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.

Want to respond? Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.


  1. Julie House on July 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    From what you wrote, I would think you would call it the UP Jones rather than the DOWN Jones. I always say after looking at the stock market lately, you can’t keep a bad market down.

    • David on July 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm

      A friend asked if that was deliberate or a typo. Well, it was a typo. I fixed it. My portfolio appreciates the Dow’s strong rise since March 2009. Of course, if the President and Congress can’t find agreement on the deficit, it may well be the Down Jones… or Plunging Jones.

  2. Ron Laupheimer on July 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Despite what you said above, the economy is really hurting. First, the just-released June unemployment figures showed that California has almost a 12% unemployment rate, the highest in the country. Second, you are not focusing on the real and important figures. The stock market and salaries that you read about all concern the financial services or technology sectors, where people are employed and making loads of money. But apart from those sector, there are no jobs out there throughout the country for those average people who want to work. Teachers layoffs, firing of government workers, reduction of government pensions—these are all hurting the average consume tremendously. The lack of jobs, along with the health care crisis, is what is most troubling this country at this juncture.

    Yes, we have (especially here and with sport teams) many crazy people who are willing to shell out outrageous sums to attend events. But that does not mean this country’s economy is OK. It just means we have loads of people who are crazy and do not think about the future. But, of course, you certainly knew that before reading this comment.

    An early Shabbat Shalom. We hope to see you at the Temple this evening.

    • David on July 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      Might I have been pulling your leg while making a statement about sports?

      • Seth Perlstein on July 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm

        Not to butt in for Ron, but it didn’t sound to me like you were being sarcastic. At least, I didn’t read any sarcastic tone in the post.

        I agree with Ron, as well, that sports and the stock market are not real indicators of the economy’s health.

        Most people don’t have stocks and don’t live or die based on the S & P 500.

        And sports is a business for the wealthy and athletically gifted, both of which are an extremely small percentage of the population.

  3. Seth Perlstein on July 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    What else is wrong with modern society? Is it those gosh darned electronic thingamjigs or is it all those dad gummit young people with their whosiewhatsies?

    Don’t get me wrong, though. I think the family friendliness and general appeal to the masses of sporting events has certainly watered them down, as well. I mean, who would ever expect to sit in front of four women chatting about Facebook the whole time during a baseball game?

    And who would ever want to? It does suck to have to navigate through hordes of children and people who probably don’t know what a balk is, but that’s just how it is nowadays.

    However, if there weren’t all these people going to games then there wouldn’t be the money or interest to build all these new stadiums, have league specific networks like NFL Network, or be able to watch just about any game you want on TV at any given time.

    If ever there is a time machine invented I’ll go ahead and send you back to the days of Seal Stadium, one game a week on TV, and men dressed in suits attending sporting events.

    Me, I’m gonna go turn on NFL Network and see whats new with the lockout.

    • David on July 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      Gee, I wish I’d been in San Francisco to see Seals Stadium. But at least I made it to the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field as well as the old Yankee Stadium. Saw a triple-A game at Rochester’s Red Wings Stadium, too. But wow, ballgames are great on a 50″ HD television—my alternative. (And you know I’ll be back at the ballpark anyway.)

      • Seth Perlstein on July 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm

        I agree with a lot of your ranting about ‘sports as an event’. That’s just how it is, though, so you can take it or leave it. That’s all you can do.

        I guess the loud noise and glare of scoreboards is a nuisance to some people, but I would guess the younger generation (having grown up with digital devices since they were born) find this very appealing. And I would guess we will see more and more of this in the future.

        Even Fenway park has a Jumbotron. You can’t go back in time. Might as well enjoy how it is now. 😉

  4. Jane on July 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Hi David – you are identifying another example of the huge gap in our economy – lots of money at one end while there is genuine pain at the other. Unfortunately, our growing unemployment rate and economic moves the federal government is contemplating that mimic the mistakes FDR made in 1937 threaten to increase the segment of our population feeling the pain – not just for now, but for years and years to come – it takes a long time to recover from the time you are unemployed after you get back on your feet again – and to shrink the number of people who can pay $92 (before beer and other refreshments, parking, etc.) to go to a ball game.

    Take the leap: believe that the economy is in significant trouble, no matter how many people are going to the games.

    Affectionately, Jane

    • David on July 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      Now Jane, you above all… who have read an early draft of my novel, SLICK!, a geopolitical satire set in the Persian Gulf… should know tongue-in-cheek when you read it. And you’re right, of course. The great gap between rich and poor does not bode well for the nation’s future.

  5. Ron Laupheimer on July 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I agree with Seth–I did not read any sarcastic tone in your sports and Dow Jones references. I guess I just missed it, and need to read/understand you better.

    The other comments that were made highlight very nicely what I was saying. This economy is in real trouble and the disparity between the wealthy and less fortunate in this country has never been larger form I have read. And the comment regarding how long it will take to recover after being unemployed or benefits being taken away is right on point. For me, this is one of, if not the biggest, problems we are currently facing in this country. Much more important than fighting wars all over the world. But you already know well that I am a half-empty type of guy.

    Your email has generated lots of good discussion. Keep it up!

  6. Carolyn Power on July 23, 2011 at 4:13 am

    You’ve hit a raw nerve. Bingo!

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