We keep hearing about how bad the economy is, but I find that difficult to believe. The Dow Jones and S&P 500 are close to new highs in the post-Great Recession cycle. President Obama and congressional leaders may even reach a deal—no matter how shortsighted—on controlling the deficit. And the NFL lockout may end this weekend keeping the flow of revenues to the league, owners and players… well, flowing.
In truth, I don’t get how a weak economy can keep producing such strong financial numbers in professional sports. Not because I don’t like sports. I’ve been a fan for sixty years or so. Jackie Robinson? Mickey Mantle? Bob Cousy? Bill Russell? Wilt Chamberlain? Jim Brown? Y.A. Tittle? I saw them all. But I lost interest in college sports long ago when coaches became multi-million-dollar university hires and Nike started dictating basketball match-ups. And professionals, while not hypocrites—they’re in it for the money—don’t please me very much, either.
Call me a codger, but I remember when people went to a ballgame to see the game and not attend an event. Fans spent their time in their seats not cruising the food stands and souvenir shops.
And the noise levels today! Once, you could talk to your buddy between innings or during a timeout about something a player had just done or an impending shift in strategy. Now, music and frenzied public address announcers in basketball and hockey arenas create a decibel level that makes discussing the game impossible. And the lights! Try watching a basketball game in Phoenix’ US Airways Center. I have. It’s horrible. The glare of digital advertisements circling the upper level makes seeing the court a challenge. And pick your sport, the drunks abound. No way would I go to an Oakland Raiders game.
Yet when the NFL goes back to work, fans will flock to the stadiums. The NBA is closed and could lose a good part or all of the upcoming season, but fans will come running once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached and the games begin. Major League Baseball continues. Here in San Francisco, the Giants sell out every game at a beautiful park—and put their hands deep into fans’ pockets. Very deep.
I went online last week to check seats for a Giants-Dodgers game. I’ve never sat in a left field Club seat and was intrigued. The price? $78. That’s a lot of money in a down economy. But as they say in infomercials, that’s not all. Buy that seat online, and the Giants tack on a $14 service fee. $14 for what? My printing out a ticket on my computer using my paper and my ink? Why not just sell a $92 ticket and be done with it? And let’s not even talk the price of parking, beer and food I’d reject at a restaurant.
So tell me our economy’s hurting. But don’t expect me to believe it when fans so willingly support billionaire owners and millionaire players who fight tooth-and-nail over revenues fans provide. Not with ticket prices so high. The Giants will draw three million-plus paying fans this season, none of whom will make a cent from another World Series victory. But ask them to dig deeper in this era of supposedly high unemployment to support another free agent, and they will. Something here is just a little bit off.
I’m leading Shabbat services at Congregation Sherith Israel tomorrow morning. More about that next week.
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