Keith Strudler: The Price Of Admission
One of the most power phrases in all of sports fandom is “I was at that game.” Like, I was at the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, when the American college kids beat the Soviets in 1980. Or “I was at the Wilt Chamberlain 100 point game,” which can’t be true for many people, considering the attendance barely broke 4,000 and the game was played in 1962. But if you talk to enough sports fans, you’ll hear a wide range of tales about what magical sporting moment they witnessed live. It’s like membership to an exclusive club, or flying first class. Even if everyone gets to the same destination, you got there differently. So millions of people might have seen Michael Jordan’s 1997 NBA Finals “flu game,” but only a few thousand were in the building. That is cache.
Now you can’t predict a whole lot of these moments. Like a 1984 baseball game between the Brewers and the White Sox that went 25 innings. Or any series of no-hitters. These things just happen, and you hope you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I suppose it’s like catching a t-shirt from one of those shirt cannons. Go to enough games for long enough period of time, and the law of averages says you’ll eventually get one.
But some special moments are perhaps more planned. Like Derek Jeter’s last game in Yankee Stadium in 2014. You knew that was coming, even if you didn’t know he’d hit a game winning home run in his final at bat, which may or may not have happened because Orioles reliever Evan Meek served up a meatball for the home crowd. Or final games in old stadiums, which seems to happen with remarkable frequency, given the short assigned lifespan of modern sports facilities. Again, there’s no surprise. Now for these special sporting moments, where we know it’s coming, ticket prices can shoot up like a volcano. On the secondary market that is, places like StubHub, where the price ceiling is left only to the magnitude of the moment and perhaps the insanity of any particular sports fan. In pre-ordained, historic sports moments, the price floor is far higher than most of us can reach, and the ceiling – well, there is no ceiling.
Such is the case in what is by definition a historic Game 7 of this year’s World Series, when tonight in Cleveland the Chicago Cubs will take on the Indians in what will result in someone’s first title in multiple generations. With that, ticket prices can officially be called silly. For example, on StubHub, the most known online secondary ticket marketplace, prices start at around $1000 per person. I can’t say per seat because that price is for standing room only. For 1000 bucks, you have the opportunity to stand for over three hours and catch a distant glimpse of one of these two teams changing the course of their respective histories. Now, if you actually want to sit down, that starts at $1200 – for a seat that would be challenging for anyone with a fear of heights or a history of vertigo. But it gets you in the building. Figure with dinner, parking, and some souvenirs, $6000 gets a family of four a lovely evening out. Or a Hawaiian vacation. Your choice.
Now if you want better seats, like where you can see the players, that will cost you more. A lot more. Box seats start at a couple grand, for the outfield. Down the lines are 4 to 5 thousand, and up from there. And none of this is near what fans were paying in Chicago, where a series of factors – starting with a bigger city and a more robust economy – essentially doubled the price. All for the right to be able to say that you were there when.
So I know the easy narrative here. That these prices are outrageous and regular fans are long priced out of the game. That sports are only for rich folks who’ve turned stadiums into country clubs. I get that, and it’s not entirely wrong. But there’s another side. We increasingly live in a world where real human interaction is something of an afterthought. Where virtual reality may replace the actual one, and stores can’t stay open because everyone would rather shop on a mobile device. Drip by drip, we’re losing the necessity, or even the desire to be anywhere with anyone.
Tonight, a whole lot of people want to be somewhere with a bunch of other people to see something historic, at least in the context of sports. They want to breath the air, touch the seats, stand in lines, and eat way overpriced stadium food. And they’re willing to pay huge dollars for the privilege. All so that someday they say the most powerful phrase in sports – that they were at that game.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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