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The Ecstasy of the Baseball Business

August 24, 2012 ·

Baseball is a form of escape and a sport kids play, but professional baseball is solid business.

Seated in the upper upper deck at San Francisco's AT&T Park, during a Giants-Rockies game, one would not know millions of people around the nation faced foreclosure or had already lost their homes and jobs, or that the country was in the midst of a presidential election campaign. The large man seated next to me cupped his hand over his mouth to scream "Colorado, you suck" and other such sagacious slogans as the game crept on, and the sun set over San Francisco Bay. The Giants showed their inability to hit with their bats the tiny white ball with stitches holding it together. How agonizing! Why was I here?

Baseball is in the business of providing an escape from reality. Photo by dutchbaby/Flickr.Baseball, one form of escape whether playing or watching, once belonged to men, especially working class men, as their version of ballet. Now the stands include lots of women, some holding signs saying "Gamer Babes."

One watches — or when younger performs – with only one area of focus, that small white ball, hit it, catch it or if, pitching or fielding, throw it to the right spot.

You don't think about mortgage payment due, your job uncertain or over, no health insurance, kids tuition coming due, car needing major surgery, or you kid  in Afghanistan and maybe soon in Syria – who knows? – if Obama decides to send him there.

You don't think of the traffic jam you'll face when you leave the ball park or the climbing price of gas itself. You discuss the performance of the ball players as the 40,000+ people fill the escalators and walk ramps, masses clumped tightly together to exit the stadium. Between innings, noise emerges from the stadium sound system, along with commercials and feel-good messages from the Giants' management. We’re all one happy Giant tribe, and baseball unlike life itself, means happiness, getting away from troubles and into the cocoon of youth by watching grown men play a kids' game.

I'm one of millions of baseball escapists, a Giants fan since I was four and lived within walking distance to the Polo Grounds where they played when they were the New York Giants.

The Giants, fiscally and on the field, played inconsistent ball in the decade preceding 1957. They won the Penant in 1951 and the World Series in 1954, but could not draw fans as did their Brooklyn rivals and hated Yankees across the Harlem River. Owner Horace Stoneman thought the relocation to San Francisco would revitalize the team. On their final day at the Polo Grounds in Coogan's Bluff, after fans stormed the field, former baseball writer and the Giants PR man Garry Schumacher chided, "If all the people who will claim in the future that they were here today had actually turned out, we wouldn't have to be moving in the first place."

I watched my first San Francisco Giants game in 1961 at Candlestick Park, where wind ripped through the field and the stands as if in punishment for the team deserting New York.

Now, in the new A T&T park, tourists mingle with home town escapists to watch the game; the upper decks offer a great view of San Francisco Bay and the ships moving in and out.

This country provides its citizens with lots of patriotic escape routes (The National Anthem precedes every game), if you can afford them. It's $23 for an upper upper deck seat. A ball park beer costs $9 and an ice cream $4.50. The greasy meals will run over $10. Parking runs $20 or more. A small price to pay for an evening outdoors watching younger, more athletic guys show – or not – their stuff. And identifying your deepest emotions with the performances of men wearing "Your" team's uniform – guys you don't even know.

The players, especially the stars, make high salaries, but the team owners reap the big profits from tickets, TV rights plus the food and booze sold at the games. It's a big business, like all professional sports, that uses good old American values to lure buyers – come see the game and buy tee shirts and other parophinalia that says "Giants" on it (hats, jackets, sweatshirts, bats, autographed balls and anything as sales maven can think of) — anything to attract a young child or mentally undersupplied adult. Nielsen reports that "ad spending on sports jumped 33% between 1974 and 2011, to almost $11 billion annually."

In case one wonders about the price of tickets, "team owners in Major League Baseball (MLB) set ticket prices as profit-maximizing monopolists" says Donald L. Alexander, in his article "Major League Baseball, Monopoly Pricing and Profit-Maximizing Behavior" in the Journal of Sports Economics

So, when you take your family to the ball park to root for the Giants, Dodgers, Marlins whoever, and if you feed them at the ball park you’ll be over one hundred dollars poorer – albeit you'll have spent the afternoon outdoors with the family who will then want to buy things they saw advertised on TV while watching a baseball game at home. Baseball might be a sport kids play, but professional baseball is solid business. Go Giants!