Monday, April 2, 2007

Squeezing the Baseball Market in New York

Both the New York Mets and Yankees are building new stadiums (stadia?) for the 2009 season. It seems to me like both teams are looking to screw the fans to a certain extent, and I know that this blog is generally a Mets sympathizer, but I have to take a shot at them in this post.

The New Yankee Stadium is going to have many more luxury boxes and new facilities and those people who are able to get over the fact that they won't actually be playing on the original site of Yankee Stadium recognize that the innards of the stadium, the clubhouses, dugouts, press box, TV booths, and so forth, are dilapidated and need to be replaced. They could obviously continue to play in this stadium, but in this era of new stadiums, the richest team in baseball should have state of the art facilities. And, to the Yankees credit, they are footing $800 million of the $1 billion price tag.

The current Yankee stadium holds 57,000 fans and the new stadium will hold 51,000, leaving 6,000 fans out in the cold. This is not a negligible number for the Yankees, because they sell out many games. They will have more luxury boxes, so capacity will probably be similar to what it is now, but the average fan is not sitting in luxury boxes. The Yankees, amazingly, have already sold 3.5 million tickets for this upcoming season before even one game has been played. Over 81 games, that's an average of 43,210 fans per game that have already been sold. Clearly there's a demand for tickets, and when the new stadium opens the demand will certainly increase rather than decrease. On some level I'll give the Yankees credit. The new trend in baseball is toward smaller stadiums and for the Yankees to put 50,000 seats in a brand new stadium, even though it's less than they currently have, is at least acceptable.

Citi Field, which will replace Shea Stadium in 2009, has similar issues, but to a larger extent. Citi Field will hold approximately 45,000 fans, down from 57,000 in the current Shea Stadium. A difference of 12,000 seats. 12,000 is the capacity of Madison Square Garden, and that's the number of fans who won't be seeing Mets games in person. The Mets also have serious demand for tickets. They have pre-sold 2.5 million tickets (25 of which have been purchased by me), again before any games have been played, which is 30,865 fans per game. I guess the reasoning here is that there is a more intimate feeling in the stadium with fewer seats, but I have a real problem with such a difference in capacity.

On most nights, the Mets don't need 57,000 seats, whereas the Yankees need all the space they can get to house their fairweather fans. On a random Wednesday at Shea there are probably 35-40 thousand people there, with a spike on the weekends and a full stadium for big games and holidays and such.

What's interesting about both new stadiums is that neither field is changing very much. The field at Yankee Stadium will be almost exactly the same, with the short right porch and double bleachers in the outfield. The upper level seats seem as if the will be recessed from the field a bit more than they are now, but otherwise it seems like it will be similar. Yankee Stadium is beautiful and is a fun place to watch a game, so I guess there's no need to change much.

Citi Field is not going to be perfectly symmetrical like Shea is, but the fences will still be similar. The main change is the asymmetry in right field and a deep gap in right center. Watching a game in Citi Field seems like it will be drastically different. Moving from an all purpose, cookie cutter 1960s stadium to a uniquely baseball stadium should make it a better experience from the fans' perspective.

Here's why I have a problem with the lack of seating. We know that neither team is going to start spending less money or lower their payroll, so what this means is that ticket prices are going to go drastically up, especially for the Mets. The Mets charge more money for the better games, and clearly get more fans as well. In terms of revenue, a good amount of their ticket revenue comes from their sell out games. If they have 12,000 people who are not going to be able to buy tickets for those big games, then they have to make up that revenue somewhere. The Yankees do not have this issue to such a large extent for several reasons. First is that they are losing fewer seats. Second is that their attendance is far more consistent, so they don't need to make up revenue just on big games. Third is that the increase in luxury box seating and the undoubtedly huge prices those will command essentially even out any lost revenue. Now that's not to say that the Yankees are not going to raise ticket prices, they undoubtedly will, but they've at least provided for most of their fans. Tickets for the big Mets games are going to get Stub Hubbed for hundreds of dollars.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to both new stadiums, I just hope I can get in.

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