New York Yankees: The Rich and Poor Seating Divide at Yankee Stadium

Christopher ISeptember 21, 2012

The numerous empty field-level seats at many Yankees games show how the franchise has priced out many fans.
The numerous empty field-level seats at many Yankees games show how the franchise has priced out many fans.

Much has been made about the low attendance numbers in the expensive seats at the new Yankee Stadium since its inception in 2009.

The new park, just across the street from the old one at the intersection of 161st and River Avenue in the Bronx, is a modern-day architectural marvel, replete with all the creature comforts a player's heart could desire.

What's evident each time you visit the new "House that Steinbrenner Built" is the glaring number of empty seats in the lower levels of the stadium. In other words, where the seats get really, really expensive there really aren't many fans.

In the nation's largest city, amid the backdrop of a struggling economy, bleak job market and low consumer confidence in private enterprise, the Yankees continue to undermine many of their most dedicated fans by pricing them out of the most coveted seats in their palatial residence. 

Make no mistake, this is capitalism and, very often, to the rich go the spoils and finer things. Money is money and the Yankees are no different than any business trying to maximize a profit. 

But at what expense?

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Looking out from the upper deck on a beautiful, sunny, late summer afternoon on Sunday in the Bronx, it is embarrassing to see the thousands of empty seats in the Legends Suites, Field MVP and field seats.

This is the New York Yankees. The most popular sports franchise in the United States—in the heart of a pennant race!

An argument can be made that winning has spoiled some fans. The Atlanta Braves incredible sustained run of success over the last 20 years made even playoff games seem like a right rather than a privilege. Many fans were no shows and home games at Turner Field featured loads of empty seats.

The Yankees will have no trouble filling field level seats during the postseason, of course, because this is the time of year that New York fans live for. High prices be damned, Yankee fans will turn out when the games matter most. 

But who will be sitting in those seats? Those who can afford them, which increasingly become the employees, family members and friends of those at companies like Citibank, Goldman Sachs and law firms.

In other words, corporations and individuals that have the spending power to easily lay out big green for prime seats at Yankee Stadium.

Many lifelong, middle-to-lower class Yankee fans have bemoaned the exclusionary moves made by the Bombers' front office management, particularly because of the greediness and less savory feel to some of them.

In sports, the saying, "Win at any cost" is a popular one. For Yankee ownership, it may as well be "Make money at any cost," even at the risk of alienating some of your closest supporters. 

Count this writer among the thousands in paid attendance last weekend who were willing to pay a nominal cost for a ticket via Stubhub—even with service fees—to watch the Yankees from the 400-level Grandstand way up in the upper deck.

No nose bleed here, thankfully.

The irony in all of this greed is that the Yankees may potentially reduce their future profits by turning off so many fans now. Some fans realize there's more enjoyment and comfort in their own homes watching the Bombers play on a large flat-screen television for a fraction of the cost of attending a game.

For fans from the suburbs—and even farther out of town—it's the cost of a train ticket and then subway ride, which may not be expensive, but it's more a matter of time over money after a long day's work.

What about if you've moved out of the area? You may need to get a hotel for the weekend on top of some of the aforementioned costs. Then, to be shaken down for a cool $40 for three sodas, three hot dogs and two popcorns is added insult to injury. Hardly what you might pay at your local Nathan's. 

The Yankees noticeably cater to their fans of all ages—particularly senior citizens and school-age children—during the summer months and on Saturdays. They should be commended for this. The Yankees are one of the few major league teams that routinely play Saturday afternoon home games at 1:05.

The Yankees always play Sunday home games at 1:05 unless it's the ESPN nationally televised game of the week.

Yankees management did adjust the outrageously grotesque ticket prices that they premiered for their new park at the start of the 2009 season by lowering them considerably from those opening levels. That was hardly enough.

It may not be fair, but there's something disheartening and shocking about watching a pressure-packed game at Yankee Stadium and seeing most of the grandstand and mezzanine seats filled—and roughly one-third of the thousands of field-level seats empty. 

That's not how you continue to cultivate future generations of fans. That's more like a caste system. 

The Yankees have the seventh highest home attendance by percentage in Major League Baseball in 2012 but for a team whose record has been among the best in baseball most of the year, it's actually shocking that 13 percent of the seats at the Stadium are empty for any given home game.

For some perspective, the Boston Red Sox—a team that has struggled mightily on the field this season—have the highest home attendance by percentage in the majors. Normally, you could attribute that to Fenway Park being such a small venue. 

Consider this, however—the Red Sox have averaged 6,000 less fans per home game this season in Boston compared to Yankee Stadium. Fenway Park's official capacity (including standing room) is 37,495. Yankee Stadium's official capacity (including standing room) is 52,325.

The Red Sox just narrowly edge out the Yankees for the most expensive overall ticket in the game when you take the value of all seats at each ballpark and average them out. Yet that doesn't tell the full tale of the divide between the bourgeoisie and the common man looking to see the grand old game in Boston or New York. 

At the time of this writing (less than 24 hours before tonight's Yankees game against Oakland), you could pay a mere $2,204 (service fees included) for two seats in the second row of the Legends Suite parallel to first base at Yankee Stadium.

Bear in mind that Oakland is not considered a premium game according to the Yankees' ticket plan.

By comparison, for this Friday's Red Sox home game at Fenway Park against Baltimore, you can have front row seats in the HP Dugout Front Row for a paltry $584 per ticket. 

$2,204. More than double the amount of a the average monthly mortgage payment for an American. Even in the city that never sleeps, no wonder many of the fans feel left out.