Robert F. Jakubowicz: Good, cheap baseball beats bad, costly ball
On my recent vacation, I experienced the stark contrast of baseball as a greedy business and as an enjoyable spectator sport. I went to several Cape Cod League games without being gouged to watch very good baseball. I also traveled to Fenway Park in the midst of my vacation to a game where the Red Sox owners overcharge the fans with overpriced tickets and excessive food and drink prices to watch bad baseball.
The average Sox tickets, according to Team Marketing Reports as reported in several newspaper and magazine articles, are the highest in baseball. The admission to Cape Cod League games is free. Reportedly, it costs 80 cents more at Fenway Park for an average ticket than at Yankee Stadium. The food and drink concession prices -- $5 for a hot dog, $7.25 for a beer, etc. -- have also been ranked as the highest in major league ballparks.
There are no water fountains in Fenway Park where most of the fans on hot, summer day games are exposed to the sun. But fans can buy a small, 16 ounce bottle of water at the park for $4.75. The cost of food and drinks (no alcoholic drinks are allowed) at Cape Cod games is a small fraction of the cost at Fenway. Also the Sox owners have made no effort to provide adequate parking at reasonable rates near the park which enables private and corporate lot owners near the park to further gouge fans for parking for $40 and up. Parking at the Cape League games is free.
The average total cost for a family of two adults and two children at Fenway Park for average tickets, two small beers, four regular hot dogs, four small soft drinks, two caps or T-shirts, and parking is estimated to be $336.99. The average total cost at a Arizona Diamondback game is $122.53. And I would estimate the cost for such a family at game on the Cape would be in the $25 range.
Initially the steady increase in prices at Fenway Park since the current owners took over the team caused loud complaints by the fans. The owners justified the price hikes as being necessary to pay for high-priced players to win a World Series. And the three World Series wins that followed quieted the fans.
But starting with the 2012 trade of a trio of their highest priced players, the Sox owners began to significantly cut their costs by lowering the team's payroll. This cost cutting continues with this year's trade of two starting pitchers rather than paying them high salaries in the free agent market. However, except for one past one year of no increase in ticket prices and a past one month limited reduction of food and drink prices there has not been a corresponding drop in ticket, food and drink prices by the team owners to pass on the these cost savings to the fans.
The baseball-watching part of my vacation provides an example of an all-too-common business practice of hiking prices out of necessity while failing to lower the cost when the original factor is no longer driving up the cost of doing business.
In the case of the Red Sox, owners claimed that it was necessary to pay outrageous salaries to players to field a team that could finally win the World Series, which meant higher ticket and concession stand prices. But when owners decided in 2012 to rid the team of high-salaried players and significantly lower their costs there was no corresponding drop in ticket, food and drink prices.
This greedy business practice is reminiscent of what happened to price of food. When the past spike in oil prices first occurred, food producers and supermarkets hiked their prices because of high energy costs, but with the drop in oil prices, the food prices did not come down. It seems to now be a basic axiom of doing business that once prices are raised don't expect them to be reduced, but rather expect them to increase more.
One insidious effect of this practice on baseball is that the players at the Major League level have become greedy and also seek higher and higher salaries. They do not have any loyalty to the team they play for and seek teams that pay the most. Some even put out less of an effort on a losing team or on a team they are leaving.
The Cape Cod League, thankfully for fans like me, still remains a place where the players, before they are corrupted by the greed in the Major Leagues, come to play every day, have fun and take pride in winning for their respective town team, which makes it a great spectator sport.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz, a Pittsfield lawyer, is a regular Eagle contributor.
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