Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Stuck in Park

Remember a few months ago when an announcement by the Red Sox to move the rest of its televised games – which it owns, by the way – to NESN threw The CHB into conniptions? He called the move “elitist, classist, and probably greedy, too. The Sox are putting all their games on NESN because it means more money for the organization." (He then never raised the subject again, of course, adding fuel to the belief that he didn’t really care about the fans so much as he wanted to stir things up.)

That’s instructive, because today he says Fenway has never looked better.

That may be so. But Shaughnessy downplays the biggest issue for fans – the expense of attending games. He tries to write that off, arguing that “the Sox have more demand than supply and they're trying to compete with a team that doesn't blush at a $200 million player payroll.”

Let’s get this straight: The team drains money into an ancient, uncomfortable venue and Dan finds the results “spectacular.” The Sox decide to use an outlet they own in order to raise revenues and they are “greedy.”

Oh, yeah. Near the end – the third to last paragraph to be exact – he lays out the park’s warts: obstructed views, narrow seats, seats that face the wrong way, lack of parking, and yes, the cost. (Given how he minimizes that latter element, he might as well have left it out altogether.)

All of which misses the point. Fenway Park has been selling out for years, even before all the modifications. All the while, it's the fan experience that continues to be compromised. On the issue of cost, I don’t personally hold the owners accountable so much as I do the scalpers (and the city, which looks the other way). But that fact remains that in some towns – Baltimore, for one – scalping laws are enforced to the hilt – and face value means face value. To enter Fenway even for the least desirable games of the season means ponying up five or more times the face value of the ticket – none of which goes to the team. That's the situation that deserves a column. Heck, it deserves a series.

Dan has proclaimed the beauty of the new parks in San Francisco, Baltimore, San Diego, demonstrating that even the black hole that makes up the space between his ears can spit out the notion that starting over is often better than a new tube of lipstick. He even spends a good chunk of today's column lauding the work of the Larry Lucchino-led team that has had such an impact on the face of baseball around the country (he calls architect Janet Marie Smith "the godmother of modern baseball stadiums"). Yet he continues to wax nostalgic about a place that has truly outlived its usefulness. Why? Because he doesn’t feel the effects. Even as he cracks wise about blowing up the press box, he ignores the uncomfortable hypocrisy: those seats are 1) better than almost any other within the not-so-Friendly Confines and 2) free.

Boston needs a new park. If not now, when? If anything, "greedy" defines owners who refuse to build an appropriate venue without it being underwritten by the tax base.

Theo watch: “Larry Lucchino, a pinata for nitwit nation, isn't likely to get many bouquets from Sox fans who still blame him for the weird (and temporary) departure of general manager Theo Epstein ….” No Dan, we blame you.

About that $200 million payroll ...: The past five World Series winners, in reverse chronological order: White Sox, Red Sox, Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks. Is it possible that maybe all the obsessing over the Yankees' payroll is just a bit overblown?


jenny said...

Violating pretty much all my moral principles, I'm going to have to mostly agree with CHB here. Fenway does look much nicer, and I applaud the owners for actually making it a halfway decent place to attend a game. It's so much cleaner than it once was, more family-friendly, and they're doing a lot to make the best of what they have. The Green Monster seats, for example, were ingenious. I won't condemn them for not wanting to build a new ballpark unless it's underwritten by the taxpayers (disclosure: I don't live in the area, so I wouldn't be paying for it, haha). Very few teams do that. Real estate and construction costs in Boston are ridiculous, and weren't they having trouble even getting good land in the first place? It's hypocritical for fans to bitch about the Fenway experience and then also bitch about shelling out for a new park. If you don't like it and aren't willing to help fix it, tough. It works okay the way it is. For a fan base that's supposedly so rabid, you'd think that they'd be happy to help, it would be more useful than watching the DOT dig random holes in the ground, but either they're not willing to put their money where their mouths are or not as many people want a new ballpark as one might think. The Red Sox bring a ton of money into the Boston economy, so I don't think their requests are so unreasonable.

I really can't figure out Dan and Larry, though. Yeah, a lot of people blame Larry for Theo leaving. Just as many blame Dan, I'd think, including me. No one is ever going to convince me that his column had nothing to do with it, just because Theo changed his mind way, way too quickly and suddenly. Of course, Dan wouldn't blame himself, and would cite evidence that Theo didn't blame him as proof, while conveniently ignoring the fact that Theo just wouldn't do that publicly, even if he did blame him. But where's the blame for John Henry, Dan, for sitting around on his ass and doing nothing until it was too late? It disgusts me to see that Dan is going with the flow of simple-minded fans who think Lucchino=devil and that's all that matters. Pandering to the riff-raff. Blech.

The Chief said...

jenny, you make some very good points. I would agree that Fenway is nicer today than it was five years ago, or even three years ago. But here's the thing: what difference does it make if only a relative handful of people can afford to go? And that's a new problem: I paid $20 on the street in May of 1998 or 99 for a Pedro vs. David Cone matchup at Fenway. Today I would have to pay $160 or more for that same ticket (good luck getting them through the box office). That's a byproduct of a stadium that's simply too small. It is now cheaper for me to fly to Baltimore to see a Red Sox game.

