As Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig has taken on many causes. His latest, at last year’s World Series, was an admirable push to make games shorter. Amidst his ruminations, Selig has been quick to point out that baseball has experienced a renaissance of sorts in the past few years, as the long ball, new stadiums and labor peace have led to robust attendance and hefty television deals.
But one area about which the commissioner has not expressed enough concern is the cost of the league’s tickets.
Although the game still boasts the lowest average ticket price in major professional sports, MLB’s gate tolls have been rising dangerously over the past decade. According to the recently released Team Marketing Report, the average ticket costs $19 this season — up 13 percent from last year and a 120 percent increase over the past decade.
The biggest culprit? Player salaries, of course. Since 1991, the average salary has skyrocketed from $851,000 to $2.2 million. Experts usually point to giant television contracts as the catalyst for the ever-increasing salaries, but indisputable evidence now shows that we as fans have been forced to shoulder a significant portion of the burden as well.
Such data describes a disturbing trend, since the pro sport most affordable (and, therefore, most accessible) to the average fan is struggling to retain its appeal to the commoners. While fans in places like Minnesota and Montreal can still buy a mid-range ticket for less than 10 bucks, the average price at Boston’s Fenway Park is now a whopping $36.
Not surprisingly, the numbers demonstrate a typical case of supply and demand. The Twins and Expos practically have to beg patrons to attend their contests, while Fenway’s character, small size and the team’s recent competitiveness heighten demand for BoSox tickets. Similarly, the 2000 World Series participants from New York check in with the next highest prices — the Yankees average $29 and the Mets $27.
So then, who’s to say there’s a real problem here? After all, baseball is a business just like any other, and owners should be allowed to charge what the market will bear. Any other way would fly in the face of capitalism and be downright un-American.
Such a line of thinking is not off base, but it also fails to take into account one of baseball’s most appealing elements. I, along with millions of others, have always enjoyed the fact that a trip to the ballpark not only provides a chance to see our heroes on the field, but to experience the uniquely diverse atmosphere in the stands.
A baseball game provides fans with the opportunity to mingle with other spectators with whom they would not normally have anything in common. Perhaps it’s a high-five with the loudmouth next to you or maybe just an exchange of smiles with the elderly usher — one way or another, if you’ve ever been to a baseball game, you know what I’m talking about.
The surest way to affect people’s attitudes is through their wallets. This is exactly what MLB is in danger of doing. As ticket prices have increased by 120 percent over the past 10 years, the Consumer Price Index — the basic measure of inflation in the U.S. — has risen by a mere 30 percent. If this trend continues, you can see the disastrous effects it would have on the average fan’s ability to attend games.
Selig can take heart in the fact that MLB tickets are still far more affordable than the NBA, NFL and NHL, all of which feature average prices at around $50. He should also be proud of the new stadiums that opened this week in Pittsburgh and his native Milwaukee. And he is undoubtedly pleased that, with the switch to natural grass in Cincinnati and the christening of the Pirates’ new park, only five stadiums with artificial turf remain.
But Selig and the league’s owners now face a new challenge. It is imperative that they focus on keeping at least some tickets in every stadium affordable so we don’t lose the many benefits baseball has to offer.