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The class system and the ballpark

Apr 11, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT


Emma Span of Sports on Earth looks at that business with the Twins’ aborted effort to sell tickets to batting practice and gets to, what I feel anyway, is the heart of the matter: the luxury-i-fication of Major League Baseball games:

Target Field is a beautiful new stadium, but like most of the beautiful new stadiums, it comes with much more built-in class separation than most ballparks used to have … there are more than a few additional luxury seats and suites and clubs than there used to be. Increasingly, ballgames feel like airlines: they have a clearly defined caste system. People willing to pay extra get an entirely different experience than the rest of us. And that context makes a relatively harmless offer like early BP tickets feel more ominous: just one more perk for the fans with money, one more thing they get that we don’t.  There are a lot of those moments in life, of course, and this is way, way down on the list of important ones. Still, it would be nice to get a bit of a break from all that at a ball game.

This is not just at ballparks. It’s seemingly everywhere. The ability to pay to get out of some sort of drudgery of everyday life or, alternatively, to get a taste of the good life. Front-of-the-line-passes. Elite status everything. It’s, in most respects, a logical extension of a capitalist system — if people want something, someone will provide it at some cost — but it also comes at another cost, and that of a shared civic experience.

Maybe it’s not worth the inconvenience, but there is something being lost in this country when it comes to this sort of thing. The idea that all of us, rich or poor, know what it’s like to stand on the same line for some thing. There is an equalizing aspect to it all. Sure, maybe the super rich could have a servant go mail a package or something, but most of us all used to sit in the same general sections, stand in the same lines and deal with the same experiences as anyone else. And even if there were differences — good seats always cost more than cheap seats — there wasn’t such a clear demarcation between them. The exclusivity of a given thing was not so apparent. Indeed, I think half the time now you pay that extra bit precisely for that image of exclusivity more than you pay for the enhanced good or service itself.

Now we don’t have to sit in the same areas and stand in the same lines. At least we don’t if we have the means to avoid it.  Which, quite often, is nice. But I do feel like it highlights our differences and creates divisions in ways that the old, inefficient and sometimes dreary ways never did. And even if it’s not enough to make me want to take away someone’s Platinum Elite Priority Status, it is in many ways regrettable.

  1. jarathen - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    Nicely put, Craig. It’s not that we need to tear it down as part of some sort of populist movement; it’s just a bit sad is all.

    • Ben - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:04 PM

      Why don’t we? Middle class incomes in this country are in free fall, and everyone seems just fine with it.
      Americans would rather gamble that they’ll be wealthy one day than protect their own middle class interests.
      If you have no debt, and 10 dollars in your pocket, you’re wealthier than the bottom quartile.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:09 PM

        It’s ironic, isn’t it, that income disparity has grown at the same time that people have become less satisfied with their status? There used to be a pride in not having a lot and that’s pretty much gone, I think — while more and more people have less.

      • stlouis1baseball - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        Crap. I knew my family should have created Wal-Mart. I remember as a kid we would visit family in Missouri and Wal-Marts were starting to pop up. At that time…we didn’t have any in Indiana. But alas…my family didn’t get into the retail market. Them’s the brakes kid.

      • gloccamorra - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:27 PM

        The thing is, those free-falling middle class incomes were part of the target market for those Target seats (pardon the pun). There aren’t enough high rollers to consistently fill those upscale seats, they were depending on enough of the middle class to splurge occasionally to fill the rest.

        Some ballparks will have to make adjustments, as the Padres at Petco already have. There are specials for the luxury seats, and some areas and restaurants strictly limited to the high roller seats were opened up to those in cheaper seats – those exclusive amenities weren’t getting enough business.

        Of course, the Padres have had four losing seasons in the last five, and the one good 90 win season ended badly, losing a playoff spot on the last day, and the team traded it’s best player in the off-season. The Twins aren’t in that situation.

      • badintent - Apr 11, 2013 at 7:57 PM

        You’re right, America is turning into that class sewer, England. They invented the class systems and now they’re importing it here just like they did in India.. Mayfair snobs , West girls and East End boys, all that rot.Brit Twit sucks.
        The Masters golf BS is the same crap, not just about racial issues but class too. That golf club is all about old,old southern money that was made by selling cotton to…England

  2. hojo20 - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    Good post. Kind of like the moat at Dodger Stadium where commoners aren’t allowed.

  3. indaburg - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    “First class, that’s what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal, now it’s a better life.”

    • jarathen - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:45 PM

      Jerry Maguire, of all things.

      • indaburg - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        Yep. Can’t believe that movie is almost 20 years old now.

      • Kevin Gillman - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:07 PM

        It’s a quan, that’s for sure.

  4. anthonyverna - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    It’s a business, not a shared civic experience. (I know, I know – stadia are built with public money. That bugs me just as much.)

    • Ben - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:52 PM

      But baseball used to be a civic experience (At the risk of romanticizing). I’d be curious to see a graph of baseball ticket prices in normalized dollars.

      In any case, I wonder how much if this is overstated simply because of the availability and price of tickets on the secondary market. I don’t think the premise is wrong (the luxurification) but I do know I’m spending less on tickets now than I ever have thanks to StubHub.

      • normcash - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        When I was little, reserve seats at Tiger Stadium were $2.75 and box seats were $5.
        Doesn’t sound like much, but it made all the difference to my Dad….

      • gloccamorra - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:47 PM

        When I was not so little, I saw my first game at Fenway Park in ’65, and the box seats were $4.00. The seat is still there, but it now cost $127 to sit in it. There’s no inflation adjustment that can match that increase.

    • heyblueyoustink - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      In general, I agree with what you’re getting at as far as how a private business makes their own rules as long as they are in compliance with the laws.

      That being said, Baseball, being the American Pastime, America’s game, just in my small opinion, is a game where class should be left at the turnstyle. It’s a place all breeds, races, classes of people who may disagree with eachother on all kinds of stuff, stupid, important, whatever, and get behind the home team unified. It can even be viewed, perhaps, as a great unifier of people, the baseball stadium, a place where all people can meet and agree on at least one thing.

      So in that sense, it is sad to see the owners, building designers, marketing folks, anyone involved, who don’t get that. Sad to me anyway.

      • Cris E - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:35 PM

        But there were always box seats with railings and separate vendors to keep away cheapskates like me. I think the difference now isn’t the elitism so much as the lost notion that you could conceivably afford them. $250 per seat for a regular season game is silly expensive for most folks.

  5. chacochicken - Apr 11, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    You know how long it takes a workin’ man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.

    George Bailey

    • 18thstreet - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:57 PM

      Occupy Pottersville!

  6. canyonmanterry - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I love baseball. But from where I live it,s a 4 hr drive to get to the closest stadium(Diamondbacks) and the parking then the concessions stands and then if you book your ticket online and find out it,s not where you thought it would be. Like the backstop net pole AHH! So after the game take a hour to get out of the parking lot. I,m out over $150 bucks. Great experiance but to me watching most games at home on my 42″ HD I,m happy and the local AAA team I like to go better and only $50 bucks. IT,S the GAME not the player as much. I don’t know most of them anyway.

    • adcoop22 - Apr 11, 2013 at 9:21 PM

      Wow, you are doing it wrong then. I will be at the game tomorrow with tickets for $5 in the front row of te upper deck. My wife and I will park for free (about a 5 minute walk) and be out of traffic in less than 10 minutes. We sign up to be designated drivers and get a free soda. We don’t drink, but I know the D’Backs have the cheapest drinks in the league. I think you are just looking for a reason to whine. Go ahead and stick with your AAA team in Albuquerque/Tucson and we will enjoy the experience provided by D Hall and our ball team without you.

  7. ditto65 - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    Look – get it. Life is unfair; The system is unfair. Tear it down. Remake it as it should be, as it used to be. Only, back then, owners treated players like livestock. Place the team brand on them, and use them, pay them, and trade them in a fashion that benefits the owner.

    Free agency has taken that abuse (read – ability to make gobs of money from someone else’s work). The owners must now look elsewhere for the $. The likely target is the fan(s). While they are at it they may as well generate max revenue by catering to those that have the largest amount of disposable income.

    Is it right? No. Do I like it? No. Is it better than a socialist/communist replacement, where everyone is equal and everything sucks? Hell yes.

    • snowbirdgothic - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:31 PM

      Can we ease off on the missing middle arguments for a bit, where the suggestion of any dissatisfaction with the status quo immediately gets equated with an express train to a socialist/communist/Marxist Animal Farm-alike (never mind that socialism and communism aren’t the same thing)?

      Part of the experience that sports, and that baseball in particular, sells is the notion of community – that we are all rooting for the same team and share in their triumphs and defeats, that we all have the same memories of our hometown heroes and the same hopes going forward. It may have been an illusion, but that illusion was part of the experience, the welcoming fantasy that the kid peeking through the outfield fence at Ebbets Field and the fat cat sitting behind home plate were united by their hope that their bums were better than the other guy’s bums. What’s being pointed out here is that the forcible class-based segregation at the ballpark forcibly shreds this illusion – we don’t all get the same game – and as such gnaws away at the underpinnings of what we love about the game.

  8. ditto65 - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    Look – I get it. Life is unfair; The system is unfair. Tear it down. Remake it as it should be, as it used to be. Only, back then, owners treated players like livestock. Place the team brand on them, and use them, pay them, and trade them in a fashion that benefits the owner.

