Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
As the Yankees play their final games at Yankee Stadium, I've come to realize that I've never really shared my reaction to the organization's decision to move across the street into a new billion-dollar stadium built primarily with public money. When they announced the plans for the new stadium in June 2005, I said nothing. When they broke ground in August 2006, I remained silent. Beyond a few kinds words for the old park and some photos of the construction taken out of curiosity and a desire to document a significant event, I've almost ignored the entire stadium business altogether in this space.
I realize now that the reason I haven't said much is that every time I start to think seriously about the move, I become overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Certainly there's a sadness that comes from knowing that after Sunday I'll never again be able to watch a game at the old ballpark, which has been a part of my life and my love of baseball for 20 years and which I've visited more than 125 times. There's also a curiosity about what the new place will bring and an optimism about the new memories that might be made there. There's also resignation, as this moment was sure to arrive at some point during my lifetime, even if it didn't necessarily need to be now. Above all else, however, there's anger.
I'll put it as plainly as I can. The new Yankee Stadium has been conceived and built exclusively for the high-end luxury customer. It is not for Yankee fans; it is for corporations and the super-rich. It is an oversized ATM built primarily with public money, and the cash it spits out will go directly into the coffer of the New York Yankees, a private corporation. It is a monument to corruption, greed, and the failures of our municipal and state governments to act in the best interests of the people they are supposed to represent, and a vile and disgusting insult to all but the wealthiest of Yankee fans.
This April, Yankees' Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost, who along with team president Randy Levine was the primary executive behind the new Stadium, said that the new Yankee Stadium would be "a five-star hotel" with "a ballfield in the middle of it." Indeed, the new Stadium will be more convention center than ballpark. A DVD presentation of the new Stadium handed out at a recent home game and included in the season-ticket relocation guide spends eight of its 26 minutes detailing the luxury suites, outdoor suite seats, conference centers, and associated high-end dining options in the new building and just nine minutes on the ballpark's other features (included among the latter are a grill room, steakhouse, martini bar, and a center field sportsbar with indoor game seating, all of which will likely exceed the financial reach of the average fan).
A closer look at the relocation guide reveals that huge swaths of the seating bowl representing the best seats in the ballpark are available only to full-season ticket holders and are being sold on a multi-year basis, pushing the commitment price for those seats toward, and in some cases past, a million dollars per seat, forcing many long-time individual ticket holders to release seats that have been in their families for generations. Those are now seats only corporations and the super-rich can afford, which is exactly as the Yankees intended it. Visual evidence of their desire for such "patrons" (the DVD tellingly uses that term in place of "fans") is seen in the computer models of the swanky club areas located under the lower level stands and accessible only from those outdoor "suite" seats.
Even beyond that horseshoe of exclusive field-level seats, which stretches from where the foul line approaches the retaining wall in left field to the identical spot in right field, fans looking to buy partial-season packages of less than 20 games cannot purchase tickets in the new Stadium's lowest deck. Higher up in the new park, a seating deck in the new Stadium roughly equivalent to the current Stadium's Loge level, but actually representing seats relocated from the current upper deck, is comprised entirely of luxury suites aimed at corporate clients.
The Yankees like to brag that the new Stadium moves more seats closer to the action on the field (the DVD boasts that two-thirds of the seats in the new Stadium are in the lower deck, "providing closer views for all"), but what they've really done is take affordable seats away from the common fan who can only afford to sit in the upper deck or bleachers of the current Stadium and relocated them to parts of the ballpark only the wealthy can afford. To make matters worse, the new Stadium will hold 4,561 fewer fans, and you can surely guess which seats are being slashed. With a smaller bleacher capacity, a smaller upper deck, and an increase in luxury and outdoor suite seating, the new Stadium will be spitting out fans of modest means to accommodate the organization's target audience of free-spending fat cats. I mean that literally. One reason this massive new Stadium, which is 63 percent larger than the old one, will have a smaller seating capacity than the old park is because the seats will be several inches wider to accommodate the swollen wallets of the well-to-do.
