Paying to see the home team take batting practice
by, 04-11-2013 at 05:30 PM (708 Views)
There is already a lengthy thread in the forum, about the Twins' abortive offer to let fans watch home-team batting practice for $15; I did not get too worked up about the topic at first but I contributed and the obsessive reader may see a theme or two repeated here. Well written essays, pro and con, are also found at
To me, the problem is shocking tone-deafness on the part of the team, to the romance of their sport.
Sports are often equated to entertainments like movies, and no one expects to come in early to a movie and see filmed rehearsals of the actors struggling through their lines. (Instead you are subjected to ads and bogus quizzes on screen.) They got rid of the cartoon before or after the feature film, long ago. And no one likes the prices of concessions any better there than at the ballpark, but like at the ballpark, some people pay and some people gripe and some people do both.
But sports, and baseball in particular, aren't necessarily like other entertainments in all ways. BP (in double particular) is a mixture of tradition and romance. What do you actually learn from watching BP? Not much, and in fact the prime age for watching might be pre-teen on up through college or so - exactly when you would like to make sure you've hooked your future customers. And even at those ages, probably the second time they go early for BP they'll end up engaging in horseplay in between dives for home run balls, or wander around looking for something to eat. It's not the activity
itself, it's the atmosphere. You're watching what goes on before the curtain really goes up.
It's reported that the teams in Washington and Cleveland open their gates 2.5 hours before first pitch. I would be curious to see how the Twins might respond to this. "Oh, well, Washington and Cleveland, sure, they can do this, because..." what? Ushers and security staff cost less there? Fans there are much better behaved and won't spray graffiti on the walls like unsupervised Twins fans would? No one in Washington or Cleveland actually takes them up on their bluff of an offer and the ballpark is essentially empty until 15 minutes before game time?
Charging $15, or even more (Braves and Astros are among those offering VIP packages down on the field), positively kills that "behind the scenes" atmosphere. A VIP package may substitute a *different* atmosphere, an entitled feeling from having it made, well enough that you (or Dad) can plunk down the money (for you), but the romantic one is lost. The $15 makes you *part* of the scene, you're no longer behind it.
And for what? 60 tickets times $15 means the Twins likely are being honest about only recouping the extra cost of having some fans come through the gate early, or as some people irrelevantly point out, what Joe Mauer is paid to tie his shoelaces before a game, unless he pays someone to do that for him. But is that the smartest way to manage this $1000 per game?
No one's asking to be let in free; they already have a ticket (perhaps at a cut rate from StubHub, and maybe that's sticking in the team's craw?). Could the Twins not gain that much in goodwill by having a policy that the first 60 fans in line with tickets can just come in at X o'clock? Or make it a lottery, or something; never mind, I need a real PR expert to figure out how to not disappoint the family driving from Ft. Dodge or Fargo with that plan.
Or, open just one gate that allows access to the outfield seats, come-one-come-all, open up a concession stand selling burgers and overpriced soda, and recoup the lost $1000 from the 500 hardy fans who like to be there early. It's not like there's a risk of the high-priced ticket holders using this as a ruse to stay in the cheap seats when the game starts. And we're not talking about letting hobos in without a ticket. Behavior problems can be dealt with as strictly, or maybe even more so, as/than at the game itself; getting kicked out during BP and not seeing the game at all would be something a rowdy teen would remember and avoid happening again, but this seems really overthinking it except that you do have to have security on hand.
With regard to the argument that it's just offering something (for a price) currently unavailable (at any price), thus increasing freedom or something or other, the problem is that BP means more to people than just a commodity like a toaster. That's the "romantic" part I was getting at. BP's something that has been taken away over a long period of time, quietly and somewhat ad-hoc. I remember being very shocked the first time I went to a game at the Dome and had to wait and wait for the gates to open and by then BP was just ending, maybe just a few of the road team's scrubinis. So apparently I had been accustomed to seeing BP at Fenway, Baltimore, and wherever else
I had seen major league ballgames by that time (as a kid I lived in barren Indianapolis so I didn't have MLB to go by). Later, I remember driving through Waterloo Iowa, pulling up to the ballpark on a whim and learning that the game would start 2.5 hours later but "come on in, go back and by a ticket when the office opens later". I know that low-A is not the majors, but what I would *like* to feel is "come on in, you're welcome to wander around," and currently the attitude is "gates don't open for a while," and now this new wrinkle is "oh, well, sure, you'd be welcome if you fork over an additional $15".
I'm more on the rational/analytic end of the spectrum than most. If this stream of memories of Waterloo Iowa is what comes to mind from news of this $15 idea, it speaks to how BP is more of a deeply emotional issue than a matter of monetizing a commodity. Our society tried to reject "monetization equals freedom" in the sixties (remember the backlash against "status symbols"?) but in the long run the monetizers have won out; there's a stock market segment in the hard news on even a nominally leftist media outlet
like NPR nowadays, for goodness sake. The aim to bring a business mentality to every aspect of life would be shocking even to the Mad Men of the 50s-60s. And this trial balloon by the Twins touches some of us in this way.
There is a borrowed word, lagniappe, that roughly means a Freebie, as from a merchant. If MLB teams want to stress how much they run their businesses *as* businesses, they should remember that this word exists, and that not every business decision has to be made by the people wearing the green eyeshades. They have plenty of extra-cost options already to which their solution is "well, then don't buy it". Maybe it's *smart* business, here, to give away something that is widely perceived to be of value but which they can apparently envision making only $1000 a game from anyway.
Their tone-deafness on the romance of the game risks making people think of Monty Burns shuddering at the thought of ever giving anything away.