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Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 05 May 2009 12:01

Yankees Empty Seats

"Is someone watching me?" Is there a stigma
associated with sitting in the most expensive seats
at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field?

Much as been written about the high cost of attending games at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. And, for every article that has been written on the topic, there have been as many talking about how many of these expensive premium seats are sitting empty, something especially embarrassing for clubs such as the Yankees, Mets, and as seen last season, the Nationals.

Ben Goessling of the Washington Times writes of the pricing dilemma in today’s edition of the Washington Times (see On Baseball: It's a premium problem).

Goessling interviewed me for the article, and I brought up how supply has now outpaced demand due to pricing and the state of the economy in terms of these high-priced premium seats:

"If you take these prices and push up, up, up, up, eventually it has to hit a ceiling," said Maury Brown, a sports business analyst and the founder of bizofbaseball.com. "Unfortunately for baseball, that's coinciding with the recession."

It should be noted, I commented to Goessling that I was feeling optimistic that baseball would fare well in the attendance department this year. It will be lower than the previous two seasons – maybe more than that due to smaller seating capacities in the two new stadiums in New York compared to their former homes – but given the early returns, baseball has to feel pretty decent about the state of attendance across the league.

But, one thing that I have been pondering over the last few weeks has been in regards to those that are paying and sitting in these exceptionally high-priced seats. The gap between the least and most expensive seats at the ballparks has grown wider and wider to the point of a caste system coming into play. I brought the matter up to Goessling for his article:

And while the overall price increases mean the teams should still make more money than they did last year, Brown said the empty seats behind home plate hint at an unsettling trend.

"I have no empirical evidence to support this, but there may be a stigma attached [to premium seats]," Brown said. "You realize there's a bunch of people looking around. You're flaunting it to an extent. Not that long ago, box seats didn't seem unreasonable. Now the haves and the have-nots have become extremely evident. A bleacher seat is $10, and in most of these new ballparks, you're cordoned off - you can't get past the 300 level. There's a clear caste system - part of it is by design, and part of it is how things are being priced. But I can't imagine people aren't saying, 'Look at that guy down there. What's he doing [to make so much money]?' "

As I said, I have no empirical evidence to support this. Maybe a respectable sociology professor will see the comments and do a study to see if there are hard numbers to back it up. But, Goessling brings up a fact that seems irrefutable at this stage in the season, and the economy.

“It remains to be seen whether the empty seats will get filled as the weather changes. But for now, the center-field cameras will continue to show where baseball isn't connecting with fans.”


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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