As for those remaining cheap seats, the DVD lists the upper deck's "gentler slope" as a positive feature, but the current upper deck's steep pitch is what puts the fans in the cheap seats right on top of the game. The reduced incline in the new Grandstand will only serve to push the fans in the nosebleeds further away from the action. Meanwhile, fans in the bleachers closest to center field will be able to see neither the opposite side of the outfield, nor the Stadium's new high-definition video screen (despite the latter being seven times larger than the current park's Diamondvision) due to the imposing 4,900 square foot sportsbar that will replace the black batters' eye beyond center field. Adding insult to injury, I doubt many of the fans in what amount to the worst seats in the park will be able to afford to eat in the restaurant that is blocking their view.
Such criticisms of the park itself amount to mere nitpicks when one considers the cost to the community in displaced park land--some of which will be replaced, I kid you not, by Astroturf on top of newly constructed parking garages--and actual dollars, which are desperately needed by schools and other public facilities in the Bronx and the other four boroughs. Though, much like this post, it's surely too little too late, State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky will present a 31-page report to Congress today detailing the Yankees' stadium swindle. A summary of the report can be found here and the full text of the report can be downloaded from a link at the bottom of that page. In short, the press release at the time of the groundbreaking which claimed that, "Funding for the $800 million in construction costs is being provided fully by the Yankees," has proven to be a bold-faced lie. The report blames the city as much as the team for this, but it's no more encouraging to learn that the two entities worked together to game the system and swindle the taxpayers for the sole benefit of a corporation that Forbes estimates will be worth $1.5 billion once it moves into its new headquarters on the north side of 161st Street.
This is all very ugly business and enough to give me serious misgivings about my involvement in promoting the team in this space and elsewhere. That, in turn, opens up a giant can of worms about why it is I do this in the first place, and suddenly I've gone from mixed emotions to a full-blown moral crisis. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I'm not the sort of person who can easily break a life-long habit. Similarly, I've worked much too hard for far too long on this blog and elsewhere to simply walk away, no matter how disgusted I might be. Still, the thought has certainly crossed my mind.
Instead, I plan to spend the next few days focusing on the old Stadium, which has been like a second home to me over the past 20 years and helped foster my love for the game of baseball and its history. Ultimately, no matter how ruthless and cynical the Yankees might be as an organization (and they've rarely been anything else), the purity and excitement of the game on the field is both real and enduring. I only wish that the field itself would remain accessible to the passionate and diverse fanbase that is ultimately paying for it. Sadly, I have little reason to believe it will.
I have nothing against building a new stadium per se, Philadelphia did it while I was living there and that place is a beautiful park, with plenty of cheap seats for fans like myself. What the Yankees are doing though is criminal. Taking seats from lifelong fans of the team is just awful. I worry that the entire atmosphere at the stadium will be different next year, my whole reason for going is to take in that atmosphere. I don't sit close enough to claim my view is better than it is on TV.
The NY Giants are doing a similar swindle, especially with the seat licenses. Friends at the first game this season told me that Tisch was actually booed at halftime during a superbowl presentation. I know its all about the money for these teams, and they are corporations, but you shouldn't forget or leave out your most loyal fans. In the end, its another example in our society of rich people being the greediest of all and hoarding things for themselves. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it makes me sad. Very sad.
I think you are way off base, however, in your other portrayals.
For starters, one of the main things you hear from Yankee fans is that the team should always get the best players (pay Santana; pay Sabathia; pay Texeira, etc.). Well, that can't be done without money. If the Yankees want to soak the rich to pay for the players I enjoy, I'm all for it.
Having said that, I don't think the average fan is being priced out of the new Stadium anymore than the old Stadium or any event in New York City. Even if the best seat in the house was only $100, season tickets would cost $16,000 for a pair. That is already well outside of the price range of even solid middle class fans. If the price increases mean that the wealthy will have to give up their tickets to the insanely rich, then so be it. Also, most of these accounts will likely be corporate, and those tickets do fall into the hands of "real fans".
