a bunch of games I have no desire whatsoever to play, and downloaded a bunch of apps I would not normally use on my own. But it’s for a good cause: a paycheck. If you see Facebook Scrabble activity, however, that definitely means I’m goofing off at work.

One of the best parts for me is that I can still work from home. It’s not like I’m antisocial, and if the job required being in the office, I’d obviously comply, but there’s nothing I can’t do from the Hoboken bureau. All I need is an Internet connection and a phone line. I find the one-hour commute each way to be completely wasted time

And I get up at 5:30 a.m. every day to compile the Morning Media Newsfeed for mediabistro.com, so I’m already deep into work by the time most people are flailing at the snooze button. Why break the caffeine-fueled momentum just to be surrounded by miserable people on the PATH train?

So, anyway, shameless plug: If you’re interested in the goings on at Facebook, check out AllFacebook, which has several talented writers besides yours truly. And if you’re really into the nuts and bolts behind the social network, check out sister blog Inside Facebook. Those guys go into painstaking detail, and it’s a fascinating read if you’re into the subject matter.

Three weeks shy of three years: All I can say is, about freaking time.

The New York Yankees ticket office is now humble and flexible? Did anyone down in Hell order an ice scraper?

I got an interesting phone call yesterday from none other than the New York Yankees, regarding my cancellation of my season tickets. As I suspected, I am clearly not the only person to go in that direction. The woman I spoke with was thoroughly professional and polite, but judging by the answers to a couple of my questions and some of the concessions she was willing to make, I sensed a trace of desperation.

Section 314, Yankee Stadium

I’m not going to rehash the numerous reasons why I am no longer a season-ticket holder. For those who aren’t regular readers, click here. And while the compromises the Yankees were willing to make were definitely a step in the right direction, they didn’t make enough of a difference in my particular situation (through no fault of the ball club).

But it was almost gratifying to have an organization that has historically conducted itself with extreme arrogance toward its fan base — even in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the team was God-awful — going out of its way to sell tickets like used-car salesmen. For the record, the arrogance comment does not apply to the person who became my personal ticket representative during the migration to the new ballpark. He was always helpful, friendly, and a pleasure to deal with. Sadly, he was the exception.

One of the concessions offered by the Yankees was offering the chance to buy “full” season tickets that didn’t start until the end of April. My guess is that many season-ticket holders complained that it is easier to sell a six-week-old rotting container of potato salad than it is to sell tickets to night games in April against marginal teams in 40-degree weather.

One of my biggest issues with the stadium relocation was the fact that brand-new ticket buyers willing to purchase full-season tickets immediately jumped ahead of longtime plan-holders in the queue. I thought that was a stab in the back, and I still feel that way.

It’s coming back to bite the Yankees in the ass, though. My hunch is that I am far from the only person who was basically forced into buying a full-season plan, and then found that they couldn’t afford it, or that they got tired of acting as de facto ticket brokers on StubHub, or both. The notoriously inflexible Yankees ticket department is suddenly quite flexible.

The funny thing is, when I was a kid, my ultimate dream was to have season tickets to the Yankees. However, when I envisioned those tickets, I also envisioned myself being married, with two kids, a healthy income, and a nice house. The married part came true, and it has been nothing short of outstanding. The kids will hopefully follow soon. But going without a full-time job for nearly two-and-a-half years and blogging for about one-third of my previous salary wasn’t part of that pretty little picture, and it doesn’t help pay for tickets.

And sadly, being a full-season-ticket holder wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Of course, if I experienced a drastic change for the better in my financial situation, I’d jump at the chance to rejoin the club, but I’m not counting on that.

How the mighty have fallen.