When Major League Baseball’s all-star teams perform Tuesday night in spiffy new Citi Field in Queens, the contest will include a sight rarely seen at a New York Mets game this year: a capacity crowd.
“We sold out opening day, and we sold out fireworks night,” David Newman, the Mets’ senior vice-president of marketing, said. “We did not sell out our two subway series games with the Yankees.” His ballpark seats 42,000.
Speaking of the New York Yankees, who play a short drive away in the Bronx, their average announced attendance in new and improved Yankee Stadium 2.0 has fallen from 46,491 in 2010 to 45,107 in 2011 to 42,861 in 2012 to 39,600 this year. The decline persists even though the Yankees reduced the price of their most expensive single seats from $2,500 (all currency U.S.) a game in 2009 to $1,250 each in 2010 to “for information, please call” in their current season ticket guide.
Team president Randy Levine gets annoyed when people ask about all those big, blue, cushy, comfy, empty seats on TV behind home plate.
“They don’t look empty all the time,” said Levine, who added that some fans who buy those seats spend time eating and drinking in the private clubs that luxury prices provide.
“We’re not here to please television commentators and what they think the stadium looks like,” Levine said. “We’re here to please our customers and fans. And all of them are very happy with those seats and they are basically sold.”
At Citi Field Monday, a woman in a ticket window said all-star tickets were still available if you were willing to spend $1,200 on a package that includes six Mets games this year.
None of this is to suggest either New York baseball team – both in their fifth season in new stadiums – will soon go out of business. The stadiums are part of a sports-facilities gold rush in the New York area that has sharpened competition for events and given customers more and fancier choices for a sports experience.
By 2015, all 10 local pro teams will play in modern, amenity-filled venues that were either built new or refurbished in the last decade.
The extraordinary building boom around New York sports has included the new MetLife Stadium for the Giants and Jets; a rebuilt Madison Square Garden for the Knicks and Rangers; the new Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for the Devils; the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the Nets and also (by 2015) for the Islanders; a soccer stadium in New Jersey for the Red Bulls, and possibly a new one in New York for another soccer team.
The all-star festivities last weekend and this week are a preliminary for Super Bowl week, the game to be played Feb. 2 in the outdoor football stadium across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
“Why should New York not have the opportunity to have the Super Bowl like so many other cities?” Newman said.
Levine said: “New York is the greatest city in the world and it deserves these kinds of venues. New York puts on a big event like no other city in the world.”
Brett Yormark, chief executive officer of the Nets and Barclays, said he would “leverage” Super Bowl week into a high-profile Nets game, a major boxing event and a Saturday night concert.
An NCAA regional basketball round will play at Madison Square Garden next spring for the first time in more than 50 years. And the Garden and Barclays Center are battling over which will get the 2015 NBA all-star game.
Hank Ratner, president and chief executive officer of Madison Square Garden Company, issued a general statement through a spokesman that said in part that the $1-million MSG “Transformation” will “insure that for centuries to come, we will remain a world-class destination.”
Yormark of Barclays was more blunt: “I’m a very competitive guy, and that’s the DNA of our culture. We aren’t conceding the market to anyone.”
Could the recent building binge pique the interest of the International Olympic Committee, which will vote in 2017 to award the Summer Games of 2024? New York finished in the top five for 2012, when London won. Now, New York has more to offer.
But Daniel Doctoroff, New York’s veteran Olympic advocate and the chief executive officer of Bloomberg L.P., said one problem is that the MetLife Stadium football field could not be reconfigured or expanded to host the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field events.
Besides, Doctoroff added in an e-mail: “The success of a bid is never determined based on facilities but instead is based on the individual preferences of the individual International Olympic Committee members.”
Doctoroff said the recent resolution of a lingering fight between the IOC and the United States over shared revenues will help an American bid for 2024.
Some of New York’s new facilities were planned with Olympics in mind and their ticket prices for local teams were set before the market crash of 2008 and the economic recession that followed. Many of these stadiums and arenas are named after banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions.
Their luxury suites and interior restaurants cater to a stratified clientele that illustrates the gentrification of American sports in the last three decades, a time when New York built few new facilities. When New York got around to them, the high-end seats and suites were plush, flush and cushy. This brought sticker shock to some customers.
You can’t buy a Giants ticket without a “Personal Seat License” that could cost as much as $20,000. Jonathan Tisch, co-owner of the Giants, said: “New York was woefully underserved in terms of state-of-the-art facilities,” and that if you build them, they will come.
“Many corporations, hedge funds, private equity companies and families that can support the economics of private suites and clubs are in the Tri-State Region,” Tisch said, referring to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Yormark of Barclays said the Nets’ luxury packages offer food and beverages for basketball games and first dibs on good seats to major non-sports events like concerts.
“I think in this market, there really isn’t a resistance to price if value meets price,” Yormark said. “When they don’t see the value, that’s when they push back.” Neither Yormark nor anyone else interviewed for this story responded to questions about Yankees attendance, which is often announced much higher than it appears to be.
“All these teams are my colleagues,” Yormark said. “Everyone has unique challenges.”
The Mets’ Newman said his franchise adjusted its pricing quickly. “We made a market correction,” he said. “We have decreased prices on the greater majority of our seats in the last three seasons. You can come to some Mets games for 12 bucks.”
That was the price of a $33 Yankee ticket on StubHub for last Tuesday’s game against the Kansas City Royals. Earlier this year, the Yankees broke up a partnership with StubHub when StubHub refused to sell seats for no less than face value.
Despite Yankee opposition, StubHub still sells Yankees tickets and those for other teams and events. This constantly changing “dynamic” pricing – supply and demand – acts almost like a stock market and there are plenty of bargains, especially when teams are mediocre.
A New York-area sports executive (who asked not to be named) said that the more season tickets sold, the more potential inventory on the secondary market. He said some teams are monitoring StubHub’s prices and adjusting the prices for similar sections on their own secondary market.
This used to be called “ticket-scalping” and was conducted mostly by nervous men on sidewalks around stadiums, often in fear of being arrested. Now, the same process is run by the suits in the suites and it’s as legal and common as gambling and pornography.
A different form of bidding takes place between arenas like Madison Square Garden and Barclays for top entertainment acts. The Garden won the NCAA for next spring; Barclays still hopes to win the 2015 NBA all-star game.
Other venues are reaching out for different sports. Yankee Stadium plays host to college football and soccer, and next season will be host to two NHL games around the Super Bowl – the Rangers against the Devils and the Rangers against the Islanders.
Asked whether he thought both games will sell out, Levine said: “Yes, I do.”
Of all the doomed buildings, few were as disliked as Shea Stadium, the Mets’ previous playground, where some things were worn out, cramped, illogical or non-functioning.
During the first season at Citi, much of the rubble of Shea remained piled across the parking lot. During a telecast, former Met and current announcer Keith Hernandez noticed the camera dwelling on the mound of rubbish.
“Shea Stadium,” Hernandez said. “It never looked so good.”