Thousands of unsold seats at Yankee postseason games: Some possible reasons

The New York Yankees are in the playoffs again — for at least another two games, anyway — which means it’s once again time to play “What’s wrong with attendance at the new stadium?” During both last week’s Division Series and in the first two games of the A.L. Championship Series this weekend, the Yanks drew several thousand fans short of capacity, and ushers were told to bring fans down from the nosebleeds to higher-priced seats to make the stadium look more full on TV. It’s a startling change from past seasons, when postseason games were sold out the minute they went on sale, and all the more startling considering that the new Yankee Stadium has about 7,000 fewer seats than the original one.

Many observers have been quick to jump to the conclusion that Yankee fans now suck, but it’s hard to see why they’d suck now when they didn’t just a few years ago. Some other possible theories, then, some raised by other news outlets, some my own:

  • It was cold. It was really cold — windy and below 50 on Friday and Saturday nights, and not much better on Sunday. Given that those three games weren’t even sure of being played until the last minute, it’s easy to see why some fans would have steered clear. Still, it’s usually cold in October, and that hasn’t stopped fans in the past.
  • Scalper greed. There were roughly 10,000 tickets a game still available on StubHub close to each game time, so it’s possible sellers were holding out for more than they could get. They did drop prices for Friday’s game, though, plus those 3,000 unsold tickets were unsold even by the Yankees, though, so this wouldn’t explain them.
  • Yankee greed. The unsold tickets were largely in the corners of the upper deck, where seats are 1) expensive for postseason games and 2) pretty crappy compared to the old stadium. Several fans commented to local papers about the high prices at the new stadium not just for tickets, but for concessions: “I think the high prices of the [concessions] and the seats themselves, I think that’s what’s causing people not to come out,” said one. “It’s expensive to come out here anymore.” Another added: “At the old stadium, a playoff game, Saturday night, it was electric. It was a zoo. There were guys in jersey-shirts, drinking $8 beers. They’re gone, and I don’t know if they’re going to come back. Your $10 tickets are $50 tickets now.”
  • Postseason fatigue. The Atlanta Braves have long been famed for not being able to sell out postseason games, and like them, the Yankees have now made it to October almost every year for well over a decade. Maybe fans are thinking, “Enh, I’ll wait till next year when the team is maybe hitting better and they’re not playing the Orioles”?

If the Yankees survive long enough to make it back to the Bronx for Game 6 on Saturday, we’ll have another data point to see which of these theories, if any, hold water. Regardless, when you have Detroit Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry calling the new stadium “a very easy place to play” compared to Oakland, you know that something has gone very wrong with the Yanks’ move to the House That George Built.

22 comments on “Thousands of unsold seats at Yankee postseason games: Some possible reasons

  1. I made my 1st, and hopefully last, foray to the new Yankee Stadium a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure where my friend purchased the tickets but the seats down the first base line, in very shallow right field, were $225 each.

    The two hot dogs, two beers and two orders of french fries were the most expensive ball park snacks I’ve ever ordered.

    Despite being in the borough with the lowest population of white people the crowd was overwhelmingly white.

    I see no reason to ever go again.

  2. I just got an email from the Yankees noting that tickets are still available for ALCS Gamd 6 and 7. Note that all the cheap seats are gone, with the least expensive remaining tickets going for $113 (plus fees):

    Stubhub seats start at $64, but with 11,000+ tickets still available, I expect that’ll come down by game time, if there is a Game 6:

  3. I think the real reason is so thousands of fans can make their own #InvisibleObama pictures.

    Too bad about the Yankees, though. They’re in deep trouble.

  4. I can see how fans being spoiled from too many good Yankees teams. When was the last season the Yankees were awful? 1992? 1991? But with all that winning, there should be plenty of loyalty. I wouldn’t totally blame the weather because real fans will sit through anything. Price? Most definitely the biggest factor. All it takes is one bad experience & some word of mouth which it makes it much easier to decide.

    I don’t know; maybe they should have never *moved* from the original Yankee Stadium spot. Too late now. Maybe renovate / rebuild as much as possible, but leave the lower deck layout, field, outfield wall & monuments alone while preserving the historic diamond and you know, not jacking up prices so high.

    I get it’s totally naive to think they could have played in new Shea Stadium for 2 or 3 seasons (greed) while they rebuilt Yankee Stadium but to me as an outsider, new Yankee Stadium is just a generic ballpark with every aspect that’s wrong with modern MLB. There’s just nothing sacred or historical about it all. I would not underestimate nostalgia for a second, and I think the Ricketts understand this about Wrigley.