Also, while the new slope will detract from those lucky enough to have a seat behind home plate (which is where my partial plan seat has been for almost 10 years), the new slope should make the seats in the rest of the upper deck better. Also, the prices in the upper deck will either be the same or actually go down (I've already looked, and if I get relocated to a similar seat, by cost will actually decrease from this season). As for the reduced capacity, well, the new total is about equal to this year's season average. Basically, if a fan of modest means wants to go to a few games next year (and definitely in future years when the novelty wears off), they should be able to at the same prices they did this season.
Finally, I think you completely mischaracterized the financial portion of the deal. The Yankees have never said they were going to completely use private finances and private funding. Instead, the project involves the use of public financing vehicles that will be paid off with private funds. After all, why shouldn't the Yankees benefit from the same breaks that other businesses (worth multiples of $1.5bn) receive. More personally, as someone who pays a good amount to in State and City taxes, I have no problem with the city funding infrastructure and providing other economic benefits.
What's more, if State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky was so against this deal, why did he vote for it? It seems a little disingenuous to me.
The idea of a big bad sports team taking money from city schools and park land from city youth is an easy thing to criticize, but these deals are so much more complex than that. Of course, that wont stop the same people from complaining 50 years later about how Walter O'Malley tore the heart out of Brooklyn by moving his team to LA.
I haven't read too much about the stuff happening in front of Congress today, but my very basic understanding is that the City overvalued the parkland, which somehow led to a huge tax break for the Yanks. Why couldn't they build on the existing site again?
And the City, Neil deMause (and others) report, is getting one of those luxury suites that have you so upset, Cliff. Hmmm.
I can only imagine what people who live next to the Stadium feel.
1 Way, way off topic - diana, was that your friend again last night, catching Damon's home run?
Yes, that was my friend Zack Hample. He has no life. :-)
"The Yankees have never said they were going to completely use private finances and private funding."
Yeah, that's right, the Yanks never said they were going to pay for it completely with private monies. Neither did Cliff. But there are plenty of quotes by Trost and/or Levine, among others, saying that the Yanks were going to put up (around) $800M towards the costs of the project. That was, and still is, a lie.
The circumstances of the new stadium definitely pose a moral dilemma for Yankees fans.
This year has really brought the organization's total lack of interest in benefiting the surrounding community into stark relief. It's very sad.
I hate the corporation, but love the team. The question is how much can we really separate those two entities?
I don't think supporting the team is the same thing as supporting the Stadium. You're helping fans follow an activity they enjoy; you're not supporting crooked ownership and politicians.
My behavior will change little: Bleacher or upper deck, no $7.50 beer, take a Subway. Inexpensive entertainment value. Or watch on TV, listen on the radio, follow on the Internet for free.
Even if I mostly disagree, I thank you for one of the most insightful observations I've read concerning the new Stadium.
Just because the bleacher/upper deck seats may well be cheaper in the long run, it doesn't mean a fan should be any less pissed off that he/she will never see the game from the view of the few, the rich.
Also, just because an ownerships plan is win-at-any-cost, doesn't mean a fan's plan is win-at-any-cost, especially if it means they'll never see a game in person that's closer than te 400 ft mark.
The greatest game I ever saw was 4 rows behind the Red Sox dugout at Fenway; Big Papi is really larger than life. The seats are corporate owned. Maybe they appreciate it, but would baseball be better off with a family of 4, with a couple kids experiencing Big Papi from those seats? Probably.
I'm a bitter bitter party of 1, because you'll see crappy teams selling 4 box seats w/ 4 dogs and 4 sodas for $44, but the good teams won't even give you one box seat for $44.
Yes .... that Zack Hample.
I was witness to one of his wilder days of baseball snagging:
I suspect supporting the team is the moral dilemma for people who share Cliff's sentiment. Watching on TV and listening on radio makes the team with highly questionable ethics richer.
As a baseball fan, this is terrible news.
And this is NOT statement guided just to the Yankees ... it applies to about 1/3 (??) of all MLB teams.
But I'll still check out the box scores ...
