Major League Baseball's 2009 season has officially begun, and for fans across the country that usually means it is time to grab some hot dogs, a cold beer and head out to the ballpark. This year, there will still be hot dogs and beer, but will the same number of fans be expending the extra cash to go watch their favorite team during the summer heat or will they resort to enjoying their comfort food lounging on a recliner in their living room?
Looking at the average number of ticket sales the MLB sold during spring training could be one indicator of how the economic recession will hit the league this season. Fan attendance was down, on average, 7.7 percent per game.
During the first two weeks of the regular season, average attendance at many ballparks across the nation was down 7 percent from last year. Before the season's official start, the MLB expected an approximate 7 percent dip in overall ticket sales for the season.
Ticket sales are just one area in which the MLB will take a hit this season. Corporate sponsorship, payroll and other areas will also be indicators of how resilient, or not, baseball will be to the global recession.
The fear of discretionary spending that has already hit consumers hard this year will undoubtedly have some effect on the monetary success of the MLB this season. But the real unanswered question is, to what extent?
If you're sitting in some of these club houses' big offices, it may be too early during the season to panic about the decrease in game attendance, but I am sure some general managers are nervous about whether things are going be worse than expected.
Two-thirds of the 30 major league teams decided to lower the average cost of some seat levels, according to the MLB. Other teams will provide deals on same-day ticket purchases, and other promotions, so fans can save a buck. The San Francisco Giants decided to be trailblazers this season by being the first to implement a "dynamic pricing" model. With this new ticket-pricing model, the Giants' ticket prices will be adjusted up until game day based on market demand.
"Given the economic challenges faced by everyone, we have taken a number of steps to respond to the needs of our fans, particularly our season ticketholders," said Larry Baer, Giants president and chief operating officer. "We want to ensure that baseball remains accessible to everyone even during tough economic times."
Let's not forget about the brand new and very expensive Citi Field and Yankee Stadium that had their opening premieres earlier this week. These stadiums, which cost a combined $2.3 billion, are glitzy and state-of-the-art, but there are many disgruntled fans who believe the face value of going to a Mets or Yankees game is a bit absurd.
Yankees' fans will spend anywhere from $5 to $2,625 for tickets. Remember, those low-end seats are for obstructed-view bleacher seats. The Mets appear a bit more reasonable with a ticket prices ranging from $11 to $695. The higher-end prices are for opening day and the Yankees series.
In addition, last week the Mets came out with news that they would be increasing the number of games with higher, "platinum" status ticket prices. Mets tickets are priced by tier - Bronze games are for games against weaker teams and they move up to the most expensive platinum tier. Not only will Mets tickets cost an average 8.6 percent more than last season, but two-thirds of the team's 81 home games are now considered silver, gold and platinum. The number of bronze games dropped from 43 last year to 28 this season.
Many New York fans have become disgruntled and cannot afford attending games in one of the stadiums for which their tax dollars helped pay. Of course, the New York teams were not anticipating a financial crisis when they planned to build these stadiums, but it would make sense for the Mets and Yankees to find affordable ways for their loyal fans to come see their teams play.
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This displeasure and lack of discretionary spending in New York was evident during the opening nights at each of the new stadiums. Citi Field was about 991 short of full capacity while Yankee Stadium could have held another 3,500 fans. The Yankees boasted a sellout based on giveaways and actual sales, but there were many empty seats come game day.
Two weeks ago, the league launched the Commissioner's Fan Initiative, which was created to inform fans about various ticket promotions for any of the 30 clubs. Another new "perk" this season will be the Fan Value Corner, giving fans even more information about ticket promotions.
Even though some of the big dogs, such as MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB President Bob DuPuy, came out a couple weeks ago with very optimistic statements about the this season's attendance, these big efforts to pump up promotions gives the impression that some people are hedging their bets and assuming things will be tighter this year.
Contact assistant sports editor Jessie Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org
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