As for who should pay for a new park, there's a longstanding argument among economists as to the real impact of a sports team on a local economy.

After manuevering for years for a taxpayer-paid venue, the Patriots privately financed their new stadium a few years ago and it has paid off immensely. But that's just one example. I have a problem giving money to rich guys in order to 1) make them richer and 2) when we don't do the same with all other businesses. But I digress.

As for Larry and Dan, I suspect that Larry probably has closed off the leakline (or tightened it to a relative trickle) and that has The CHB up in arms. So this is payback, Dan's specialty.

Chris said...

I think this largely misses the point that the Red Sox have no intensions of building a new park. There have been public statements made that the next venture to Fenway will be to redesign the seats in bowl, most likely taking more than one off season. There would eventually be less seats, but with seats elsewhere, the total would still be around 38,000. The owners have said that is their ceiling, because any more would ruin the intimacy of the park.

As for ticket prices, nobody has ever forced a consumer to purchase scalped tickets, or tickets at any number of the ticket resale venues. This is not a product of the Red Sox, but of the state laws that allow these outlets such as Ticket One to operate. It isn't just the Sox that get taken on this, but every concert and sporting event in the area.

The Chief said...

When discussing Fenway, wou can't use "center field bleachers" and "intimate" in the same sentence.

The thing is, the park is small in capacity, but not intimate, not in the way that Wrigely is (which has much better sightlines, I should add). And if you've been to Camden, Turner Field, etc. you know that the park can be designed that fits 45,000 fans while also retains the small-park feel.

(Also, I did not find PacBell/SBC to have that same feel.)

dbvader said...

I got to disagree with you on some of these points.
I understand your frustration with ticket prices. Since the middle of 2003, it has been impossible to get tickets. I have given up. The bandwagon fans have taken over the stadium. And all the new spaces the team has created are high-end.
The increase in prices is more to do with demand, though. The seats the Red Sox have created are very close to the field and/or are high value (Bud Seats, Monster Seats). There are no areas in Fenway in which you can place a few thousand extra seats. With limited area, the Sox need to maximize the value. Maybe they will place grandstand seating at the overflow pressboxes from the 99 All-Star game.

The Red Sox may replace the bowl, which will fix some of the problems you site and, along with other changes, will put Fenway close to 40,000, which is close to Wrigley and the new DC park.

With the additional seats added to the roof, which has been raised by about 10 feet, Fenway's capacity has increased from 36,298 to 38,805. By the park's 100th birthday in 2012, capacity could be up to 39,968.
By then, the lower bowl could be overhauled. Smith estimates 10,000-12,000 seats in the grandstand don't meet industry standards. Those are the narrow, wooden seats, some of which are pointed toward the outfield.

Regardless, a new park in Fenway was a non-starter. The Sox needed the government to take a huge amount of land, which was not going to happen. Also, the new Fenway was not going to be intimate.
New parks depend on a low sloping first level, single or double luxury boxes with a lounge level, and a stratospheric upper deck.
I have been in the cheap seats for the new Commiskey and Camden Yards. The last 5-10,000 seats of the modern ballparks are terrible. I remember a shot from the last row of the right field bleachers in Jacobs Field. You might have as well been in Newton if you were at Fenway.

Camden Yards is only intimate for the first 30-35,000 fans. Get up into the upper deck and forget it. Fenway is expensive because the team is doing very well, and the seats are much closer than any ballpark, except for Wrigley.

The Chief said...

Thanks for the comments, db. I know the "new" Comiskey layout well, having lived in Chicago and attended more than two dozen games there in the late 90s. That park, which was the first or second, I believe, of the "new" parks, is horrid. The slope is exceedingly steep; those who sit in the upper deck had better bring Dramamine and plenty of tissue for the inevitable bloody noses. However, they did do one thing right: the grandstands are oriented toward the playing field.

Camden is wonderful for several reasons. The best part: It's a 45,000 seat venue where the cheapest seats are under $10 -- and available on game day. The Red Sox have to consider that with a larger venue would come increased revenues (to make the math simple: 7000 more seats X $10/per X 81 games = $5.67 million. Then add in concessions etc and the revenue gain is exponential). The fact that the value of the team grows every year must be factored in as well, as that can be (and is) leveraged for funds as needed.

Going back to Camden, owner/uber lawyer Peter Angelos has ensured that scalping is a criminal offense in Baltimore. In the contrary, nothing is done about that here, which pushes up the price for fans everywhere -- none of which goes into the team's pockets. If anything, the team should issue seat licenses and raise prices of single game tickets sixfold, because realistically that's what's being paid for those seats due to scalpers eating up huge blocks of tickets and thus creating (in my opinion) a false market. After all, Fenway was more or less selling out in all the Duquette years and street prices weren't like this.

I disagree with those who feel it takes an act of Menino and God, in that order, to build a new park in Boston. Frank McCourt, now the Dodgers owner, has/had a massive parcel of undeveloped land near the water that was a major part of his pitch to buy the Sox in 2001; the plans I saw would have been ample to accommodate a . (That land is now on the market.)

