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Empty Seats at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium

by Jake Neher
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Empty Seats at Citi Field
David Berkowitz, flickr.

Despite winning records, NY clubs struggle with attendance.

New York City baseball fans are turning their attention to Citi Field this weekend as the Mets and Yankees meet for their second subway series of the season. The first half of the season is winding down, and despite being contenders in their respective divisions, both teams are having problems selling tickets.

After a dismal 2011, the Mets are now 38-and-32 and in second place in the National League East. But they're only averaging just above 28,000 attendees per game so far this year. That's about 2,000 fewer than at the end of last season. It seems the club's improvements aren't enough to stop a steady decline in ticket sales since Citi Field opened in 2009.

The honeymoon also looks to be over for the new Yankee Stadium, which opened the same year. The Yanks had a rough start to this season, but they’re now in first place in the American League East, and are one of the hottest teams in baseball. They’re averaging nearly 42,000 per game. It might not sound all that bad on the surface, but that’s about 4,000 fewer attendees compared to the 2011 season.

NYU Professor of sports business Wayne McDonnell says there are many reasons for low ticket sales, but the economy is clearly the most important.

"A typical family of four that's either Yankee or Met fans might go to about five games a year. Unfortunately, due to the economy now, they're probably going to maybe one or two games a year," McDonnell said.

Of course, the economy isn’t only sluggish in New York City. Teams in harder-hit areas of the country, the Detroit Tigers for example, are seeing significant increases in attendance this season. McDonnell and others say the cost of simply getting to a game in New York is high, not to mention ticket prices at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium (especially) compared to other ballparks.

Economy aside, both organizations have had to deal with outside financial issues that could be affecting ticket sales.

According to ESPN, some high-ranking officials with the Yankees say the club might sever ties with online ticket vendor StubHub after the end of this season. They say StubHub's pricing system artificially deflates the value of tickets.

The owners of the Mets are still dealing with public sentiments after being caught up in Bernie Madoff's decades-long Ponzi scheme. It is widely considered to be the largest financial fraud in history.

Despite all these difficulties, NYU’s Wayne McDonnell says the clubs don't need to panic just yet when it comes to lousy ticket sales.

"I think we're just going to look back and say this is just a period thing, because the Yankees and Mets have devout and loyal fans that are willing to spend their disposable income," he said. "Unfortunately, right now there are limited amounts of disposable income, so they're not spending as agressively as they once did."

McDonnell and others, like Fordham University Professor of Sports Law Mark Conrad, say ticket sales often rise during the second half of the season. They say that’s likely for the Mets and Yankees, especially if both teams continue to compete.

Experts say one thing is for sure… this weekend's subway series will be an important boost for Citi Field attendance.

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