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

As much as I hate to say it, giving up my Yankees season tickets was the right move

Whenever a long, emotional relationship ends in a breakup, there’s always a tendency to question whether it was the right move, and whether more should have been done to salvage the relationship.

$95? Not worth it.

My breakup with my Yankees season tickets was no exception. Ever since I made the decision in January (see link above for the reasoning behind it), I’ve had lingering doubts as to whether it was the right move, and whether I should have done more to try to keep my seats.

The Yankees are now midway through the first home stand of this young 2011 Major League Baseball season, and there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right move, although I still wish I wasn’t driven in that direction.

I posted an entry last month about how the Yankees ticket office — usually abrupt, condescending, and not the least bit flexible — has been changing its tune. Now I see why.

The number of empty seats in the field level (and not just the Legends Suite ultra-expensive seats, but throughout the 100 level) is embarrassing. And the huge pockets of empty seats in the terrace (300) level have been equally embarrassing.

My theory: People who had field-level seats in the real Yankee Stadium were priced out when the team moved across the street, and many were fortunate to grab seats in the main (200) level. The same goes for people who had seats in the tier boxes (600 level) in the old ballpark, and were able to secure the only affordable seats in the new stadium, the grandstand (400 level).

Throughout this home stand, the 100 and 300 levels have been virtually deserted, while the 200 and 400 levels, along with the bleachers, have been packed. And it will likely stay that way. On Opening Day, during the fifth inning, I counted exactly 10 people in one of the Jim Beam Club sections, behind home plate in the 300 level. Seriously?

I realize it’s only the first few games of the season, and baseball attendance throughout the league tends to heat up in tandem with the weather, but, Opening Day aside, the Yankees have enjoyed comfortable weather, along with games against two stellar, playoff-caliber opponents (the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins).

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that a lot of the tickets are just plain overpriced. I recognize that the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, and that no other team has been in contention every single season since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign (you could argue that 2008 doesn’t qualify, but it’s not like the club finished 62-100). But when it comes down to it, $95 to sit in fair territory in left field on the field level is ridiculous. You are a minimum of 350 feet from home plate, and the only thing you have a good view of is Brett Gardner’s ass. I am a huge fan of Gardner as a ballplayer, but I don’t roll that way. Even if I wanted to look at his rear end, his size-nine head would likely distract me.

$55? Why bother, when I can sit in the same section for $15. Hello, StubHub!

The same goes for the terrace level. The 300 level in the new Yankee Stadium is higher and further from the field than the tier boxes at the old park, and one of the reasons why I gave up my tickets was that I felt that sitting that high and that far simply wasn’t worth $55 per seat. I would have gladly moved to the grandstand or the bleachers, but the latter are thoroughly sold out (at $12 per seat for season tickets, there’s no need to explain why), and the available seats in the former were in the top rows in the outfield. As much as I love going, I’d rather sit on my couch or in a bar than behind the foul pole, four rows from the top of the stadium.

I mentioned in my earlier blog post about giving up the seats that by basically forcing people into buying season tickets, the Yankees created a culture of “ticket brokers.” Those ticket brokers are getting their asses handed to them.

I looked up my old section (314) on StubHub for tomorrow night (Wednesday, April 6). The forecast is quite comfortable (59 degrees, no rain), and CC Sabathia, the clear ace of the staff, is pitching against the Minnesota Twins, a perennial playoff team. My old seats were in row six, and the face value was (and still is) $55. Yet, if I wasn’t going bowling that night, I could sit in row eight for $15, in my old row for $17, in row three for $17, or in row two for the princely sum of $19. Translation: The people selling these seats are taking losses of $36-$40 per ticket on $55 tickets.

A common argument whenever I bring this subject up is the opportunity to sell tickets to the “big” games at a hefty profit. Yes, that opportunity exists, but one of the main reasons why fans want season tickets in the first place is to be guaranteed seats for Boston, or the Mets, or Philadelphia, or Tampa. Being forced to sell them in order to make up for losses on other games defeats the entire purpose, and the same applies to the postseason. Guaranteed playoff tickets are one of the biggest attractions of season tickets, but some of us would actually like to go to the games, and not sit around monitoring StubHub and figuring out how much we can make.

