By Jason Keidel
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Believe it or not, this all started with a muted report in the New York Post about the Yankees‘ desire to eliminate a homespun ticket off your printer. They intend to funnel the fan toward the team or its handpicked broker for all ticket purchases, primary or secondary market.
The move is dubious, of course, in that it was just another way to squeeze a buck from the blue-collar stiff. The Yankees are perhaps the most valuable sports team on the planet (along with Real Madrid and the Dallas Cowboys), yet they now care if the Con Ed welder saves $50 at StubHub. Yup, they care just enough to rip that option away from him.
Lisa Swan, curator and co-founder of the popular baseball blog Subway Squawkers, was quoted in the Post piece that spawned this maelstrom. How did we get from there to here? “Because (Yankees COO) Lonn Trost underestimated the intelligence and savvy of Yankees fans,” says Swan.
Swan says that, according to StubHub, 40 percent of ticket sales occur in the 72 hours leading up to the game. The Yankees saw that and seized upon the opportunity to shoehorn their way into that market.
“Because sportswriters get into games for free, they weren’t necessarily thinking of what the repercussions of not being able to print tickets really meant,” says Swan. “Meanwhile, fans like myself figured out that this was all a fig leaf to smash StubHub and other secondary ticket venues once and for all, which would hurt our ability to get decently priced tickets.”
While WFAN’s Mike Francesa tried to cover a wide palate of sports Monday, his show morphed into a referendum on Trost and the elitist vibe the Yankees and their more well-heeled fans give off every summer. Some of the calls to WFAN spawned debates that rivaled a tete-a-tete between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
“Trost is the worst kind of front-office guy,” says Swan, “completely incapable of relating to the common fan, but too arrogant to realize that.”
Most callers were indignant fans who ascribe to the notion that the Yankees, in their opulent new stadium — which never was meant to be a ballpark like, say, Citi Field — give off the chilling, sterile sense of apathy, a cold transaction between a customer and financial institution. Indeed, entering the new Yankee Stadium is like walking into a bank.
“I am somebody who liked the team being called the Evil Empire,” says Swan. “Because it showed that our owner would spend any amount and go the extra mile to get the best players. But these days, they’re more about screwing over their own fan base than sticking it to the Red Sox.”
You can hang a few flags, lather the walls with a few images of baseball’s Golden Age. But you can’t make a place charming if it isn’t. No amount of pastoral subterfuge can mask the smell of cash.
The original Yankee Stadium felt like a ballpark. It was old and redolent of mustard and beer. It felt inhabited, like moving into a house where a caring family lived for generations.
The new place smells like a stack of $100 bills, feels about as warm as a hospital. All sports arenas are built to make money. But the current Yankee Stadium doesn’t hide that purpose, no paint job to cloak the monetary motif.
And it doesn’t help that the Mets have sprinted past the Yankees, in the standings, in ballparks and on the back page. “Not only do the Mets have the better team now,” says Swan. “But they actually survey their fans — not just the rich ones — to see how to improve their experience. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ think that having Brother Jimmy’s and Johnny Rockets is the height of sophistication for the typical fan.”
Then you have Trost on WFAN, all but saying that they don’t want the undesirables beyond the velvet rope. It’s like one of those horribly pretentious bars star athletes surely occupy on a Friday night. One of those single-name spots, like Spa or Spy, where some muscle-head in a black suit so tight he can barely move gazes into the crowd to see who looks sufficiently vain before he lifts that sacred rope. Trost’s appearance on “Boomer & Carton” had all the hallmarks of a “get off my lawn” moment.
“And when is the team’s front office going to apologize for Trost’s remark?” asks Swan.
Francesa said the Yankees care only about your money. He disagreed with the assertion that the club doesn’t want John and Jane Doe from Bayonne and their four kids at the game. He said the well-heeled fan was not insulted by the Walmart wardrobe of the proletarian in the next seat. Rather, they were bothered by the bottom-basement prices they paid to see the game.
At a certain point, we are what we are. There’s nothing the Yankees brass has done lately to suggest their noses are any closer to regular folk. And it’s almost impossible to interpret Trost’s words and the Yankees’ actions as anything other than hostile toward the have-nots.
“The irony is that the players are mostly pretty likable these days,” says Swan. “The front office, not so much. But the latter is what is making more of an impression with the fans. Nobody wants to be treated like fools.”
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel