Cost of a day of baseball has soared at new arenas


Tuesday, July 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SAN FRANCISCO – Baseball fans rave about the cozy, red-brick Pacific Bell Park with its panoramas of the Bay Bridge draped in arcs of light, the city's skyline and the waterfront.

Nestled in the China Basin section of the city, the stadium supplanted the 40-year-old, wind-swept 3Com Park at Candlestick Point this season as home of the San Francisco Giants.

Only one thing mars the fans' appreciation of the Giants' $319 million palace: their share of the mortgage payment.

"The prices are ridiculous," said John Wolfe, a Giants fan who figured he'd spent about $80 at a game against the Cincinnati Reds last month.

"But you know what, it's worth it. I'd rather pay more at this place than go back to Candlestick. I'll bet every fan here would tell you the same thing."

A family of four would spend $161.13 attending a game at Pac Bell Park, up 45.8 percent from what it cost at 3Com Park in 1999, according to calculations by Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based consultant to sports franchises.

Despite the Giants' price increases, front-office executives say they aren't fielding many complaints. In fact, a more frequent question from fans is: How can I get tickets?

The Giants are averaging near-sellout crowds – 41,045 a game – at Pac Bell Park this year, compared with 25,659 at 3Com last year.

The 60 percent increase is the largest in Major League Baseball, which plays its annual All-Star Game on Tuesday at Atlanta's 4-year-old Turner Field.

Franchise owners contend that price increases reflect their investments in new stadiums and arenas – even those being built by public subsidies.

"You have to recover your investment," said Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars hockey team and Texas Rangers baseball team.

The Stars and basketball's Dallas Mavericks will move into the new American Airlines Center next year.

Team owners say, too, they sell tickets at prices far lower than the average rates reflected in Team Marketing Report's data. The Giants, for example, sell some tickets for as little as $5.

Same story, different city

As far as pricing goes, what's happening in San Francisco is being repeated at two other new baseball parks.

At Houston's 42,000-seat Enron Field, the cost for a family of four rose 34.4 percent to $161.72, compared with $120.30 at the Astrodome.

A family of four going to Detroit's 40,000-seat Comerica Park would pay $165.31, up 52.5 percent from the $108.41 last year at 89-year-old Tiger Stadium.

Across Major League Baseball, Team Marketing Report says, a family of four would pay an average of $131.83 to attend a game, up 8.6 percent from last year.

In the broader economy, consumer prices are rising about 3 percent a year.

The pattern is being repeated in other professional sports leagues. New stadiums and arenas bring higher prices for consumers:

· Basketball's Los Angeles Lakers raised prices 44.7 percent upon moving into the $400 million Staples Center this season, with an average ticket up $30 to $82 and a family of four now paying $427 to attend a game.

· In their first year in the new Air Canada Centre, hockey's Toronto Maple Leafs fans paid $350.47, or 55 percent more, to take a family of four to a game. The average ticket price jumped to $69.92, compared with $41.72 in 1998 in Maple Leaf Gardens.

· Football's Tennessee Titans, who moved into Nashville's $292 million Adelphi Stadium last year, raised the cost for a family of four by 23 percent to $300. Two years ago, with the opening of $168.5 million Raymond James Stadium, the cost of taking the family to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game increased 59 percent to $322.

Nickeled-and-dimed

In most cases, the biggest blows to fans' wallets come in the price of admission, but smaller increases also raise the total.

The Giants, for example, raised average ticket prices 75 percent – from $12.12 at 3Com Park to $21.24 at Pac Bell Park.

Parking jumped from $7 at 3Com to $13.25 at Pac Bell, although more fans come to the new ballpark by mass transit. Price increases continue inside the facility. Beer costs a quarter more; soft drinks, an additional 50 cents.

It's an extra buck for a program. Hot dogs and a souvenir cap cost the same. Some fans might see the higher prices at new stadiums and arenas as a rip-off – but, as with gasoline, they pay anyway.

"I'm spending a lot more than I expected to," said Linda Crowell, who left Pac Bell Park's automated teller with a fistful of fresh cash. "Somebody's getting rich."

What the market will bear

As with all prices, those in sports are set by supply and demand. In most cases, the new stadiums and arenas aren't any bigger in seating capacity than the facilities they replace.

At the same time, the new palaces draw additional fans, many of them attracted by the restaurants, bars, retail outlets, entertainment areas and other amenities.

So owners, like many other businesses, simply charge what the market will bear, and fans either have to pay or forgo their favorite sport.

"Wherever you have a monopoly, there's no telling about the laws of free-market economics," said Frank Stadulis, president of USFans.com, a consumer advocacy group with 450,000 members. "They don't apply."

Allen Sanderson, a University of Chicago economist who has studied sports business, doesn't deny that sports franchises possess monopoly power.

He adds, though, that the teams had no competition in their old facilities either. Mr. Sanderson argues that fans, like consumers of cars and houses, are willing to pay more for higher quality.

"People are trading up in terms of their amenities," he said. "It's like buying a Honda Accord instead of a Civic."

America is in the midst of history's greatest building boom in sports facilities, a $6 billion frenzy that's touching just about every big-league city.

Over the past decade or so, dozens of stadiums and arenas rose out of the ground, providing more amenities for fans and greater revenue for owners. Another dozen or so new sports palaces are under construction.

Ticket sales less crucial

New sports facilities are growing more expensive as teams add elaborate features, such as retractable roofs. The Seattle Mariners last year moved into SafeCo Field, which cost $417.4 million to build. The new stadium for Seattle's National Football League team, the Seahawks, will cost $430 million.

Since its approval in 1998, the cost of Dallas' new American Airlines Center has jumped from $265 million to $325 million, with $125 million coming from taxes on hotels and rental cars.

Neither Dallas team has set prices for the new arena yet. Decisions on parking and concessions haven't been made yet, either. Even so, Mr. Hicks expects ticket prices to increase more slowly at the American Airlines Center than they have at Reunion Arena.

The American Airlines Center will produce additional revenue for the Stars, who this year made a profit for the first time since moving to Dallas in 1993. Mr. Hicks said he expects income sources such as luxury suites and club seats to make the team less dependent on ticket receipts.

The Stars' average ticket price rose 10.9 percent to $50.87 last season, and 5.5 percent to $45.88 the previous year, according to Team Marketing Report.

One fan's lower-bowl Stars tickets rose from $49.50 to $55 in the past two years, with an increase to $60 slated for next season.

Public vs. private funding

In an era in which the Stars, Mavericks and other teams get public funding, Giants owners proudly proclaim that Pac Bell Park is the first privately financed baseball stadium since the Los Angeles Dodgers opened Dodger Stadium in 1962.

Most other sports facilities depend, in part at least, on public financing: For example, Houston taxpayers put up $248.2 million to build $251.5 million Enron Field.

Mr. Stadulis says he's offended when teams wrangle subsidies for new stadiums and arenas, then turn around and stick fans with steep price increases.

"If they're building it privately, that's one thing. They're asking fans to pay for the new ballpark with higher ticket prices," Mr. Stadulis said.

"The thing that's hard to swallow is when they ask for public money to build it, and ... you get slammed with a big increase in the price of tickets."

How does this happen?

"It's partly our fault," Mr. Stadulis said. "When it comes to sports, we vote with our hearts. We don't vote with our feet or our pocketbooks."