    Problem is, the Yankees are counting too much on Keith Olbermann’s and not on Average Joe’s.

  5. Prices and the Orioles. But I think there’s too much concern about “only” filling 94% of the seats. Lower the prices to fill 100% and you may make less overall than with 94%. Obviously their pricing scheme isn’t too far from optimal. (Now, if they’d only learn about the concept of supply and demand in places like Tampa, we’d hear a lot less moaning about empty seats.)

    So, no, no crying necessary for the fate of the Steinbrenner clan.

  6. How many of the unsold seats were in the ‘corners’ in right and left center, where paying fans can only see half the outfield and some can’t even see the full infield?

    Have to admit, I’m loving hearing how tough it was for opposing players to play at the Oakland coliseum… also impressed that Lew Wolff rose to the challenge and refused to sell seats to fans anxious to buy tickets to the DS. Attaboy, Lew Lew! You show ’em! It’s all about you, not about them.

    Fans? We doan need no steenking fans!

  7. No officially unsold seats in the obstructed bleachers, though some that went unclaimed on Stubhub might have been there. The vast majority of the empty seats, though, were either pricier tickets or the outfield seats in the upper deck, where you may be able to see the whole field, but only with binoculars.

  8. Baseball customers want to live in a time warp of the age when the reserve clause was in effect and admission prices were more in line with budget of many.
    It’s not and the appetite for the product by those customers (in it’s many manifestations) the many missteps by franchise owners that the players association has taken advantage of has brought us to these circumstances. Franchises and/or league offices will gauge what customers (corporate and individual) are willing to spend and attempt to maximize their return for the privilege of seeing it live.
    As long as the customers swallow the annual increases that pattern will continue.
    With the rapid rise of player costs there is no other option for franchise owners who want to turn a profit as well – are there any who don’t?
    With so many options to watch the game at a fraction of the cost and less individual disposable income, it’s not surprising that there’s a noticeable number of empty seats.

    The original stadium building would not have been able to accommodate the additional infrastructure needed to increase those revenue streams. It’s a business and to “keep up” with the other business franchises that they compete with the current mallpark was inevitable.
    “Historic and sacred” doesn’t pay the bills these days, (btw – Gettysburg battlefield & cemetery is sacred ground, ballparks are not) the minimum salary will be 500K soon and as long as the players assoc. and owners can count on your paying-up nothing will change.

  9. There is zero evidence that higher player salaries lead to higher ticket prices. None. Bupkis.

    I wrote a whole book chapter about this once — you can read most of it here:

  10. Has everyone forgotten how bad the economy is, for starters? In addition to that there are 3 other main reasons:
    A. Playoff fatigue…only natural it would happen, although its not as bad as the braves got, where a 1/4 of the stadium was empty. Notice how braves sold out when they got back in.
    B. Tix and concessions and parking are to much $$$$$$.
    C. Except for 09′, they lose every year. I guess thats more playoff fatigue.

  11. To think that salaries have somehow driven up ticket prices is to assume that owners wouldn’t otherwise be looking to maximize their income. Of course they would. So you’ve got it backwards. Salaries have risen because the money is there from increased ticket and other income. And they’ve also risen because communities subsidize facility costs that would otherwise have to be covered by the teams. Increased revenues + decreased operating costs = more money available to pay players.

  12. To be blunt, I now prefer watching on TV.

    This is something pro sports around the world will have to figure out.

  13. I have been to the new Yankee Stadium on a number of occasions this season. Many of the seats in the upper deck were sold as total/partial season ticket plans with those ticket buyers thinking that the could resell those tickets above face value (however, on the secondary market-i.e., Stubhub, they were often being sold at 50% below face value).

    In the post-season you will not have tourists buying those tickets nor families with children.

    The Yankees were have to offer significant discounts on tickets next year for the season ticket holders to renew (between 20-25%) or go to a tiered pricing plan for the more popular teams (i.e, the Red Sox)-similar to the Mets.

    The quality of the concessions (through the Yankees and Cowboys own company) is not as good as Citifield and the prices are also significantly higher. The Yankees will have to start offering a $10-$15 ticket surcharge for an all you can eat option (again similar to the Mets) or reduce prices by 20-25%.

    Knowing the Yankees they believe all these problems are due to their contact with Stubhub and they will start their own ticket reseller (their contract with Stubhub expires this year). They will then not allow tickets to be resold at face value thinking that will resolve the issue-clearly the wrong approach.

    Stay tuned.

  14. “issues”? “problems”? What y’all talking about? The Yankees had the second highest attendance in 2012, highest ticket prices and make a ton of money from TV.

    They doan got no steenkin “issues”.

