There’s a long article in the New York Times today noting that the Yankees attendance is down and that, based on financial figures released as part of their stadium bond disclosures, ticket and suite revenues through last season have fallen by $166 million since the end of 2009.
There is a lot of talk in the article about the exciting young team the Yankees have put together and how much they’ve won so far in the early going. And there is a lot of talk about marketing and demographics — Hal Steinbrenner talks about baseball’s “millennial problem” — but the story of the Yankees’ box office issues, such as they are, is pretty straightforward.
All teams suffer attendance and revenue decline when they play poorly. While the Yankees have not been bad for a long, long time, that’s a somewhat relative thing. They Yankees have sold themselves and sold their fans on the idea that nothing short of a championship is acceptable, so missing the playoffs for three of the past four years is bad for them. Fans don’t want to go see a bad team, be it Yankees fans, Rays fans, Royals fans or whoever.
Despite the recent lack of success, the Yankees have still, perversely, continued to price their tickets, concessions, parking and everything else as though they’re the only game in town. When demand falls and prices remain super high, fewer people are buying your product. Even if you’re the New York Yankees.
The Yankees are good this year. What’s more, they’re good in that exciting way that only young promising players bursting out onto the scene can deliver. It’s a wonderful thing for marketing and stuff, but even under the best of circumstances, ticket sales tend to lag on field success, often by as much as a year. Go back and look at World Series winning teams — especially the surprise winners — and you’ll see that it’s the year after on-field success when the real attendance bumps happen. I expect, if the Yankees continue to play well, their gate will get really nice by the end of the summer, but I suspect we’ll also see a more dramatic bump next year.
Taken all together, this is a dog-bites-man story. The Yankees are not some transcendent institution, immune from market forces. They’re just one of 30 Major League Baseball teams competing against other entertainments for a finite amount of the public’s money and attention. Nothin’ to see here.