I would HOPE, as an example, A-Rod's $27M/year provides for SOME seats to EVERY game for some underprivileged kids.
You also mentioned people being priced out, I have always wondered who are these working and middle class people who could afford season tickets in the first place. I have gone to an occasional game, but I can't imagine buying season tickets and I don't own one piece of Yankees' merchandise. I have always refused to put huge chunks of my hard cash into George Steinbrenner's pockets. My advice to the people priced out of the new Stadium is to view this as blessing. Buy a HD tv and put the rest of the money in their 401K or in this market a nice safe CD.
They needed to move the seats further back so everyone could see the entire field. The bleacher seating issue is unfortunate and the Yankees deserve to take a hit for it. Overall, there will be fewer obstructed view seats in the new place.
The "terrace view" seats in the luxury section of upper deck in the new stadium are sold out. The ticket cost runs from $100 to $135 per ticket and you had to make a muti season deal. These were all sold to existing season ticket holders and there is a waiting list. There is clearly a demand for improved Stadium surroundings from the existing fan base.
The super luxury seats downstaris are not sold out. They will have a tough time selling these given the carnage on Wall Street.
I agree the parkland issue has been handled poorly. The Bronx politicians deserve heat for this. They have done little to stand up for the people who live there. On the other side, the Yankees have been a part of the community for a long time so a balance has to be struck.
I will reserve final judgement until I set foot in the new place.
I will, however, comment on one aspect that does royally piss me off despite my relative ambivalence about the whole new stadium affair. Various blogs have tended to talk about the season ticket holders of more modest means who will get the shaft, and this true. But (and this is self-interested) fans like myself, who are able to attend only a couple of games a year, are also getting shafted.
It is not because I cannot afford to pay more tickets--in fact, since I only go to a couple of games, I can view each as an "event" and thus be willing to pay more for each trip. Rather, it is that there are increasingly no tickets available. Tis of course started a few years ago, when attendance boomed. But this is largely not walk-up business. The Yankees have done an excellent job convincing people to buy season ticket packages, so that more and more of the seating is gobbled up. In effect, the Yankees have fostered a situation in which nearly every seat in the house is prepaid for, guaranteeing income despite poor play or poor weather.
This process will accelerate in the new stadium. The more modest season ticket holders will be pressed into the relatively affordable upper deck sections. Fewer seats (despite a massively larger facility) means that those few cheap seats will be taken by season ticket holders. Soon baseball will (unfortunately) be like other major sports, where you cannot get tickets unless you own a season package or purchase them from sort of service.
I am worried, perhaps too much I realize, that the day will come when there simply won't be seats for me to buy, and my string of going to games each and every year will come to an end.
The new stadium does nothing for me and, truth be told, when I want to bask in the history of the game I drive the hour to Cooperstown.
22 As long as StubHub exists, you'll be able to get tickets. In re-reading your post, is that what you meant by a service?
Demand will go down at some point in time. I plan on hanging around long enough to see it happen, and buy some of those $2500 seats on something like StubHub for a fraction of that price.
Unfortunately there would never have been a 'good' time to knock down the old park, short of walls collapsing and/or steel girders giving way and injuring people. I suppose this generation of fans just has to 'suck it up', as sad as that sounds.
I also don't doubt that there might have been some level of corruption and/or scandal when building the original park. Palms have always had to be greased, beaks had to be wet, etc.
The new pricing scheme definitely sucks for the hardcore, blue-collar fan after all, we're the people who fill the seats when the team is doing poorly as well as during the good times.
When the sheen of the new park wears off and the team is in 4th place in September, are we going to see the upper deck completely full while the field boxes are all empty? I suspect not, because from the sound of the press releases thus far, the new Yankee Stadium will be less about baseball than anything else.
I would urge everyone to spend the money they'd use on tickets and travel, and just buy yourself a really nice hi-def television. It's probably going to be the best seat in the house that we can afford, that is.
But even with stub hub the demand for individual seats increases dramatically, so there may be a very few seats available at a very high price.