    Free agency has taken that abuse (read – ability to make gobs of money from someone else’s work). The owners must now look elsewhere for the $. The likely target is the fan(s). While they are at it they may as well generate max revenue by catering to those that have the largest amount of disposable income.

    Is it right? No. Do I like it? No. Is it better than a socialist/communist replacement, where everyone is equal and everything sucks? Hell yes.

  9. thomas844 - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    This is the one thing that infuriates me when I watch a big playoff game or a World Series game.You always see the rich people wearing their suits in the front rows and tweeting to gloat to all of their friends about where they are while not really caring much about the game itself. Then you have the true, die-hard fans who are stuck watching on TV or listening to the radio because they can’t get in.

    • moogro - Apr 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      And those same people constantly getting rewarded with interstitial camera coverage that support the glamorization of the fair-weather fan.

  10. wonkypenguin - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    As a Minnesotan, I think the Twins are missing the point. Although $15 would allow you to see the Twins hitters actually, y’know, presumably hit something in batting practice (as opposed to the game), the current best marketing tool to create class separation is to offer “seats not covered in 6 inches of snow and ice” versus “regular seats.” That might be a first class experience worth paying for.

    Otherwise, and although some may accuse me of being a communist, I think it sucks that ballparks have headed this direction. At least in the past they seemed to put SOME effort into disguising the fact they were massive corporations and businesses. Alas, this is much more aligned with the American way.

  11. noozehound - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    I don’t make much money. less than 35k/yr. but this class warfare shit is getting really old. there are always going to be the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. not everyone can be a CEO, the world needs janitors too. so shut the fuck up about your liberal bullshit, and write about fucking baseball.

    • hockeyflow33 - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:24 PM

      I’m not sure that this has anything to do with politics at all. Baseball has been declining in popularity for years and I would imagine that this has a lot to do with it. I remember as a little kid, (like 20 years ago), getting to go to Fenway early and watch BP. Players would come talk to you and give you balls, batting gloves, etc. It’s great when you’re six or seven year olds to meet these guys.
      It’s a shame that kids can’t do this anymore.

    • snowbirdgothic - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      A cynic might point out that there is no more effective tactic in class warfare than to get one side to turn its own metaphorical guns against itself.

    • normcash - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:24 PM

      Typical comment from the myopic working-class right….yes, we need both CEOs AND
      janitors. What we don’t need is for the typical CEO to be paid 500 times his lowest-paid employee. In those awful, socialist Eisenhower 1950s, the ratio was 27 to 1…people like
      you who vote for Repubs who then screw you at every turn deserve exactly what you get.

      • stlouis1baseball - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:26 PM

        Valid point(s) Norm. I would counter that his post wasn’t “typical myopic working class right.”
        Rather, someone who see’s things realistically. As I have often said…it isn’t that the CEO is any more important than the Janitor. After all…things need cleaned. The shop needs to be kept orderly. Everything has it’s place. This is every bit as important as running a company.
        And I mean that sincerely. However, where the difference lies is when one is trying to hire a replacement.

      • badintent - Apr 11, 2013 at 8:02 PM

        NY School janitors get $50K a year, plus lots of benes plus nice pension. In these times,the line of people applying for those jobs is around the block.

  12. Marty - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    The best line in the post for me is that people are willing to pay for status. It is an interesting model for business. This is like table service liquor for the fan. All image and can barely be afforded. I am in my mid 30’s, but see people just 7-10 years shy of my age obsessed with these things. It’s their identity. Not surprised these franchises are cashing in.

  13. historiophiliac - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    I forget which robber-baron it was, but one of them built a house with no door knobs on the outside. Enough said.

    My brother scored company tix last year and let me tell you, that’s a great way to see a ballgame. After the game there was a fireworks display. The nice usher put up a rope so the rabble from the 4th row back couldn’t move forward and watch with us. It was hilarious. Also, the seats are wide and soft. The seats I bought for the next night were not nearly as good, but the crowd was more fun.

    • sportsdrenched - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:21 PM

      You just hit on something no one else has mentioned. Most of these “exclusive” seats are company seats used for clients/recruits/vendors/puppet- politician. Not that there aren’t private citizens that don’t pony up for them. But most of the “exclusivity” attitude by the people in these seats are: look where I get to sit, AND I didn’t pay for them.

  14. randygnyc - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    Disney world used to have a program where for $750 per person, you got the VIP treatment for the day. It meant having a host assigned to your family for the day and enabled you to bypass the lines, priority seating for park shows and dining seating without reservations. I did this on two different trips. I think they got rid of it maybe 5 or 6 years ago.

