The St Louis Cardinal baseball team of 1968 was there. I watched as Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Ozzie Smith, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock and others walked up from the dugout to be recognized. This was a team of Hall of Famers—they won the World Series that year. This was a three generational experience as my wife Marty and I took both children and grandchildren to St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Phillies.
I bought pretty good seats and as I recall they cost me something over $80 a piece including an online transaction fee. The game was okay, but nothing like that introduction. Parking fees and concession items brought the bill to over $600.
I was brought back to that day and a much earlier one after reading Joseph Epstein’s brief essay in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein was lamenting the cost of going to a Cubs game with a friend who bought the tickets. The ticket cost $172.48.
Epstein in summing up noted: “Being a sports fan, whether die-hard or fair-weather, is these days rather a dubious undertaking. For a long while now, a team’s fans have been more loyal than its players, who, under free agency, depart as soon as a better offer turns up. Nor is it easy for a fan to grasp paying a man who bats in the .220s, striking out nearly 200 times but hitting 27 home runs, a salary of $13 million. Not to speak of paying a pitcher, who works one day in five, and at that rarely for more than six innings, $25 million. All the more demoralizing is it to grasp that a good part of the cost for these wild extravagances are passed on to us, the fans.”
I would add that most of the immensely wealthy owners put economics and ego ahead of the fans.
In 1991, Fay Vincent, then Commissioner of Major League Baseball and I testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a TV black out rule that was favorable to the baseball teams which were, in essence, a monopoly. I was then Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. I enjoyed talking baseball with the Commissioner, too bad Senators intruded.
Baseball and other sports leagues enjoy legal protections from what otherwise would be anti-trust violations as they organize in part to limit supply, which overtime, means fans must pay even more to go to games.
In my view, any anti-trust protection should be removed but more importantly fans should begin to push back. Sports teams negotiate exclusive contracts for the distribution of sports events. This exclusivity is what allows, in particular, football and basketball to delay games for the sake of more advertising. My research showed little fan pushback although the Toronto Football Club, a Major League Soccer club, gave its fans some ticket price relief after a “fan revolt” in 2010.
Many team owners, player agents and those who control concessions act with impunity. Yet, promotion of professional sports always cites the fans as the team’s highest priority. Baloney! Actions tell a different story, unless the cost of being a fan is of no consequence.
Fans now have the tools to push back. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email networks and more enable and facilitate revolts.
The 1968 Cardinals were very talented. So too the 2018 Red Sox, Astros, Cubs—winners all. There are also fans whose talent in using online tools to push back is world class. Use them.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.