For any of you still clinging to the idea that high player salaries cause high ticket prices — and you know who you are — consider the case of Leahy’s Mobil on Boylston Street in Boston.
The station, near Fenway Park, has outraged fans and, according to the Boston Herald, at least one cop by charging $90 for parking during Red Sox games.
Without being responsible for even a dime of David Ortiz’s new $12.5 million average salary, without having to scrape together $18.3 for Manny Ramirez and $13 million for Curt Schilling and $10 million for Jason Varitek every year, Leahy’s Mobil greeted fans at the Sox’s home opener Monday with a price tag equal to the face value of a field box at Fenway.
The Herald chronicled the police sergeant’s argument with the station’s attendant over the high prices. Both refused to give their names to the paper. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, charging $90,” the cop said. “It’s outrageous.” He promised to watch the station closely all year and jump on it for the smallest code violation.
The lot attendant asked, “Why are you taking this personal? It’s unfair.”
Not to side against the flatfoot who might have been the one who helped Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack across Storrow Drive, but I’m with the attendant on this one.
The $90 parking fee is the free market at work — more than baseball salaries are, in fact, since baseball is a cartel. Some politicians have made noises about trying to find a way to put a cap on parking prices, but don’t they have better things to do?
Local papers all say nearby parking can be had for a still-ridiculous but significantly cheaper $50 or so, and customers have a choice of parking farther away or, perish the thought, taking public transportation.
There is also, of course, the choice of not going to the game. It isn’t as though Leahy’s Mobil is gouging the poor while providing some service essential to the public good. It’s gouging people who are already willing to be gouged by the Red Sox or scalpers, and providing a completely elective service to people who are trying to amuse themselves.
A Sox fan named Don Watts made the old connection between salaries and high prices to a reporter from the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise who wrote about high prices in general, at the stadium and around it.
“I wish some of the players would think more about the game than about how much money they’re making,” Watts said. “The more money they make, the harder it is for us to go see them.”
That’s a funny thing to say right outside Fenway Park, which has by far the highest ticket prices in baseball, but by far not the baseball team with the highest payroll. That team, of course, is the New York Yankees, with an Opening Day payroll of $194 million, give or take a Bubba Crosby or two. The Red Sox are second at $120 million, according to USA Today’s figures.
The average ticket at Fenway Park, Team Marketing Report’s annual survey says, costs $46.46 this year, $12.16 more than the second-highest average ticket, at Wrigley Field. Yankee Stadium ducats go for an average of $28.27, fourth highest in baseball, just behind those at the St. Louis Cardinals’ new Busch Stadium.
So the Red Sox’s payroll is about 62 percent of the Yankees’ payroll, but their tickets cost 64 percent more on average.
As the excellent baseball business analyst Maury Brown points out in the Hardball Times, of the 10 teams that lowered payroll from 2005 to 2006, only one of them, the Colorado Rockies, also lowered ticket prices. Seven of them raised prices and two held steady.
The Florida Marlins slashed their payroll by 75 percent and raised ticket prices 7 percent.
What is it the players should be thinking about again?
Ticket prices are high for the same reasons salaries are high, which are the same reasons parking near Fenway is high. Scarcity and what the market will bear. There are only so many seats at major league ballparks, and hardly any available ones at the popular parks. There are only so many guys good enough to play in the major leagues, and hardly any good enough to play well. And there are hardly any places to park within a comfortable walk of Fenway.
There’s always choice. You can take the T to Fenway, or you can not go to as many or even any more baseball games. Until enough people do those things, the prices will stay high. Don’t hold your breath waiting. It’s worth it to someone to pay $90 for a field box at Fenway, it’s worth it to someone to pay $90 to park his car at Leahy’s Mobil, and it’s worth it to baseball teams to pay their best players eight-figure salaries.
That’s life. I don’t like it any more than that cop in Boston. I miss the days of being able to afford big-league baseball fairly often on a much lower paycheck than I get now, when I can’t afford it except as a special treat. (Full disclosure: I can get into a ballgame and sit in the press box for free, but if I want to take my kids or sit and drink beer with a pal, I pay like everyone else.)
But I don’t blame David Ortiz or Curt Schilling for tickets being so expensive, or, in the places I’ve lived, Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols.
I blame you.
Well, not you specifically, but all those people willing to pay the high prices. People like Red Sox fan Don Watts, who says players should take lower salaries so tickets will be cheaper, even though they won’t be.
And blame’s not the right word. If you’re willing to pay $90 for something I only want to pay $30 for, knock yourself out. I can’t afford it, but listen, if you give me $5, I’ll make sure nothing happens to your car while you’re at the ballgame.
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