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Downsizing while going upscale

In his review of the career of MLB's Bud Selig, Tim Marchman closes with the "milking the cow, but not feeding it" theme:

Across the nation, virtually every ballpark in the game has been replaced or scheduled for demolition over the last 15 years; those few that haven't, like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, have been carefully renovated. The purpose of this new construction has always been the same: To build smaller, more intimate parks specializing in providing more high-end service to businessmen. Money isn't made these days from the family out to take the annual trip to the local park; it's made from clients who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on luxury suites in which they entertain clients.

This is a broad conceptual shift, and I don't think it was inevitable. There is a great tension in marketing a mass entertainment as a boutique product, and a different commissioner would have made different choices, handling that tension differently. Selig has come down on one side, firmly and consistently.

You can see the ultimate example of this in California, where the Athletics are moving from a football field in relatively low-rent Oakland to a 35,000-seat park in Fremont, which isn't, by baseball's historical standards, even a definable place. It's the most extreme manifestation of the shift the sport has made toward valuing quality over quantity — to cater to the relatively few at the expense of the many. It was inevitable that baseball would move in this direction, but under Selig the sport has become totally committed to it. Even in New York, a city with enough passionate fans to support five successful teams, the new stadiums are limiting supply to increase demand and better serve the wealthiest patrons — the Mets' new field, for instance, will have 10,000 fewer seats than Shea Stadium does, and that's not because they have a problem moving tickets.

Only the years will tell, but I think this could prove to be a catastrophic choice.

I'm obviously sympathetic to Marchman's point. But while the risks of catastrophe are notoriously difficult to quantify, they must be quite small, at least over the next two decades. For the time being, electronic media will supply the product to the masses and generate future demand.

Despite Marchman's critique of downsizing, his review [part one, part two] credits Selig for successfully steering baseball through significant periods of economic change. It's a savvy account too, as shown by his take on the public subsidy game. "Blame the city councils, not Selig, for the waste of your money."