Is MLB Killing Its Future Fan Base?

Many Major League Baseball fans can trace their allegiance to fond memories from their childhood — visiting a big league stadium and falling in love with the drama on the field. It was those early trips to the ballpark that instilled fanaticism on impressionable young children — and created passionate, lifelong baseball fans.

But what happens if those impressionable souls are not exposed to Major League Baseball at an early age? Where will MLB’s fans of tomorrow come from?

There is a poignant op-ed piece by Bob Herbert at The New York Times that suggests the new ballparks are “Pricing the Kids Out“. (Hat tip to my wife.) Among the more intriguing bits:

You need a mortgage now to get season tickets. Someone recently told me that at the prices the Yankees were originally charging for the best seats in the house, it would have cost around $800,000 for season tickets for a family of four. A lot of those seats stayed empty earlier in the season, so prices were dropped enough so that you only had to be rich to afford them, not superrich.

New York’s other baseball team, the Mets, were pathetic this year, so they’ve gone into hiding. But the Mets have a brand new stadium, too — Citi Field, named for the bank. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.

Baseball was called the national pastime not only because it’s a great sport but because it was a sport that was affordable for nearly all American families. You didn’t have to be Bernie Madoff to get good seats at the Stadium or the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field, or any of the other classic old parks that have since faded — or are fading — into the ether.

That’s only a portion of a must-read article. Herbert concludes with:

Maybe this is not the biggest issue facing the country, but I can’t help feeling we’re making a big mistake pricing these games out of the reach of today’s boys and girls who are growing up in families of modest means.

If it’s true that less kids are going to ballgames because they can’t afford to, one must wonder how that will affect the future of the sport. Is MLB cashing in on short-term revenues that will eventually stunt long-term growth?

Check out the article yourself and come back here with your thoughts.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Mike October 17, 2009 at 10:41 pm
    Hey Joe just a short comment what happened to the teams who played in Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds? They left NY because they weren’t making any money, partly because their stadiums couldn’t generate enough revenue. I’m not suggesting that charging outrageous prices or using corporate sponsors is good for the fans, I’m just saying that perhaps what baseball used to be has gone away for good reasons. Moreover look at the NFL, I never see kids at games, let alone families. The NFL doesn’t seem to have any problems attracting new fans.
  2. joejanish October 17, 2009 at 11:47 pm
    Mike – thanks for chiming in. I’m not sure the moves of the Giants and Dodgers were that simple. In the case of the Dodgers, it was more to do with the dilapidation of Ebbets Field, the downward economic trending of the neighborhood, and the Brooklyn mayor’s refusal to support a new park.

    As for the NFL, you’re comparing apples and oranges. There’s only one game a week, only 8 games a year (for the home fans). So it’s a supply and demand thing. Further, I believe that people become fans of football for reasons very different from baseball. Gambling, for one. The once-a-week event, and hoopla building up around it, for another. High school and college pride, another. How many people go to high school or college football games as opposed to baseball games? Football is more an “event”, and conducive to social gatherings. Everyone goes to a Super Bowl party every year, but who goes to a World Series party?

  3. scott October 18, 2009 at 12:28 am
    Isn’t it ironic that the kids they could be attracting, as well as the “kids” that are being “grown on the farms” in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are kids that would never even be able to get into a game? Herbert laments at the state of the game and many of the comments take his message out of context, as if Herbert were just concerned that we of “modest means” can’t afford a luxury like baseball. His argument is so much broader than that.

    It’s nice to see that you not only nailed his meaning but that you can also compliment a naysayer while still driving your point even further home. Keep up the good work!

  4. joejanish October 18, 2009 at 1:06 am
    Scott – thanks for the comments and the kind words.

    I agree with the irony you point out. It’s a shame that most of the people in the neighborhood immediately surrounding Citi Field most likely can’t afford to buy a ticket. So much for the “home” team, eh?

    It would be interesting to find out the demographics and average household income of the people who pay to visit Citi Field (i.e., not including the giveaway tix to schools and other orgs.). Of course, the advertisers who pay for the big billboards around the park would like to see big numbers — all the more reason to shut out the “modest” folks.

  5. Simon October 18, 2009 at 6:13 am
    As a Brit who fell in love with the Mets when I visited New York, I was actually surprised at how cheap the prices of the (single game) tickets were. Certainly far cheaper than the Premiership football (though there are 4x MLB games).

    OK, so Mets-Yankees may be sold out, but surely there are plenty of parents that can afford $60 or so a week to take their family of 4 to a ball game to see the Mets lose in even more bizarre circumstances than the last game

    But I agree with the broader point that it is a shame that the commercialisation of sport inevitably prices out the families of those on lesser incomes

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