Are You to Blame for High Ticket Prices?

Examining the link between fan spending and team salaries

Ticket prices and the general cost of going to baseball games has been a big topic around New York City this year. Gripes about how expensive they are can be heard far and wide, often from people on their way to dropping some serious coin at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium.

People have been griping about how much players make in salary long before ground was broken for these stadiums, usually when they're sitting in the stands subsidizing those salaries with beer and hot dogs and wearing the jerseys of the overpaid players.

The two things are connected, as you may have guessed, and Allan Barra took an interesting look at their relationship in the Wall Street Journal this week. He doesn't mention the Mets or Yankees specifically, rather choosing Stephen Strasburg's negotiations with the Washington Nationals as his example of how people point to big salaries and then assume that the cost of food and tickets are going up to cover that cost.

Not so, argues Barra. The cost goes up because owners of any business will keep raising prices until they reach a point that people won't pay them anymore. And, as baseball's ever-growing attendance figures indicate, that bar hasn't been reached around the major leagues yet. Which means that if there's someone to gripe at when you pull your wallet out at a baseball game, it's you and not agents, owners or players.

It isn't some vague indefinable "they" who pays the players. It really isn't even the owners. It's you, or rather, it's us. If we put our money where our mouths are and support cancer, AIDS or Down syndrome research and then buy our tickets with what's left over, athletes and rock stars will actually be paid what we pretend they should be paid.

Barra's got a point with this argument, but focuses too much negativity on the individual. People pay plenty of money to support medical research through their taxes, and that's hardly a fair comparison to the choices they make when it comes to spending their leisure time. Going to a baseball game certainly isn't a necessity of life, but it doesn't mean that it isn't something that has great value for people, and they shouldn't be held to a haughty moral standard for that choice.

Barra's intense focus on the individual also ignores another key component of ticket and concession prices. In New York's stadiums, and many others, a good part of the ticket pricing structure assumes corporate benefactors who may be giving lavish sums of money to charity at the same time as they are plunking down a ton of money for tickets to games. The people spending that money aren't spending their own money, per se, which makes for a very different kind of choice when it comes to seeing how much of the cash is going out the door.

So are the fans partially responsible for the current state of ticket prices and player salaries? Of course they are, but it's unlikely that there would be the change Barra predicts if people just stopped going to games.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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