Yankee Stadium and What’s Wrong with America

12:53 Fri 09 Oct 2009
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The new Yankee Stadium opened this year, and with it came a rather large increase in ticket prices. The most outrageously-priced seats are in the “Legends Suite”, and they go from about $500 to about $2500 each.

Reporter Wright Thompson got an assignment to write about what having one of those seats is like, and his article “Seats of Gold” is excellent. Included in it is a damning critique of Wall Street, because the corrupt culture of brokers inducing traders to buy things includes lavishing them with all kinds of entertainment, including prime Yankees tickets:

In exchange for tickets, the trader orders whatever the broker is selling. Everybody wins. The broker gets his sale. The trader gets his seat behind the dugout. Well, almost everybody. You, I’m afraid, get screwed with your pants on. Wall Street was not only trifling with our financial future but also driving up ticket prices.

—Wright Thompson. “Seats of Gold”. ESPN, 5 Oct 2009.

Expensive tickets to sporting events are hardly a great tragedy, right? Particularly in comparison with the other problems this country has, and clearly the other effects of Wall Street corruption are more significant… but nevertheless, it’s culturally quite important that this is happening to baseball. Sport is extremely important in the American psyche, particularly the Big Three of football, baseball, and basketball. The tension between the sports teams as community foci and sports teams as capitalist engines has always been present, but is now perhaps reaching the point where it’s unsustainable.

The “Legends Suite” is separated from the rest of the seating by what’s been dubbed “the Moat”, to make sure that the high-rollers aren’t forced to mingle with the hoi polloi. But as Wright points out, it’s rather unlikely that anyone actually poor, or even not quite well-off, is in the stadium at all, and so “the Moat” is a barrier between the well-off and the ultra-rich:

The reason sporting events cost so much now, Luker’s research shows, is because they are designed to be affordable only to those making $150,000 or more a year.

This wasn’t always true. Ten years ago, it was cheaper to go to a baseball game than to a movie in half of the big league markets (take away parking at the game, and it was cheaper in every market). Today, there isn’t a single city in America where it costs less to go to a major league game than to a movie.

—Wright Thompson. “Seats of Gold”. ESPN, 5 Oct 2009.

Also mentioned in this article about Yankee Stadium is a survey that purportedly shows that American households earning $75,000 or less per year have zero dollars of discretionary income. Clearly this is important for reasons far beyond the implication that these households can never go to sports events without it being a significant splurge, but that does underscore the fact that major live professional sports events in the US are now beyond the reach of a significant majority of the population (the article estimates 75% of Americans can’t really afford them).

The article discusses the future implications for sports, also noting that this decade, for the first time, the largest demographic block of sports fans is not boys between the ages of 12 and 17. The larger significance, however, is the extension of grotesque economic inequality and exclusion into yet another major arena of American life, one that in the past was strongly associated with working-class culture.

Note that the Yankees organization are merely the most egregious offenders here; all of the ball clubs are operating on more or less the same principles. As such, it’s almost inevitable that they would shift their own practices to reflect an economy in which wealth is more and more concentrated. What’s happening with baseball is the result of this concentration, and it’s hard to see any sphere of American life being resistant to the same pressures in the long term.

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