Field of Schemes
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April 09, 2010

Block that meme: When big is small

First line of a New York Times story today by Ken Belson on the new Jets and Giants stadium:

If the trend in baseball stadiums is intimacy, in football, it is grandeur.

I've railed against this before (including the last time Belson proferred it), but let's just put a stake in this right now: New baseball stadiums are not generally more intimate than the ones they replace. Do they have fewer seats? Yes. Is there less foul territory, putting the front rows of the lower deck closer to the action? Yes. But by any normal definition of intimacy — which is to say, fans in general being closer to the game — new baseball stadiums ain't it: With wider legroom and expanded luxury seating, the average seat is usually farther from the field than in older stadiums — and that's even with new stadiums typically having fewer seats.

Now, there are certainly benefits to having more legroom, especially if you're a fan of the taller persuasion. But for all new baseball stadium's attributes, "intimacy" is simply not one of them, no matter how much MLB PR flacks and their enablers in the media try to push it. A better word for the spacious concourses, upgraded video screens, and ubiquitous cupholders they offer might be ... grandeur?


thank you for the refreshing candor. it's amazing that sports customers can be herded like sheep by the siren call of the mlb flacks and enablers.
sitting farther from the field, spend more and get less?
sure! if that's what the franchise wants! baah,baah,baah...

build it and they will spend...

Posted by paul w. on April 9, 2010 12:25 PM

My thoughts exactly. My gosh you rip people apart so eloquently.

Old Comiskey Park was intimate, Tiger Stadium was intimate

New Yankee stadium is about twice the size and bulk of the old one

Posted by Sasha on April 9, 2010 01:31 PM

I think it all comes down to what kind of stadium the new one is replacing. If you're talking Yankee Stadium v Yankee Stadium II then yes the old stadium was more intimate. But if you're talking say, Candlestick Park v AT&T Park or Shea v Citi Field I find it hard to believe the average seat is further from the action. Particularly after sitting on the top of the upper deck of Candlestick and ATT Parks.

Posted by Dan on April 9, 2010 02:42 PM

Those cases are closer, but only because AT&T and Citi hold about 15,000 fans fewer apiece than Candlestick and Shea. If you took the average of the first 40,000 seats (or, alternatively, the 40,000th closest seat), you'd definitely be farther away than at the old places.

John Pastier, the ballpark historian, used to track average upper-deck seating distances, and found that even the bad old concrete donuts like Shea generally scored better than the new stadiums. I should check and see if he's updated his figures.

Posted by Neil on April 9, 2010 02:50 PM

Do you have an empirical evidence to back that up?

Posted by Dan on April 9, 2010 06:30 PM

For which part? I've done the math for Citi vs Shea, looking at the architectural renderings and figuring out seating distances - the Citi upper deck is about the equivalent of the back of the old Shea mezzanine/front of the old Shea upper deck, which is beyond the 42,000-seat mark. AT&T/Candlestick I'm guessing based on having sat in the upper deck at both, but John may have exact figures.

Posted by Neil on April 9, 2010 09:55 PM

This shouldn't surprise anyone, especially with the new way stadiums are built. The best seats are club/box seats that the average fan won't have access to, so the average fan's lowest area is much further back. Not to mention, there was a time when ballparks were built into a city - Wrigley, Tiger Stadium, Fenway, Forbes Field to name a few - so they had to be much more compact which made the dimensions smaller, giving fans a closer view.

My bigger question Neil are the quality of views. Newer stadiums (typically) have fewer obstructed views than old ones? That's a legitimate case to make for newer parks vs. their older counterparts if that's true.

Posted by Ian on April 10, 2010 03:16 AM

Well that and you can't really discount club seats. Yes they tend to cost more but they're still seats that have to be taken into consideration for where the "average" seat is in the ballpark distance wise.

Posted by Dan on April 10, 2010 03:02 PM

I wasn't discounting club seats, for the record. I consider them just like old-fashioned box seats, only with waiters.

Obstructed views are a red herring, mostly. There are only a teeny number of stadiums left with pillars, and even if you didn't sell any of those seats at all, the average seating distance would generally be better in those parks. (This was something the Tiger Stadium Fan Club pointed out back in the day - the Tigers said they wanted a new park to avoid obstructed views, but Comerica has fewer seats than even just the unobstructed ones at Tiger Stadium.)

As for seats that can't see some sliver of field somewhere, that's a tradeoff that any stadium is going to have if it wants to keep the grandstand relatively close the the field — the ideal geometry for not obstructing any views is a circle, and I think everyone agrees that's not a good solution for baseball. Again, it's a tradeoff: If you can give 30,000 seats a better view in exchange for 2,000 not being able to see balls hit in the corner, you do that.

Posted by Neil on April 10, 2010 03:12 PM

Got it. I know there is no stadium design that's "perfect" per se, but the company line has been that older stadiums have worse lines of sight - the number of seats sold is a valid counterargument though. I'll be checking out Target Field later his summer - I'll give an update on how it is if no one on this site has been to it yet.

Posted by Ian on April 10, 2010 05:02 PM

Even in newer ballparks there are obstructions, like in some bleacher sections at Yankee Stadium, Mark III and Citi Field, where in some sections behind home plate you can't even see home plate because someone's head in front of you is blocking that view, not to mention the staircases-in-lieu-of-portals.

Posted by Transic on April 12, 2010 12:28 AM

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