Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Spring Sticker Shock

I am not one of those cranky oldtimers who always thinks things were better in the good old days.

Really, I'm not. But I'm having a hard time swallowing what's happened to the once-quaint institution known as Cactus League baseball. It used to be a place where you'd go stretch out in the sunshine, grab a beverage (maybe from The Lemonade Man), and watch a bunch of guys wearing number 83 try to make The Big Club.

I've watched as spring baseball became big business in Arizona and Florida (though it's clear that the Grand Canyon State has taken the high ground in this). New ballparks and training facilities have sprouted and the fans have followed. Cactus League attendance set a new record at 1.7 million last spring (up more than 7%) and the boom shows no sign of slowing.

That's not what bugs me. Sure, I liked it better in the old days when you could stretch out a bit. But there are still lazy backwaters where you can beat the crowds (if you like peace and quiet, go watch the Brewers at the Maryvale Ballpark).

No, what's griping me is the price of a ticket.  Yeah, I know, nothing's getting cheaper. But does it really seem right that the Giants would charge $54 for a grandstand seat? I'm not kidding. That's what they're charging for a March 23rd date against the A's at Scottsdale Stadium. That same day, you can pay 32 bucks to plop your butt on the grassy hill behind the outfield fence.

The two-trophies-in-three-years Giants will undoubtedly sell every seat they offer this spring.  And to be fair, they're not charging those sorts of outrageous prices for every game; you can go see the Indians on a Tuesday afternoon and pay 7 bucks to sit on the grass or $24 for a box seat. That's "variable pricing" at work; the Giants have been among baseball's leading proponents of the idea that all tickets are not created equal.

Still, when a ticket for an exhibition game costs as much as (or more than) a ticket to a real game, something's out of whack. Sure, Scottsdale Stadium has the advantage of being a stroll away from a great concentration of bars and restaurants, but we're talking about a spring training game here. That's a lot of pressure on whoever's wearing number 83.

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