I’d love to think that the Yankees will have an epiphany and realize that the pricing structure is completely out of whack, similar to what happened with the most expensive seats in the ballpark during the inaugural 2009 season. The thought of hooking up with an old flame again is truly appealing. But I know that sort of thinking is completely unrealistic.

I am now a former New York Yankees season-ticket holder

A long and glorious era ended this afternoon with a quick, painless (but at the same time, incredibly painful) phone call: For the first time since Opening Day of the 1997 Major League Baseball season, I am no longer a New York Yankees season-ticket holder.

I knew my days were numbered when the new Yankee Stadium became a reality. New sports facilities are 100% geared toward corporate clients, leaving the real fan in far worse seats than they enjoyed in the older buildings. Just ask anyone who has upper-deck tickets for the New York Jets or New York Giants. The new Meadowlands Stadium is probably fantastic for those who can afford to shell out the price of a new car for each PSL, and pay exorbitant ticket prices on top of that. But for fans of average means, the upper deck is awful, with “comparable” seats that are actually 40 feet higher and 40 feet further away from the field.

The view from Box 611 at the REAL Yankee Stadium

I had a great run in Box 611 in the real Yankee Stadium. I had my tickets there from 1997-2008, and the Yankees made the playoffs every season except the last one, winning the World Series three consecutive seasons from 1998-2000 (although only clinching the 1999 Fall Classic in the Bronx).

Not only were the seats fantastic, but there was a sense of community in Box 611. Many of the people in the section had the same tickets for years, and I never felt alone at a ballgame on the occasional day or night when I couldn’t find anyone to take my second ticket. We laughed together when the Boston Red Sox choked year after year (until 2004, but let’s not get into that). We cried together when people experienced tragedies, like the loss of the father of one of my best friends during the 1999 World Series. We drank together (BOY, did we drink together!), and we enjoyed the entire experience, whether it was a cold, rainy night against the then-inept Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a beautiful summer afternoon matinee against the hated Red Sox, or time for the intensity of the postseason.

Although the new Yankee Stadium exceeded my expectations when it comes to appearance, the atmosphere has never been the same. As I said earlier, the real fans were pushed higher and further away from the field, leaving embarrassing acres of empty seats on field level, and basically destroying any kind of home-field advantage. Why did this happen? Many fans, myself included, were forced into buying full season tickets in order to get anything resembling a decent location — the seats I was offered to remain in a half-season plan were thoroughly and completely unacceptable. So we all turned into ticket brokers. After all, how many people do you know who can actually go to 81 games, or 41 games?

Since the new ballpark opened its doors, StubHub has been flooded with tickets. Sure, some of them are from people who wouldn’t know a baseball if they swallowed one, and who are just looking to turn a profit. But a healthy chunk of them are from people like myself who are just trying to get some money back on tickets we were basically forced into purchasing and can’t use. The easy access to tickets means two things: Season-ticket holders like myself end up selling tickets at a loss, unless they’re for premium games like the Red Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies, Opening Day, or Old Timer’s Day — you know, exactly the type of games that represent the reason most people buy tickets in the first place. And the number of opposing fans in the ballpark borders on irritating.

The view from Section 314 at the new Yankee Stadium

Another side effect of the StubHub frenzy: Unlike the community feel of Box 611, there is zero sense of community in the new Yankee Stadium. I went to about 30 games in my 2010 seats in section 314, and I recognized people in the section a handful of times, if it was even that many. Every time I struck up a conversation with someone in seats around me, the answer was the same: “Oh, yeah, I bought them on StubHub.” Managing the season tickets became a part-time job, and an often unrewarding job, at that.

I’m far from alone in feeling this way. Ross Sheingold from NYY Stadium Insider expressed many of the same frustrations in his very well-written blog post.

