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February 24, 2009

Bronx Bummer

The Yankees Stick It to Their Ticketholders

by Jay Jaffe

Eleven years ago, I banded together with four of my friends and bought a Yankees partial season-ticket package which gave us a pair of tickets to 15 games of our choice. We were instantly rewarded with the opportunity to frequent a once-in-a-generation ballclub, the 1998 Yankees. Expanding our plan to three seats the following year, we were fortunate enough to attend the World Series clincher, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the vast majority of baseball fans never get to experience first-hand.

With an introduction like that, we were hooked. Our ticket package eventually ballooned to 26 games, the cost per ticket tripled, and friends came and went, but we never had a problem assembling a posse willing to spend their hard-earned cash to fill those seats. We witnessed some amazing baseball, even as Yankee Stadium itself devolved into a less hospitable environment thanks to the increasingly heavy-handed security in the years following 9/11.

Sadly, the days of our ticket group appear to be at an end, with our worst fears about the transition to the new Yankee Stadium not only realized, but surpassed beyond our wildest diminished expectations. Not only was our 26-game flex plan phased out in favor of a 20-game "inflexibility plan" with the choice of dates restricted to an every-fourth-home-game cycle, but the $60 Tier Box seats we had enjoyed for so long were recessed about 30 feet further from the field of play, and the overall capacity for the ballpark decreased from 56,936 to 52,325. When the time came to order our 2009 seats, those facts-spelled out for us in a forebodingly titled relocation program that conjured up images of Stalin sending peasants to Siberian gulags-coupled with a concern for finances due to the growing family obligations of group members, led us to choose the $25 Grandstand seats between the bases instead of the $65 or $75 Terrace seats which would have provided the closest equivalent to our former experience.

As the mere existence of the relocation program suggested, we knew that others would share our plight. A considerable portion of the moderately priced seats that were popular among partial-plan holders at the old stadium are now luxury seats which are priced from $150 to $350. Taking into account the decreased capacity to accommodate a fan base which had set a franchise attendance record with 4,298,655 patrons last year (the third straight year they had drawn four million fans), it was apparent that someone was going to get squeezed.

Nonetheless, we eagerly awaited word on our new tickets, or even an official communication telling us when we might expect to hear about them. All to no avail, until the point last Thursday when we read a clumsy, un-spellchecked memo from the ticket office that Yankee beat reporter Pete Abraham posted on his blog at LoHud.com:

Good Morning, Do [sic] to the overwhelming demand for season tickets, all plans were distributed subject to availability. In the event that the partial plan you requested was not available, you were assigned an alternative plan (subject to availability). From here you have the option to either accept or decline, if you decline (if the plan does not meet your needs or budget) you can go into your my Yankees account (under personal preferences) and mark down that you wish to decline and/ or enter the pool process for your preferred plan, At this point you cannot change your seats or plans unless your [sic] interested in the $350 seats. If you accept then the full payment will be due on Feb 27th which you can pay online or by calling (718) xxx-xxxx. Because of the demand for all season tickets, we stronly [sic] suggest that ticket Licensees accept their initial seat assignments. The demand for many plans will definetely [sic] exceed the available seats locations and if you decline your assignment there may not be any availability in the alternative seat location and/ or plan that you request. If you have any questions or concerns I would suggest to call (718) xxx-xxxx and we can try to assist you. Sincerely, New York Yankees Ticket Operations Yankee Stadium 161st Street & River Avenue Bronx, NY 10451

Say it ain't so, Joe! Prompted by this ominous and pricelessly incompetent memo, still lacking any official communiqué, and unable to get through on the provided number (callers aren't even put on hold and are instead told via recorded message to call back later before being unceremoniously disconnected), we logged into our account to discover the damage. Instead of being offered our $25 seats, or even anything between the bases, we had been assigned $85 seats in section 107

... right behind the right-field foul pole. Obstructed view, at more than triple the price of what we were prepared to spend. Are you kidding me? No, really, ARE YOU &*^%$#@ KIDDING ME?

