While the team is in the midst of an uphill climb to qualify for their yearly spot in October, fewer and fewer fans in New York seem to be paying attention. With empty seats littering the broadcast on the YES Network camera most nights, this would seemingly ignite plenty of discussion in New York, but with television ratings down, fewer are watching the games to see the empty seats.
Attendance issues are no stranger to the Yankees. While it's foolish to cry poverty for the richest team in professional sports, it's clear the the days of sold-out stadiums are gone. In fact, last October, New York had noticeably empty sections during the American League Division Series games at home.
The list of theories on why fewer people are watching the Yankees can rage on forever. Before diving into what this means for the franchise, here are some popular reasons why the team isn't pushing needle: Ticket prices, lack of "stars" on the current roster, front-running fans reacting to a mediocre product and the success of NBA and NHL teams occupying the attention of the city.
To put it bluntly, all have contributed to some degree to the drop in viewership and ticket sales.
Ticket prices are exceedingly high, especially in the new Yankee Stadium. On the team website, four tickets to Friday evening's game, in section 406 (upper deck, near the foul pole) would run in excess of $111.00. That's before online fees, printing costs and convenience charges. If you factor in transportation and ballpark food, a family of four would need close to $300 to enjoy a night out at the park.
As Randy Levine noted in The New York Times, the Yankees have built a reputation of stars and fan recognition to their players. While a winning team will always produce attendance and interest, fans aren't going to drop the kind of money noted above to see a team littered with the Jayson Nix's of the world.
When A-Rod and Jeter return, expect at least the ratings to boost because those players are recognizable and expected to perform well after years of accolades.
Using the term "frontrunner" has almost become a sports writing slur, but it's true and rooted in almost every fan base. Fans show up when a team is a contender, but don't when they struggle. If that makes the Yankees fan base, both at the park and in front of their televisions, frontrunners, it's time to either accept the label or use a new word.
Recently, unlike in many of the years (2002-2009) where Yankee attendance and YES Network ratings were through the roof, the NBA and NHL teams in New York created a buzz by playing into the postseason.
In most years, the only act in town after the middle of April was baseball. With the struggles of the New York Mets since 2009, the only competitive baseball team resided in the Bronx. This spring, the Nets, Knicks and Rangers all played into May, giving New York fans another option for their viewing pleasure.
While the Yankees business model is dependent on being the biggest and best on a year-to-year basis, the rules of the sport and their ownership model has conspired to change the equation, thus changing the game around baseball.
Parity now rules the sport, especially in the ultra competitive AL East. With a farm system lacking high-end talent, the Yankees' new allergy to long-term contracts, an aging, mediocre team and impact free agents less likely to actually hit the open market, this narrative may not change much in the upcoming years.
It's foolish to believe the Yankees will ever become a team that can't draw or compete; they enjoy too many resources that will keep them in contention and in New York's pulse, but times have changed.
The future of the franchise may not be perched atop the sports landscape, hovering over the peasants below.
As the team, sport, rules and interests of New York fans transition, the Yankees will still be near the top of attendance and ratings figures, but no longer alone up there.
New York is becoming just another rich team, transitioning away from being one of the only superpowers in sports.
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