  15. Well, if season ticket holders suddenly start refusing to renew en masse because their extra tickets are impossible to unload on the secondary market, that would certainly be a problem for the Yankees. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.

  16. As a former longtime Yankee fan much of what I predicted in 2009 is coming true. The whole concept of the “New Yankee Stadium” was not well thought out. The Yankee Brass was so eager to reap the rewards of a new stadium that they forgot what these changes would do to their business model.

    Yes, they still drew about 3.5 million and at higher prices than the old stadium. However, that’s still a decline of about 700,000 from the old place. You now have more no shows than ever and there are at least 5000-8000 less people in the stands every night. Plus ,they ticked off so many of their longtime fans who gave up their plans all together or go only a few times a year because of the high prices, in order to retain their former seat locations.

    To those that say that nothing is wrong or it’s not that bad of a situation then you’re not dealing with reality. Empty seats at a Yankee playoff game? Never it
    could have not happened in the old stadium. The new stadium was built to add stores and restaurants. Did they even consider what they could lose in the transition?. So many, many people don’t go because of the expense of the whole day or night and others that do go are not getting the same “High” from being there. The class system seating cannot be hidden. In fact, it’s comical watching
    those disinterested folks in the high priced seats on TV. Good Luck to the Yankee Corp in the next few years when their Hall Of Fame players are no longer there. One of the all-time great places to be in America is gone!

  17. I’m with you on the class-based seating, the ticked-off former fans (I’m one of them), and so on. I do wonder, though: Are those 5,000-8,000 fewer fans in the seats every night really no-shows, or are a lot of them hanging out in the clubs instead of in their seats? I remember this being a big issue in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, when Cliff Lee was shutting down the Yanks — there was much complaining that fans behind the plate had all gone home because the Yankees were losing, but it turned out they had just gone inside to watch on TV.

    I don’t honestly know the answer to this, and don’t know how to find out, since I don’t believe teams release turnstile count anymore, just tickets sold. And either way it makes for a somewhat crappy stadium experience. But it does make a difference how much of a crisis the Yankees will see this as, since 8,000 no-shows is one thing, whereas 8,000 people wandering around buying food instead of watching the game is, from their perspective, good business.

  18. Neil, I understand your point about people not being in their seats. The problem is you see the entire row or rows with no occupants. It doesn’t pass the smell test. I believe there are less fans actually going into the stadium. Why are the parking garages closing? Did everyone decide to take the train into The Bronx.?

    The Yankees tend to blame Stubhub for much of this mess, but why would there be so many tickets left for a playoff games? If you could pay regular season price or lower for a playoff game then why would sharp New Yorkers pass on that deal?. All of a sudden the Yankees can’t sell at least 3000 tickets, in a smaller stadium, for consecutive playoff games. In fairness it’s not just the Yankees giving the business to the fans. Gas at over $4 per gallon, tolls that can cost $10 each,parking at $35, and food and beverage prices. So many fans have to say no and watch it on TV.

    The design of the interior of the new stadium also leaves much to be desired. The outside is outstanding. but they turned true New York atmosphere into a theme park. It’s clean and new, but lacks imagination.

  19. If there’s evidence of a problem here, it’s more likely in the future than anything current. They’re doing just fine with 87% capacity during the regular season and 94% during the playoffs. If those numbers change significantly, they’ll just adjust prices. The real potential issue is whether the cost of going to a game has a long-term impact on the size of your fan base. Will fans stop being fans because they can’t afford to go to a game? Will the next generation of fans be smaller because they could never go to a game when they were young? Or, despite the complaining about the cost, are most fans okay with watching on TV? That 95%+ of your audience that isn’t in the stadium on any given day – are they happy?

  20. I have had season tickets since 1999 back then it was affordable. My friends and I had 4 seats in section 19 lower then moved to section 14 and it was $65 per ticket until the New Stadium arrived then we had to move upstairs to sec 225 which were worse seats and more expensive. This year we upgraded one sec closer to home plate and now our tickets went to $110 per ticket plus tolls and parking means about $500 per game before I even get to my seat. The bottom line it has become unaffordable to go see them play my friends and I at times couldn’t even give tickets away for free.

  21. Yes Neil I am. Our full season plan due to the cost around 32k parking not included requires us to have around 14 guys and you end up with a lot of lousy games that either guys cannot make or don’t want and it becomes a battle. At the beginning of the season I wanted to get rid of some games due to my disgust of what I ended up with and called a friend of mine who is a broker and tried to get face value and his reply was their not worth the paper their printed on. I can call him on game days and get tickets for that game for at least half price or less. Btw Neil I am obsessed with your website it’s awesome!!!!