Moreover, I firmly disagree with the CHB that in order to contend the Sox need to keep pace with the Yankees prolifigate spending. It can't be done: New York takes in $100 million more in revenues than any other team; even at a $200 million payroll, they have head room. I would argue that the Angels, A's, White Sox, Twins, etc. have shown that AL teams can field teams that are competitive year in, year out, without topping $100 million in payroll. (We could probably add the Indians to that mix now, as they look like they are built for the long haul.) I love (love!) Ortiz, but there's no reason the Sox need to commit $50 million or so to him during what are sure to be his declining years when there's cheaper guys like Adam Dunn available who are just reching their prime.

Finally, the bleacher seats in Fenway suck. They are too far away from the field, and those in CF might as well be on the other side of the Pike. Wrigley has a larger capacity yet fans need not bring a telescope to the game just to see the players. That, plus at Wrigley the fans can see the entire playing field from anywhere inside the seating area (which you can't do at Fenway). If building my own park, I would start with the footprint of Wrigley, then add some seating a la the Monster seats to bring the capacity up to 43,000-44,000.

Sorry for the long post. But we have to face the fact that Fenway won't last forever, and if the discussion over "what's next" is inevitable, if should be taking place now. Land and construction won't be any cheaper in 10 years.

jenny said...

But the problem with the bleacher seats is that if you move them to make them more comfortable, you lose seating. No one in their right mind should expect this ownership to reduce the seating capacity of their park. It's small enough already, and it would cost them plenty in revenues, PLUS it would cost to move the seats. Why would you shell out money to make less profit? That goes against every principle of economics.

As far as the economic studies on the impact of sports teams on a town economy, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Boston baseball is an outlier on pretty much every other scale in terms of intensity, media, extraneous factors, etc. so it's not unreasonable to think that whatever conclusions the economists drew might not hold true for the Red Sox. Their demand and fanbase are ridiculous. The reason they charge so much is, simply, because they can. Quantity demanded is far greater than quantity supplied, so in order to make up for the shortage, you charge more and more until finally you reach equilibrium and demand flattens out. It hasn't happened yet, which means that they can keep jacking up prices.

Camden Yards really is a gorgeous park (I live between DC and Baltimore), one of the best in baseball. I can't attest to the problems with the upper deck because I don't go to games if I can't get good seats, but the experience there is usually better than Fenway. It is interesting to note, also, that Larry Lucchino and Janet Marie Smith were with the team when that park was built. Maybe we'll see Camden Redux at some point in the future.

As far as Larry and Dan go, I don't think it was so much Lucchino plugging the leaks as John Henry and whichever minority owners were pissed off plugging the leaks and stepping on him on behalf of Theo. The effect is basically the same, I guess.

The Couch Potato said...

I go back and forth on the new stadium issue. On the one hand, Fenway is really the grande dame of ballfields. It's tied into so much of baseball's history that it would be a shame to lose it altogether. On the other hand, I don't go to games anymore because of the overall expense (tickets, parking, refreshments), the long lines everywhere and because I can't comfortably get in and out of the seats without dislocating my hips. Unfortunately, the reality is that petty Boston politics will continue to get in the way of a deal being made. Remember, the Pats went from 'Boston' to 'New England' because the Sullivans had to move the team to Foxboro in order to build an NFL-sized stadium. Several ownerships later, Robert Kraft was compelled to build Gillette because Foxboro Stadium was literally falling apart and he could not get either land or funding to bring the team back into Boston. (Remember the hoo-ha about the South Boston proposal?) I foresee the same scenario should Sox ownership decide to pursue building a new park. As for the new 'old' parks - I've only seen Camden from the outside but it is a gorgeous venue. I have to disagree with the comments about Jacobs Field, however. I've attended a number of games there and even being up in the nosebleed section, I really enjoyed the experience. It was comfortable, clean, and user-friendly. As for CHB, he will continue to do as he has done, which is speak out of both sides of his mouth on any issue. I caught the tasteless and transparent comment about Theo and 'nitwit nation' when I read his column today. Let it go, Dan. Now you're really looking like a suck-up sore loser.

The Chief said...

I haven't been in Jacobs Field (though it looked nice at 85 mph outside from I-90). I have sat in the last row of the left field bleachers in Arlington, which seats 49,000, and it was better than any bleacher seat in Fenway.

Something else to consider is the ability of the park to cater to the youngest of fans. In Arlington, kids are allowed to play in the grassy knoll (sorry) of the CF stands. At Turner Field in Atlanta, there is a large (and free) game room. At PacBell, behind the left field stands is a replica ball field where kids (and a few adults) play whiffle ball. And of course Camden has a veritable bar scene inside the park, just behind the outfield stands).

jenny, you could be right about Boston being an outlier. I think, though, that we need to keep in mind that the New York metro area is conservatively 20 times larger than Boston (and at least 3.5 times larger, once the suburbs are thrown in). And the Yankees sell out a 58,000 seat stadium. Amid the maelstorm that is Boston it's hard to believe that things could be any worse elsewhere, yet the intensity, media, demand etc. of New York probably is.