  15. onbucky96 - Apr 11, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    For the model example of this, please reference the Staples Center in Hell A.

    • asimonetti88 - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:35 PM

      The Staples Center is a great arena.

    • badintent - Apr 11, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      Yes, the A listers and the Desperate Hoes of LA are all in the front 2 rows.The guys do try to dress down a bit to prove they can slum with the masses. As for The Barbie dolls , don’t point an open flame at them, silcone ignites at a low temp and the melting ass and breast implants make a bloody mess.

  16. GoneYickitty - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    I like watching the pro game because the level of play is excellent … so I watch on the TV or internet. As far as going to a game, I would rather go to a competitive amateur game than a MLB game any day of the week. That’s a real baseball experience. I’m so tired of all the non-baseball activities to keep “fans” entertained at every major league park.

  17. APBA Guy - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    This luxurification isn’t new. Chrystia Freeland’s “Plutocrats” describes various hourglass investing strategies of major banks and funds, wherein the operating model is profit will be found in the super luxury market (ie Steven Cohen’s $ 115M Manhattan duplex) or in the bulk discount market (ie Costco, Walmart). This investment strategy was pronounced in the 1920’s and re-emerged after the boom.

    Baseball is just following this approach. Luxury boxes for the few and the corporate, and $ 2 Tuesday for the rest of us.

    The in-between keeps getting squeezed with higher prices for fewer available seats.

    Except in Houston and Miami. For now.

  18. rcali - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:15 PM

    The problem in all things is that we are getting much less for our money then we used to, including smaller seats whether it’s on planes or in sports facilities. That bugs me. If you want to create a bigger seat for someone that wants to pay for it, please don’t downsize mine to make up for it.

  19. The Dangerous Mabry - Apr 11, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Is this better or worse than a sport like hockey, basketball, or football, where the base price of admission is so high that your “lower class” doesn’t even make it in the stadium?

    To use a single city’s teams:

    Rangers game? Cheapest seat is $70.
    Knicks game? Cheapest seat is $70.
    Giants game? Cheapest seat is something like $110, but you can only get them on the inflated secondary market.
    Mets game? Cheapest seat is $10-15, depending on the game.

    Mets aren’t a fair comparison, you say? Ok.

    Yankees game? Cheapest seats are still $15.

    I’m not saying it’s perfect. But for any of the other “major sports”, you can’t even get into a game for the cost of a good seat in most ballparks. If that means the best seats need to be super expensive to subsidize the cheap seats, I’m all for it.

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:29 PM

      On point Mabry. I will add that I typically pay no more than $35.00 and sit anywhere I want in Cincinnati. I am talking down loooooow. 1st and/or 3rd base lines. Do it several times a year when the Cardinals are in town.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 11, 2013 at 8:30 PM

        What the heck? I can’t sit anywhere on the lower level at Arlington for that little money.

  20. davidpom50 - Apr 11, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    Another point worth mentioning: The prices being paid for those luxury seats are improving the experience for EVERYBODY in the stadium. For example, I attended my first game at Dodger Stadium last week: The new, giant mega-HD video boards were incredible. The extra room in each concourse, where seats were removed, was really nice – and by removing those seats, you can actually see the game while strolling the concourse. NO MORE PISS TROUGHS!! I hear that the cell signals are being drastically improved by May, and there will be WiFi at about the same time. All that stuff is expensive (especially the video boards – I read the team spend $15 million just on the equipment to control them), and it ain’t happening if everyone pays something closer to the $6 it costs to sit top deck or in the right field pavilion. For the record, I paid $45 on the secondary market for tickets about 6 rows off the grass, just past the infield.

  21. surefooted1 - Apr 11, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    You know why NYS is called a money printing press, yet still can offer $15 seats? Because they also have seats that cost $1k+.

    This concept isn’t just limited to baseball. Things are always subsidized by clients who are willing to pay more. Think an airline can get buy on $150 fares if everyone paid that? No, they depend on the FC and FT flier who are paying far more for than seat than the average Joe.

  22. ytownjoe - Apr 11, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    When Municipal stadium was replaced with Jacobs Field, I bought an upper deck ticket and was shocked to discover that I was further away from the field than I would have been at the old ballpark.
    Why? Because Mr. Jacobs had three stories of glass boxes built along the third base line so the ruling class could better enjoy the game.
    Now the place is called Progressive Field and the glass boxes are mostly empty. Good seats cost $70 and fans know that you cannot see the game from upstairs.
    Attendance is dwindling to an all time low and it ain’t just because the team is losing.

  23. millmannj - Apr 11, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    I love how the article is about Target Field yet the picture is from Yankee Stadium, the ultimate Have/Have Not ballpark.

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