Since when were “counterfeit tickets” a problem at Yankee Stadium?

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The Yankees have had a long battle with StubHub, the team’s former secondary market reseller. They were mad that StubHub was selling tickets below the cost of the Yankees’ box office, thereby — in the Yankees’ view — undermining box office ticket sales as people waited for cheaper seats to come onto the secondary market.

Shorter version: the Yankees didn’t like that StubHub was doing what it had contracted with the team to do.

Now, I can’t recall any time when the Yankees, faced with this clear market issue brought on by its own ticket prices, actually considered dropping its own prices to lure customers, but that’s neither here nor there. We can’t expect for-profit businesses to understand and adhere to the rules of supply and demand. In such things lie madness!

Anyway, over the winter the Yankees cut ties with StubHub and started a new resale partnership with Ticketmaster, called the Yankees Ticket Exchange. It has price floors and things that the Yankees feel will help them out financially. Good for them.

Except yesterday, in officially announcing the Exchange, Hal Steinbrenner said this:

Hal Steinbrenner, the team’s managing general partner, said the new marketplace would use exclusive bar-code technology to guarantee that tickets were authentic. Steinbrenner also said the new exchange would dovetail with the online accounts that season-ticket holders use.

“It is unfortunate that unscrupulous resellers utilize deceptive practices and tactics and employ unofficial Web sites, all of which give rise to counterfeit tickets,” Steinbrenner said in a statement.

I spent a decent time on the Google machine this morning and I can’t find any reports of “counterfeit tickets” being an issue at Yankee Stadium. I can find lots of team complaints about StubHub. I can find lots of fan complaints about the Yankees’ ticket prices being too damn high. But while I’m sure someone, somewhere, has been taken in by a scammer printing up fake tickets, I can’t find one example of a significant counterfeit Yankees ticket operation. Certainly not one attributable to loose security protocols connected with the Yankees’ deal with StubHub.

All of which makes this sound a lot like politicians who go on about “voter fraud.” It sounds scary and if it’s really happening in any significant way it truly is a bad thing. But in reality it’s not anything approaching a significant problem and the fearmongering about it is a cover for efforts to change election rules in a way that they believe will benefit them.

Same with the Yankees. They’re clearly doing something that is designed to make them more money and which will serve to anger fans who used to like to go to StubHub for el cheapo tickets. Rather than just leave it at that, however, Hal throws up the counterfeit ticket bogeyman to make it seem like what the Yankees are doing is more noble and fan-friendly than it really is.

You’re trying to make more money, Hal. It’s OK that you are. It’s your business. But just admit it, OK? Don’t treat your fans like idiots.

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.