Friday, May 15, 2009

Thinking the Unthinkable: Yankee Stadium a Failure? [J. Mark English]

Any discussion of the new Yankee Stadium being considered a "failure" is premature. Prognosticators who suggest the new Yankee Stadium is a disaster, are judging its success during a time when recession is rife in all sectors of the economy.

The two new ball parks in New York, may have opened this year, but the infancy of planning for the stadiums began many years ago. If these two stadiums had opened in the late 1990's, then the seats would be filled to capacity, and the waiting list to buy any seat might include a wait of at least years.

It is bad fortune that the two teams opened up the stadiums just when the economic downturn is in full stride.

Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal opines about the abysmal beginnings of the new Yankee Stadium:

For more than 80 years, Yankee Stadium was the most revered sports venue on the planet. The new Yankee Stadium's fate is yet to be determined.

Since it opened in April, scads of empty seats in prime locations have compelled the team to cut prices. Tickets to a recent Boston Red Sox game, usually a hot item, were selling for $8 on StubHub, the online reseller. Home runs are flying out of the place at an alarming rate (the park's average of 3.62 per game led the majors before Thursday night). The Yankees absorbed a 10-2 loss in the park's first regular-season game and allowed a stunning 22 runs in its third.

As the Yankees return Friday for their third homestand at the new "Taj Mahal," as outfielder Nick Swisher calls the park, here's a sobering thought for the franchise and its fans: What if this $1.5 billion ballpark doesn't help the team? Is it possible that this magnificent facility could fail?

Team President Randy Levine says he's untroubled by the park's early negative reviews, or the notion it could go down as a failure. "The old Yankee Stadium, the cathedral of baseball, had 83 years of history. This stadium has been open a month," he says. "We believe this stadium will have its own great life and great memories."

When new stadiums have flopped in the past -- that is, when the public has come to loathe them or their teams haven't benefited from them -- it's generally been for one of four reasons, say historians, sports executives and fans. Either the stadium catered too much to affluent fans, or too little, or had dimensions or weather conditions that negatively affected play...

....The new Yankee Stadium has seemed cursed from the beginning, as if Babe Ruth disapproved of the abandonment of the house he built. That it opened during a recession, with a major-league-high $72.97 average price for a nonpremium ticket (up 76% over 2008, according to Team Marketing Report) has created contempt among fans who otherwise love the team. "They don't have a good enough team to charge those prices," says 35-year-old fan Jeff Burrows of Brooklyn, who toured the park recently with his father. "They've made almost every mistake you can make," says Roger Noll, a professor of economics emeritus at Stanford. "There's nothing that's been as unpopular as this."

The question is whether all the trouble ultimately will be worth it. If the new stadium fails to augment the Yankees' payroll advantage over competing clubs, and if its propensity to allow home runs makes it difficult to craft an effective pitching staff -- what was the point?...

...Some Yankee fans are optimistic. John Sexton, president of New York University and a longtime season-ticket holder, says the park isn't perfect -- he wishes Monument Park weren't so hidden from view. Still, he says, "In five years we may be looking back on this and saying we're glad we did it."

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