Without even discussing the desirability of the particular seats which, to put it politely, are about as far as you can get from the type of ballpark experience that I typically pursue, that kind of monetary outlay is an impossibility for our group, leaving us no choice but to decline the seats, which subjects us to this charming little policy (emphasis in original):

If You Wish to Decline: If you wish to decline your assigned seat location, because you prefer an alternative seat location for the same type of Plan or wish to select an alternative 2009 Plan, you must decline your assignment online by accessing your "My Yankees Account" at www.yankees.com, selecting the "Account Settings" banner and clicking on "Personal Preferences." If you decline your assignment in this manner, we will place you in a Plan pool in accordance with your preferences. Please remember that: (a) all Plan pool participants will be ranked according to seniority when and if participants are being considered for alternative seat locations; and (b) all requests are subject to the inventory that is available at the time each request is fulfilled. If you decline your assignment, the assigned seat location set forth on the enclosed invoice will be immediately forfeited and released into available inventory. There can be no assurance that such assigned seat location or any other requested location and/or Plan will be available to you at a later date. Thus, we strongly suggest that Licensees accept their initial seat assignments because the demand for many Plans will definitely exceed the supply.

In other words, either let us strong-arm you into buying these overpriced and slightly irregular seats, or settle for nothing at all, because there are plenty more suckers where you came from.

It's not entirely clear what's happening here, but one can hazard a guess that the economic crisis has driven down the demand for those $350-per-game seats among the corporate classes, that the average fan is wary that he'll actually be served a large enough quantity of caviar in a Yankees mini-helmet to justify that kind of three-figure expense for a trip to the ballpark, and that the team is shockingly out of touch with a fan base that it's trying to bully into spending beyond their means during hard economic times.

This is hardly the first ugly little fact about the new Yankee Stadium to come to light; tales of the publicly funded new park's fuzzy math go way back, and any fan of good conscience reckoning with the inconvenient truths about the ballpark had plenty of reason to be uneasy.

Still, even if one could block that all out and simply focus on the relationship between one customer's wallet and his ability to put his butt in a seat at this new park, the bottom line is that this is an outrage, a disgrace, a catastrophe on the level of Joe Torre summoning Jeff Weaver from the bullpen in Game Four, a Bambino-rolling-in-his-grave nightmare over the successor to the House that Ruth Built. A chorus four million fans strong should be shouting four- and twelve-letter words at Yankee president Randy Levine and every incompetent front-office numbskull who played a role in this fiasco. A pox on the House that George Built.

The Yankees deserve every pixel of bad publicity they receive over this, every blankety-blank karmic quantum of bad yankety-blank karma. My friends and I are hardly the only customers wronged in such a fashion; an informal discussion with a few other longtime Yankees ticket holders who write for various sites (including this one) reveals similarly shoddy treatment. Indeed, all of us who have something at stake short of a full-season ticket package are being screwed because the Yankees have bungled this so badly that they can't possibly fulfill the demand. So naturally, their impulse is to trample the loyal customers who helped carry them past the three million and four million attendance milestones over the past decade. This is a story worth illuminating, not only to fellow Yankee fans who may commiserate about finding themselves up the same fetid creek, but to baseball fans everywhere.

Those of you who snicker and mock Yankee fans for some perceived sense of entitlement may wish to dismiss this story as one of those "only in New York" tales, like alligators in the sewers. You may find some karmic justification for this travesty via the team's bloated payroll or their inability to shake free from wave after wave of the steroids scandal. Certainly, your claims about the Evil Empire in the Bronx gain even more traction as the multiple facets of this abomination come to light. But just remember that if this is happening here, it can happen in your city as well. Even the green cathedrals of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park will someday fall to the wrecking ball, and when you emerge from the rubble with a lesser opportunity to visit your new ballpark, you'll have plenty of company.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  Decline,  The Who,  Yankees Fans

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