However, when all is said and done, the main reason why I didn’t keep the tickets was simple: I have been unemployed since October 2008 and, while I have been making some money by blogging, it’s nowhere near enough to justify buying the tickets. I refuse to let a balance accumulate on my credit card unless it’s an absolute, critical, unavoidable emergency, which Yankees tickets don’t qualify as, no matter how much I love having them. A lot of my friends who were regulars are in equally crappy situations where they can’t get to anywhere near the number of games they used to attend. And my wife and I are trying to start a family, which will add more strain to an already-stretched budget, leaving no room for the kind of financial commitment the Yankees require.

Still, if the Yankees were still playing in the original ballpark across the street, I know things would be different. If I still had my seats in Box 611, I’d fight tooth and nail to keep them. My wife and I never, ever fight, but if Box 611 were still in the picture, the truce may have been broken. I just don’t have the same passion for my seats in the new Yankee Stadium. I hate saying this, but they simply weren’t worth fighting for.

I’ll still go to a bunch of games, via StubHub, tickets from friends, and what-not. But not having season tickets for the first time since 1997 feels like a divorce. It’s been a part of my fabric for so long, that there’s just an empty feeling right now. This sucks.

Box 611, missed more and more with every passing day 😦

Hey, Baltimore Orioles: How about getting your shit together?

A once-proud franchise, the Baltimore Orioles, has become a disgrace to Major League Baseball, posting losing season after losing season, and carrying rosters filled with ill-prepared young players and past-their-prime veterans. Something needs to be done about this, and quickly.

“But, wait,” the observant reader might be saying to himself or herself right now, “Nine is a Yankees fan. Why does he give a shit about the Orioles?”

Orioles SUCK

Well, I will tell you why I give a shit: The Orioles are costing me money, because I can’t give my damned Yankees tickets away when their sorry asses are in town. I ate my tickets to tonight’s game — which Baltimore lost in classic Orioles fashion, on a two-run throwing error by washed-up third baseman Miguel Tejada, who is clearly not enjoying the post-steroids phase of his career — despite having dropped the price for $55 seats to $15 on StubHub this afternoon. And I haven’t had a taker for tomorrow night’s game, or the Thursday-afternoon matinee.

The Orioles have become what the Tampa Bay Rays used to be: The one horrific fucking team in the division that comes up on the schedule 18 times per season and gives fans no reason to want to attend the games. If the Yankees win, they were supposed to win, and if they lose, well, how in the fuck did they lose to the stinking Orioles?

To Tampa’s credit, the Rays have gone from perennial cellar dweller to a legitimate championship contender and, if the club’s farm system can replace a couple of key players who will likely leave in search of greener pastures after this season (Carl Crawford), this team can be in the mix for quite a few years.

The Orioles used to be one of baseball’s model franchises. Almost every one of their prospects came up to the Major Leagues knowing how to play the game the right way, because “The Oriole Way” actually meant something. Now, “The Oriole Way” just means tanking yet another season. Ever since Peter Angelos became the owner of this ball club, things have gone downhill year after year.

It’s a shame. Baltimore has great baseball fans, and Camden Yards is still one of the best ballparks in the league. Ask any opposing fans, since they usually make up two-thirds of the crowd.

If any Orioles fans happen to read this blog, what I wrote isn’t intended as an insult to you. You should agree 100% with my sentiments. What has happened to this team over the past 15 years or so is disgraceful, and you deserve better.

So, Baltimore Orioles: Can you try not to suck so I can actually sell a fucking ticket occasionally?

New Yankee Stadium: Kiss home-field advantage goodbye

I’ve tried to keep an open mind about the new Yankee Stadium and the entire process of relocating ticket-holders, telling myself that the first Boston series would provide a true litmus test of whether the ballpark is a success or not. After attending both atrocities against the hated Red Sox, some glaring issues reared their ugly heads.

