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Recession and ticket demand

Are baseball fans spooked by the recession talk? The early literature on ticket demand suggested that attendance was not affected much by business cycle swings. Let's take a look at this year's spring training attendance:

Cactus League

Despite an economy as shaky as a rookie pitcher's first big-league outing, Cactus League baseball fans are showing up in Arizona on a record pace.

At the season's midpoint, about 550,000 fans have attended 92 games, up nearly 2 percent from the same time last year, said J.P. de la Montaigne, president of the Cactus League Association.

2007 set an attendance record, so a 2% increase suggests baseball demand is holding up well.

The high price of gasoline would seem to make vacation travel to Florida vulnerable, but the Grapefruit League numbers are not off very much:

Grapefruit League:

Through 173 games, following the slate of 10 games on Sunday, March 16, the attendance total stands at 1,036,797.

That's 6,000 fans per game, down 200 from last year's record-breaking total. A 3% decline, which might be due to a change in relative prices (gas) and not an aggregate economy-wide swoon.

As for the regular season, it is clearly too early to tell. But the swoon on Wall Street doesn't seem to be affecting Yankee prices or demand very much. From Wallace Matthews:

As of yesterday, 42 of the 50 luxury suites in the new Yankee Stadium have been sold, at up to $800,000 each. Sixty percent of the park, or more than 30,000 seats, are classified as "premium" seats, priced between $250 and $1,000 each, and right now you couldn't buy one if you knew the mayor.

The same goes for tickets costing $2,500 at the new ballpark, for games that won't be played until 2009. "[T]he choicest seats in their new ballpark, right behind home plate, plus waiter services, free parking, free food and access to three private clubs." All 1,800 are sold. Russell Goldman has more on the transformation of Yankee tickets into luxury goods.

The bottom line: if you are looking for signs of recession, perhaps you should look somewhere other than the ballpark.

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