Standing in shade beneath Dodger Stadium's center field
scoreboard, Juan Gutierrez explains why his family of four will only
be in the stands for two games this season.
"Parking costs more, food costs more ... I just can't afford it,"
says Mr. Gutierrez, holding up four $30 tickets as sounds of organ
music and the smell of hot dogs waft into the palm-lined parking
lot. "I used to come 10 to 15 times a year, but now, forget it."
As Major League Baseball fans from here to Boston converge on
their favorite ballparks for the new season, they are running into
sticker shock even as many franchises say they are reaching out with
new ideas to attract fans.
On average, a family of four will spend $155.52 for a day at big-
league ballparks this year, up nearly 3 percent from 2003, according
to a new study by Team Marketing Research in Chicago. Philadelphia
Phillies fans will pay $188 (family of four), up more than 25
percent from last year. And even the bargain basement Montreal Expos
- the league's least expensive team - will sock families for $100.
At the same time that they shrug and rationalize such figures as
"market driven," sports industry analysts say they worry that
America's favorite pastime is becoming elitist.
"We are pricing the poorer population of America out of the
national game," says Peter Roby, president of the Center for the
Study of Sports in Society at Northeastern University. He says
statistics show participation in baseball reflect a steady decline
for 15 straight years.
"Players used to live in the same neighborhoods as their fans,"
he says. "Now we have the alienation gap with fans increasingly
resenting astronomic salaries, performance-enhancing drugs, and
socially aberrant behavior by players."
Baseball owners say they are doing all they can to keep their
ball parks attractive while offering enough discounts and deals to
fill seats. They say they try to buffer the costs of tickets - which
cover, on average, only about a third of total costs to run their
franchises - by making deals with broadcasters and advertisers. To
up the appeal of their teams to brand advertisers and TV networks
they have to spend money for the best players.
New Angel owner, Arturo Moreno, for instance recently doled out
$146 million for just two players (Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo
Colon), almost as much as the $183 million he spent to field the
entire team last year.
"By no means are ticket payers shelling out enough to pay for
these guys," says Robert Alvarado of the Angels' front office. "At
the same time we are signing top-dollar players to attract
broadcasters and corporate advertisers, we are trying to send at
least some ticket prices in the other direction."
Although overall Angel ticket prices have gone up nearly 4
percent over the past year, the team is trying to cut ancillary
costs such as the price of beer, programs, and souvenir caps. They
are creating more kinds of family packages that include food,
beverage, and tickets and offering more nights for children when
general admission prices drop to $3. …