A proud member of Red Sox Nation

A proud member of Red Sox Nation

There always tends to be a strong presence of Red Sox fans at games between the two teams. After all, they are bitter rivals, and Boston’s less than four hours away by car. But the sheer number of Boston fans at the games the past two nights was ridiculous. And the reason why was pretty easy to figure out, especially after talking with some of them: Tickets were available on StubHub for, in some cases, less than one-half of face value.

Why were so many tickets for two premium games practically being given away? The answer is simple: Far too many fans, including the one writing this blog, were basically strong-armed into buying full season tickets, in order to avoid being assigned horrible seats or no seats, and the number of tickets available for every game via StubHub is simply staggering.

It truly pains me to praise a ball club that I hate as much as the Red Sox, but they’re clearly doing things the right way, while the Yankees’ top management is lucky to be breathing, considering how far up their asses their heads must be.

Let’s compare various facets of the two organizations:

The Boston Red Sox have won two World Series titles since the last time the Yankees won, in 2000.

The Red Sox play in a ballpark that opened on the day the Titanic sank (I am NOT making this up). Fenway Park has undergone several rounds of improvements, but it’s still nearly 100 years old, and it still has more than 15,000 fewer seats than Yankee Stadium.

The most expensive ticket in Fenway Park is $325. The Yankees, meanwhile, play in a brand-new, $1.5 billion ballpark with the equivalent of Fenway’s $325 seats having sold for $900, $1,050 and $2,500 before the Yankees were forced to lower their prices due to the embarrassing number of prime empty seats that were painfully visible on TV. But even after the price reductions and factoring in the extra seats being given to season-ticket holders, the Yankees’ premium seats are still far more expensive than Boston’s.

As I mentioned earlier, many of the Boston fans I spoke with at this week’s games paid less than one-half of face value for their tickets, and other blogs documented the staggering number of tickets available for each game and the desperation by sellers to just get some money back on their hefty investments.

I looked at StubHub’s offerings for the next Yankees-Red Sox game in Boston — Tuesday, June 9 at 7:05 p.m. — and the results were completely different.

The cheapest tickets available were standing-room vouchers at $78 (face value of $20-$30). The cheapest “real” seats were 26 rows up in the left-field bleachers, at $80 apiece (face value of $12). And while it’s tough to compare the two ballparks, as they could not possibly be more structurally different, tickets in section 9, which is the rough equivalent of my Yankees seats, ranged from $128-$397.75 apiece (face value of $30) — a far cry from the $20 (for $40 tickets) the Red Sox fans next to me last night paid for their tickets. Do you know what that means? The crowd June 9 will be heavily pro-Red Sox, as it should, since it’s a home game for them. As a Yankee fan, I’m not sure what a home game is anymore.

Red Sox fans are able to rake in serious profits, should they choose to sell their tickets, while Yankees fans are, for all intents and purposes, giving them away. Why? Because, as I said earlier, so many Yankees fans were forced into buying full-season tickets, and it’s simple supply-and-demand economics.

You would think the New York Yankees’ brilliant management would want the ballpark to be raucous and pro-Yankees all the time, but especially for big series, like the one Boston just swept. But thanks to their ticketing policies, not only will the Red Sox play virtual home games at Yankee Stadium, but so will the Mets, the Phillies and just about any other team with fans willing to travel.

And as the icing on the cake, the Yankees’ organization consistently does things to alienate the Yankees fans who do actually attend games. Just look at what happened Monday night. For those who don’t know, a 7:05 p.m. game didn’t start until 9:22 p.m. due to rain, and many fans left the Stadium after being told by Yankees’ personnel that the game would be canceled.

When an announcement was made that the game was indeed on, many of these fans were refused readmission into the ballpark, despite the fact that they only exited due to being fed erroneous information by representatives of the organization. How many of those people do you think are going to be in a hurry to fork over more dollars to the team after being treated that way? My guess is that the number will be small. Smooth move, Yankees.

The Yankees organization has always been sorely lacking when it comes to dealing with fans, ticket-holders and the media, but it seems to reach a new low every day. Things were far from perfect at the old ballpark, but crap like this makes me miss box 611 more and more every inning.