Sunday, February 1, 2009

WRETCHED EXCESS

The big news of the baseball off-season has been the New York Yankees dishing out $423 million to sign long-term contracts with three free-agent players—pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first-baseman Mark Teixeira.

Four hundred twenty three million dollars! That’s almost enough to bail out Lehman Brothers. As Andy Rooney would say, “Don’t you just hate it when they do that?”

By me, their largess doesn’t mean the Yankees are World Series shoo-ins in the coming season. While they look good on paper they still have to play 162 games like everyone else, and such things as injuries, bad bounces and below-par individual performances could derail them. The Yanks had baseball’s biggest payroll the last eight years and not only didn’t win a pennant in that span but also didn’t make the playoffs last season. And those who yearn for the low-salary “good old days” should remember that the New Yorkers dominated the game more then than they do now.

It’s interesting to note that among those who say they do hate the team’s big-spending ways are some New York politicians. The Yanks are about to open a new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, next to the old one, and while they’re paying the $900 million-plus cost of the structure itself the bonds that finance it are municipally backed, meaning that the team will pay less interest than if they issued them themselves, and that the city has that much less credit to devote to other needs. Additionally, the city popped directly for $660 million for the infrastructure costs (land acquisition, road work, sewers, etc.) the project entailed.

If that weren’t enough, the Yanks lately have said they want another $372 million in tax-free financing to upgrade their original stadium plan with things like plusher “luxury” boxes, a fancier scoreboard and a top-of-the-line steak restaurant on site. That stirred a political wasps’ nest at a time when recessionary cutbacks in essential government services are the rule in Gotham and everywhere else. A vote on the request pends, and it may not be approved. “Maybe CC Sabathia can pay for the scoreboard,” State Rep. Anthony Weiner suggested.

Alas, such displays of backbone are too little and too late. Arguments over government handouts to sports hustlers long since have been decided in favor of the hustlers. Governmental units—yours and mine—have been bending over for those guys for the last 30 years, with no end in sight. Study after study has shown that the economic case for public new-stadium spending is bogus. Just about all the jobs the facilities create are part-time and seasonal (the jocks who profit most take their money and spend it on mansions in places like Windmere, Florida, and Paradise Valley, Arizona), and the revenues they attract overwhelmingly come at the expense of restaurants, theaters and other local places of entertainment.

And gratitude? Ha! A few years back Glendale, Arizona, an on-the-make suburb of Phoenix, built the hockey Coyotes a new stadium outright. Now that the team is in the red it’s crying about how “unfavorable” its lease terms are.

The worst thing about taxpayer-financed stadiums is that the games staged therein typically are priced beyond the reach of all but a relative few of the people whose money went to build them. Exhibit A in the gougers’ repertoire is the charming institution of “personal seat licenses,” the four-figure fees that some teams have charged long-time season-ticket holders to retain their seats in the new halls, over and above steep per-game prices.

The Yankees didn’t do that but otherwise they’ve taken gouging to a new level in their new digs. The team never was shy in this regard, putting a $1,000-a-game top on its best tickets in recent seasons, but it’s jacked that up to $2,500 (gasp!) in the new place, and about tripled the number of seats so designated. Tickets that used to sell for $100 to $250 now will bring $400 or $500, and so on up and down. We’re talking thousands of seats here, not dozens, and fans must commit to several-season packages to get them.

Rest assured, however, that the team will deliver value in return. In a letter to prospective haut monde customers Lonn Trost, its chief operating officer, asserted that seats in the new stadium’s “premium areas” will be “an exclusive experience for those with discerning taste who seek the very best that life has to offer.”

He continued: “You will delight in the premium amenities, including cushioned seats with teak arms, in-seat wait service, private restrooms and a delectable selection of all-inclusive food and beverages.”

He concluded: “[Yours will be] the most-coveted ticket in sports.”

Don’t you just love it when those guys talk dirty?

1 comment:

Mike Levy said...

Mixed emotions about your article. Now let me go on record that I'm no fan of any New York sports team, But the Yankees are so much more than a baseball team. They beat my Phillies' Whiz Kids four straight in the 1950 World Series. We didn't make another appearance until 81. That's a long time between gigs.

Larger than life however, they are as New York as the Statue of Liberty, Broadway (Damn Yankees...remember), Times Square...well you get the idea. I've even seen Afghani terrorists wearing New York Yankee baseball caps. So I think that we can all agree that the Yankees are an icon.

The underwriting of these teams and their stadiums are a big mistake that's being made by municipalities all over the nation and the world. Sometimes I wish that we would have built the stadiums for hockey and football here in Scottsdale, but when you realize the cost to Glendale's City Government, I soon realize how grateful I am that Scottsdale and it's citizens are not responsible for the financial grief that comes along with that investment.

As for ticket prices, the only people able to afford to pay those Yankee ticket prices are those that received finanacial industry bail-out bonuses. You see, 'we the people' are all paying for the price of those Yankee tickets.

Mike Levy.