Baseball Gentrification
October 18, 2012, 05:39 AM
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GL Piggy offers an analysis of class at baseball stadiums, triggered by the decline in cheering at New York Yankees home games, featuring this quote:

The new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, at a cost of $1.3 billion to build. To pay for it, the Yankees established a block of field-level box seats that cannot be accessed by fans in cheaper seats, who were able to bring their children down to the front row to pursue autographs before games in the old stadium. ... 

O’Connor, author of the biography “The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter,”  remembers sitting just behind that moat with his son this season and watching as Jeter jogged in from batting practice with a ball he was looking to present to a youngster, something he often did in the old stadium. But there were no children around the dugout. 

“So he ended up flipping the ball to Donald Trump,” O’Connor said. “I think that’s the perfect example of what’s happened.

Jeter is good at making quick decisions. Out of all the billionaires in attendance, Trump was no doubt the most childlike and therefore got the biggest blast out of having Derek Jeter toss him a baseball. Chuck writes:

In a simple model of a team’s fan base, you have proles and fat-cats.  The Yankees are probably the best example of a team which has appealed to both groups.  The storied history of the team is a source of pride for locals of all classes, and transplants are able to leech off of this legacy of success by donning a Yankee cap. 

But fat cat fans are reserved, not just in their seating arrangements but also in their ballpark demeanor.  The polite opera-friendly behavior cited in the pieces above is a good indicator of the trend.  On the flip side, prole fans are tribalists out for blood.  They are the heart and the spirit of any team.  Fat cats appreciate that the proles are in attendance.  They add diversity and authenticity, but NIMBY – over in the cheap seats instead (while they last). 

Fat cats increase revenue, but proles increase the type of experience valued by what are the baseball version of the music-snob hipster.  As with the arts and other modes of culture – of which New York City is the U.S.’s chief manufacturer – there is a feedback loop between the two groups.  Proles provide a lot of the color; fat cats provide the funds.  The two groups have maintained a silent if not contentious balance, and any tilt towards one extreme or the other threatens to uproot the symbiotic relationship. Building a fancy new stadium full of comfortable amenities is a shock to this relationship.

A few comments:

White American proles were always much better behaved at sports events than, say, British soccer fans, whose awful behavior twice led to massive death tolls in the 1980s. (British soccer then went upscale with vast success.) If you go back to baseball in the 1890s, when the Irish influence was at its peak, there was a fair amount of violence in the stands (and on the field). But even then, British custom of using sports events as pre-planned occasions for communal riots was alien.

(By the way, riotousness was one reason for the founding of the American League in 1901 and its rapid success. Ban Johnson intended for the American League to be the clean, orderly alternative to the riotous National League. Johnson gave absolute backing to umpires and in general put out a product appealing to respectable middle class Americans.)

A baseball franchise can coast for a long time on the myth of prole tribalism. For example, when I was living in Santa Monica in 1981, I went to a local version of the play "Bleacher Bums" about Cub fans at Wrigley Field on Chicago`s North Side.. The play was dreamed up in 1977 by the Organic Theater Company of Chicago, and launched the careers of Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz. But by the time I first went to a Wrigley Field game in 1983, however, it was clear that Wrigley Field fans tended to be yuppies like myself, looking for a sociological excuse (let`s pretend to be proles!) for daytime drinking in a place where you could (prudently, like the good yuppies we actually were) walk home without getting a DUI or getting mugged by locals.

In contrast, the White Sox`s Comiskey Park on the South Side really did attract prole fans, but it was almost never fashionable. I attended the last game at that historic ballpark in 1991, which I always found better-looking than the overrated Wrigley Field, but Comiskey was next to a depressing black housing project of vast scale.

Another difference between Wrigley and Comiskey was that the Cubs had started broadcasting all their homegames on the cable superstation WGN during the 1970s. The White Sox had stuck with the traditional view that giving games away on television would drive down ballpark attendance. That era is when Wrigley ascended to cultural icon status. Why? Because it was on TV.

It turns out that what modern Americans want to do is to see with their own eyes the things they`ve seen on TV a lot, such as Wrigley Field. This explain the economics of the lecture circuit, on which the highest paid are the people who are on TV the most and thus presumably have the least new stuff to share with paying in-person audiences.