The first time I walked into the previous Yankee Stadium was in the spring of 1996. An eighth grader at the time, it was an afternoon game, a surprising class trip chaperoned by our wonderful homeroom/math teacher. Committing what the adult Scribe considers an egregious violation — wearing a Chicago White Sox Columbia windbreaker when the White Sox weren't even in the building — there was great excitement about going to a baseball game in my home borough, though I really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the Yanks at the time.
The bleacher seats plus lunch cost around $30 in total, if memory serves correctly. I can't remember who won or lost, but a bunch of black and Latino kids from the opposite side of The Bronx had a ball. For most of us, it was the first time we had gone inside the "Cathedral of the Game" despite being located a 20-minute drive or an hour train and bus ride from home.
Fast-forward 15 years and now a 12-minute walk from my Harlem home to the first time I stepped foot inside the new Yankee Stadium. A friend and former colleague had scooped up a few tickets to see the two-year-old bandbox where home runs were being smashed at a record pace by both the Yankees themselves and every one of their opponents. The Yanks were hosting the Baltimore Orioles, who at that time were still mired in frustrating mediocrity, and we scored four tickets in the 12th row behind home plate (just a Cracker Jack kernel's toss from the infamous Legends Seats). As we're staring squarely at CC Sabathia on the mound and being distracted by the ridiculously huge batter's eye Jumbotron in the outfield, something was burning a hole in my pocket. It was the physical ticket itself that kept calling my attention.
A mid-May, Monday evening home game against a perennial disappointment had the face value of $300. And it wasn't sold for a single penny. Rather, it was given away by a friend of a friend who knew people in high places. Wealthy fans and well-heeled executives from moneyed urban neighborhoods and suburban towns had no interest in watching Baltimore's Mark Reynolds strike out again and again.
When Yankees COO Lonn Trost commented on the team's controversial new ticketing policy last week that the Yankees will no longer accept print-at-home tickets, he spoke about something deeper than potential scalping of counterfeit physical tickets to gain access to baseball's most expensive grounds. In the eternal war over the price of being a sports fan, Trost clearly states who should have and who should have not.
From WFAN New York via Newsday:
Trost told WFAN, “The problem below market at a certain point is that if you buy a ticket in a very premium location and pay a substantial amount of money. It’s not that we don’t want that fan to sell it, but that fan is sitting there having paid a substantial amount of money for their ticket and [another] fan picks it up for a buck-and-a-half and sits there, and it frustrates the purchaser of the full amount.”
Trost then added a comment that raised eyebrows on social media because of its seemingly elitist undertones. “And quite frankly,” he said, “the fan may be someone who has never sat in a premium location. So that’s a frustration to our existing fan base.”
Predictably and rightfully, Trost has been called out for such recklessness. As someone who has sat in both those premium locations and among the "dirty masses" in the new stadium's upper deck, what he said was as ironic as it was elitist when considering that these are the Bronx Bombers we're talking about here.
The Bronx is the poorest county in New York State based on median income, poverty rate and unemployment levels. (The boroughs of New York City are technically five separate counties within the state.) Certainly there are many counties in the western part of the Empire State that may arguably be worse off than the birthplace of rap and hip-hop. Yet while a median income a shade above $34,000 seems like the good life compared to some other hardscrabble places throughout the nation, the contrast of the borough's working and lower class struggles with the opulence of the team is a snapshot of the social stratification that defines the NYC metropolitan area.
That The Bronx isn't the economic engine it could be mattered a great deal when it came to building the new stadium in the mid-2000s. After George Steinbrenner battled the city and state for years to get a new stadium, the taxpayer-funded ballpark came to life not only because the Yankees took over park land across from The House That Ruth Built, but because it's far easier to take over land used by poor folks. Think of the new Yankee Stadium as a $1.5 billion Tiffany-styled behemoth planted squarely in a bodega neighborhood.
That "comped" ticket, as the one shown earlier, wasn't for witnessing the recent Yankees dynasty, Mariano Rivera's last save, Derek Jeter's last hit in pinstripes or even a Red Sox-Yankees game when the rivalry was actually worth a damn. It was for the privilege of basically helping the taxpayer-funded stadium look good on TV as the team has continually struggled to fill those seats with paying customers. It takes lot of varied giveaways, whether through the existing season ticket holders, business partners or friends in the media industry, to give the allusion that if the wealthy and rich are there, maybe you should be, too.
But when people who can afford to sit that close to the field are saying that tickets cost too much — especially for a team that won't be winning a World Series anytime soon — there's a problem. Those field-level seats are the reason why many longtime Yankees fans who were season ticket holders in the old stadium purchased seats elsewhere or went for partial season deals if they came back at all. In turn, that shift pushed fans in other sections to less expensive seats or out of the stadium entirely.
Of course, the Yankees as well as pretty much every team in pro sports with empty seats pointing toward the heart of the action could solve this entire ordeal with a swift, smart and simple solution: slash the prices of field-level tickets. Unlike trickle-down economics, this would actually work. Lower prices behind the dugouts and home plate encourage fans on the periphery to spend a few dollars more. Essentially, everyone moves inward and/or lower, opening up less expensive sections of the stadium that still get filled because of the sheer size of the fan base. And you know who can benefit from that? The kind of people whose money the Yanks will gladly still take because it's still as green as anyone else's.
You know, the riff-raff who are scaring the patrons in the premium location.
When the new stadium was being built, Trost once said that he has a responsibility to both the Steinbrenner family and the fans when it came to creating the best experience for all.
"People say it's my baby. But it's not my stadium. It's everybody's," he said in 2008. "I have to do what's right. I'll be criticized for some things, lauded for others. Hopefully, we won't make too many mistakes, because we will make mistakes."
Yet, his elitist comments last week highlighted two glaring missteps. One was assuming that being the New York Yankees were enough reason to keep the wealthy, let alone the not-so-wealthy, coming back game after game. The other was blaming everyone else but himself and his colleagues for poor pricing decisions that led to this controversy in the first place.
So the next time a promo for a nationally televised Yankees game says "when (opponents) come to The Bronx," let that marinate for a moment. No other team in Major League Baseball gets that sort of billing when it comes to where it actually plays. It implies grit and toughness unlike any other ballpark despite the fact that a vast majority of the team's staff and many fans still wouldn't come to The Bronx for any other reason. The Yankee aura — manicured by people like Lonn Trost — co-opts the grit and grind of its not-so-premium location but doesn't truly adopt its people or those of similar surroundings. And if Trost had his way, the aura never will.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.