I am not so sure demand will go down appreciably unless the team gets really, really stinky. The entire economic model for baseball has changed. On average new parks are something like 10,000 seats smaller than the parks they replace. Teams no longer make big money on week end DHs or giveaways while playing before largely empty week day crowds. In those days walk up business was much more important and demand could change on an almost daily basis depending on performance, weather, pitching matchups, etc.
But teams have now figured out that by creating smaller stadiums, they drive up demand. This puts pressure on fans to buy tickets well in advance, whether as season ticket packages or single-game tix. The more advanced sales, the more the team is insulated against other traditional market forces. The Yankees have also done this year what other teams have been doing: marketing certain games as "premium days," again essentially forcing fans to pay more and buy earlier for the privilege of seeing specific matchups.
I get that it's business, and in many ways I do not begrudge MLB for cluing in to ways to extort more money from the paying customers. But those days that we remember as kids of walking up to the ball park and buying tix are largely gone--it will takes years for the current demand on tix to dwindle, and even then it will never go back to the way it was in the '80s because team owners won't let it. They have found a better model. If attendance drops significantly, they will simply cordon off sections and "sell out" an even smaller venue at higher prices per ticket.
It already is.
Screw the House That Greed Built.
I'll patronize the joint someday, mostly because my sons will definitely want to see it -- but I've been against it from the beginning, and my resentment (if that's the right word) keeps growing.
As I posted here a few weeks ago, my final visit to the Stadium (the last night game vs BoSox) I sat in a luxury box for the first time. I have to admit it was a special treat sitting in first class, (even though the Yanks got crushed that night, and officially lost their grip on the season) but I wouldn't have paid a dollar for the privilege, and I didn't.
One of the greatest things about the upper deck was seeing whole sections of day campers and kids on school trips wearing the same shirt, and every preteen girl in those groups doing their best Beatlemania scream when Derek Jeter went to bat.
I imagine I can kiss those daycampers goodbye.
I believe the Yankees seriously mis-forecasted demand.
As an example, the Knicks have stunk for the better part of a decade now, but their ticket prices have only increased.
I suppose so, but in the case of Macombs Dam Park, it was used 365 days a year, as opposed to the 81 (plus playoffs) that the site will be used for now.
20 In any case, Cliff's argument about the park space is unassailable. They've taken away a well-used community park, in an area that desperately needs it. So far, two years later, they've replaced it with precisely nothing. Eventually it will be technically replaced with smaller, less useful, less accessible parks - in other words, no replacement at all. And in return, the community's received...well, nothing.
One of my earliest memories of baseball is complaints about the player salaries, the resultant "softness" of the players, and the treatment of fans as second-class citizens. None of these complaints have ever fazed me, and they still don't.
I don't see much evidence that Yankee Stadium helps the neighborhood. Worse, the new Yankee Stadium will lure fans inside with (supposedly) elegant restaurants and bars. Maybe it's a source of pride for the neighborhood, but it doesn't seem to be much of an economic boon. I think Steinbrenner was able to use sentimentality to convince the Bronx executive leadership to sign up for a bad deal. They should have told Steinbrenner to jump in a lake, tear down the Stadium, and build more parks.
I wonder if the latest figure includes the cost of PILOT dollars where the Yankees don't have to pay taxes while they pay off costs of the building.
Check out Field of Schemes by Neil Demause:
I split a full season ticket package with some friends. So I go to about 10-15 games a year at a cost of $25 a game. But I think my seats will be moved further back because of the "gentle slope."
Thank you for collecting and articulating your thoughts, opinions and feelings on this. A very engaging and informative read.
For my part, I'm still in absolute denial that this is all happening.
I wonder if it might cost them a piece of their fan base.
In my experience, the team made a similar decision back when in the eighties when it moved most of its games from channel 11 to sportschannel.
I actually stopped watching baseball for several years. There were a bunch of reasons, but when I look back, I realize that it really made a difference that I could no longer actually watch the games everyday on television (we didn't have cable).
My point being that yes, most fans will never be daunted, but there are some who may simply drift away, as I did for those few years.
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