On Baseball and Elitism and the Yankees and Lonn Trost

Over the past few days you may have noticed about a billion pieces on Lonn Trost’s recent comments. In fact, I wrote one, too, and you’re reading it now. The difference is I’m less concerned about Trost and his clear disdain for the — let’s call them the “non-rich” — and more concerned about what this means for baseball as a whole.

But let’s back up a second. In case you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, Lonn Trost is COO of the New York Yankees. Last week he was answering a question about the Yankees’ new ticket policy, a policy which is designed to do two things: first, force people who intended to purchase Yankees tickets by way of StubHub to use the Yankees after-market website instead, and second, make more money for the Yankees.

Of course, Trost couldn’t come out and say that. Nobody wants to hear how the New York Yankees are going to make more money off the sales of tickets they’d already sold once before. So, while attempting to justify the unjustifiable, Trost did what what most adults do. Namely, he lied. Or, if you’re being more charitable, he was disingenuous. But it wasn’t the lie (or the disingenuousness) that was particularly notable. What was notable was how Trost explained the reason for the new policy.

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 [a different] fan picks it up for a buck-and-a-half and sits there, and it frustrates the purchaser of the full amount. And quite frankly, the fan may be someone who has never sat in a premium location. So that’s a frustration to our existing fan base.

Did you catch that? Let’s cut out the fat and run it again.

And quite frankly, the fan may be someone who has never sat in a premium location. So that’s a frustration to our existing fan base.

Hello! That statement has been called elitist and vaguely racist by some and you sure won’t catch me blocking the way of anyone making such a claim. Part of the joy of sitting in a “very premium” seat at Yankee Stadium is apparently not having to sit next to a poor person, and having to do so would compromise the quality of the seat and the ticket and, wow, that’s a disgusting sentiment. It occurs to me, though, that Trost might not be the biggest problem here.

He’s sure a problem, and if I were running the Yankees he’d be dismissed. But his employment is only a symptom, right? Going back decades, Baseball — and the Yankees, specifically — have done all they can to push out the poor and bring in the rich. Which, from a purely business standpoin,t makes sense and it’s one reason I abhor the whole “it’s just business” defense. Morality shouldn’t take a back seat to business, but that’s probably a topic for another time. In any case, baseball used to be the people’s game. It may still be, but if it still is, it’s over the objections of the owners and business executives who have worked hard to push it in the other direction.

It has been said that owning a baseball team is a public trust. It’s hard to say the owners of the Yankees treat it that way, and probably impossible following Trost’s comment. It’s possible that no owner and no team treats it that way, I don’t know, but the Yankees sure don’t. You don’t even have to look particularly hard for an example because the team plays in perhaps the biggest most glaring example one could hope to find.  The New Yankee Stadium has been described as a “mall for the rich.” Or, if you’re being less charitable, a more luxurious playground for the rich and a less accessible one for anyone who isn’t rich. Heck, they even have a wall that keeps the riff raff out of the “premium seats” — as in, it literally doesn’t allow them access. Look at this image and you can clearly see the very rich stadium within the merely rich stadium.

The entire thing was a massive boondoggle. As Neil deMause at Field of Schemes put it, New Yankee Stadium “left a poor neighborhood without any parks at all for six years, […] arguably didn’t even replace all the existing parkland it displaced as required by law, and […] team execs promised would use “no public subsidies” and which ended up using more public subsidies than any stadium in U.S. history.” And after all that Trost has the gall, the sheer chutzpah, to make a statement like he did.

The thing is, baseball is becoming less and less accessible for the less well-to-do. This past weekend I decided I would take my two seven-year-old boys to Fenway Park for the first time this summer. We live in Portland, Oregon, so this is no small undertaking. We’re flying east this summer anyway, but this will require a stop in Boston, a hotel, food, and other stuff, not to mention game tickets. Ah, game tickets. So I looked up game tickets. Here’s what I found.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.02.07 AM

The cheapest ticket is $35, but that’s for a ticket with no seat attached to it. If you want to sit, it’ll cost you $42. So if I want to take my two seven-year-olds to Fenway Park and I have the gall to want a place to sit, it’s going to cost me $126 plus assorted taxes and fees. That’s a lot of money for me. That’s probably a lot of money for you, too. You know who it isn’t a lot of money for? The Boston Red Sox. Also Lonn Trost.

Of course, it should be mentioned that the Red Sox — and presumably all professional sports teams — sell tickets at what they perceive to be the highest price level the market will bear. That’s the law of supply and demand. While it’s entirely likely that the way things are now is ideal from a present profit-maximizing perspective, no sport is well off enough that they can toss aside a generation of future fans (and players), much like what football is doing with their inaction concerning concussions and CTE. Baseball isn’t being nearly that irresponsible, but a little elitism goes a long way. Elitism not just in the form of statements from tone deaf businessmen like Trost, but in the form of ticket prices and the overall accessibility of the sport, can be dangerous. There are long-term effects to short-term profit maximization.

And that’s the real tragedy of Trost’s statement. If baseball is going to thrive, let alone going to survive the coming cable bubble bursting, and the fact that American children play less and less baseball, it will need to, on a basic level, provide easier entrance to more people, and people of all types, of all genders, of all races, of all economic classes. Inclusivity is very possibly the most profitable strategy over the long term, and making tickets harder to buy is going in the wrong direction. Trost’s elitist attitude is yet another signal that the less money you have, the less interested the Yankees are in having you come to their games. And that’s a sad thing on a lot of levels.

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6 years ago

The trend in mid-century ballparks, constructed at the US peak of economic equality, was for large capacity stadiums and for upper decks close to the field (so even the nosebleed seats were relatively okay).

Today the trend is for declining capacities to drive up the demand for each ticket and extra tiers and luxury boxes to separate the corporate cash from the hoi poloi. Meanwhile the cheap seats must be moved further and further back because heavy luxury boxes mean upper decks can’t be cantilevered over the lower decks anymore. The back row of the upper deck at Cleveland Municipal Stadium was closer to the field than the front row of the upper deck at Jacobs/Progressive Field.

It’s true that baseball has become a less Democratic spectacle but that’s a symptom of our current economy where the gains of the last 30 years have gone only to the rich. Rather than filling big stadiums with moderately priced tickets, smart teams know they can make more adding perks to the most expensive seats (including obscenities like the “moat” at Yankee Stadium).

Meanwhile fans in cheaper seats have to deal with objectively unfriendly and classist policies. I attended a Yankee game last season and had to come straight from work so had a laptop in my bag. I was told you can’t bring a laptop into the stadium (fine but whatever) but that I would’ve been allowed to if my tickets were in a luxury box! The Yankees also stop serving beer in the bleachers two innings earlier than in the rest of the stadium, despite the fact the bleacher occupants are far more likely to have taken public transportation to get there than any other fans. The brass of many teams is so isolated from the actual fan experience for all but the very rich that it’s degrading in a way that makes attending a game an unpleasant experience. I’m sorry if I sound like Bernie Sanders but it sucks and we shouldn’t have to be happy about this trend.

free-range turducken
6 years ago
Reply to  mtsw

Raging capitalist pig here (I can hear the boos already).

I’m ordinarily inclined to say let the market dictate prices and let business owners do what they want. But with the club of MLB owners being exclusive, and with the anti-trust exemption and the tax breaks they get, this is just a self-perpetuating oligarchy.

Get rid of the anti-trust exemption now. Scare some of these SOBs into a sustainable posture on baseball, for the sake of baseball itself.