Can Cardinals Afford to Pay Pujols $35m/year?
I love baseball. I love Cardinal’s baseball. And I enjoy Pujols and Holliday as the best 3-4 combination in the majors. My youngest son’s room has a life-sized Pujols pin-up, I own five Pujols rookie cards (including a card that is one of only 15 printed), and I will join any “retire #5” club. But I do not support $35m to keep Pujols.
I know many St Louis fans will say “Spend whatever it takes!” to keep Pujols. But I, for one, love Cardinal’s baseball much more than any individual player. I would hate for DeWitt to move St Louis into the same mentality of the Yankees and Red Sox owners, continually pushing the salary envelope to field a team of superstars.
Unlike New York who feels without superstars you won’t draw a crowd, St Louis doesn’t need superstars to fill the seats. People come to watch the Cardinals, not Pujols. Yes, Mark McGwire & Albert Pujols are great additions and fun to watch, but I maintain that the vast majority of St Louis fans are there to watch baseball, not baseball players.
This is one of the reasons St Louis fans are constantly donned by the league insiders as the best fans in baseball; the most knowledgeable fans in baseball; or the most devoted fans in baseball. This is the reason Cardinal’s fans cheer great plays made by opposing players (as long as his name isn’t Manny).
The argument can be made that Pujols will put fans in the seats and therefore make more money for the team’s owners. No one can argue that, but after such an incredible year how much more can they get out of the Cardinals’ fan without raising prices? An increased salary for Pujols of $19,000,000 per year will have to come out of someone’s pocket. Is there any doubt whose pocket?
Consider for a moment what tickets prices have done in New York in just the past three seasons:
The Yankees’ $72.97 average ticket cost is a 76.3 percent increase from last year, the club’s last in The House That Ruth Built when the average ticket price was $41.40, an increase of 18.1 percent from 2007. Source: BizOfBaseball.
Now the Yankees are making news that their ticket prices are being cut, but the fine print shows that only the expensive tickets are going down:
…some ticket prices will be lowered in 2010 at The House that George Built, while 80 percent will remain flat:
Some of the highest price seats will see reductions of up to 40 percent, including those in the Legends area and the Delta Sky 360 Suite. The first level of non-premium suites, which are one level up behind home plate, will be reduced from $325 to $250 or $235 per game per seat, depending on the location. To account for the challenging environment, the Yankees had already given some fans in these areas extra tickets to each game. Source: BizOfBaseball
The Cardinals have had their share of ticket increases over the past five years, and if ownership deems a $35m pricetag for Pujols is worth it…another round of hikes will be our fate.
The owners can point to the season ticket sales and justify higher prices and those higher-priced tickets will probably be purchased. But higher ticket prices have already changed who attends the games on a regular basis.
The ballpark experience has already been stolen from America’s lower class, and soon much of the middle class will feel the same fate.
For those who have gotten to this point and are thinking “Brian, this is anti-Capitalism”, I have two thoughts to share. First, baseball is a government-controlled and protected monopoly which completely pushes capitalism outside of the discussion.The existence of salary caps is enough evidence to support this view.
Second, even the economic law of supply-and-demand doesn’t factor in the outside forces of a baseball stadium. Supply is constant (seats at a stadium multiplied by number of home games) and demand is a manipulated by team performance, fan loyalty, superstars, rivalries, and cross-market draw (Yankees and Cardinals continue to pull big ticket sales even when visiting bad markets).
As I said earlier, the St Louis Cardinals will fill the seats if they increase the seat price, but not because of supply and demand economics. It will just change who can afford to attend the games.
One of my favorite players of all time was Tommy Herr. Number 28 was whisked away in the middle of the night to Minnesota. As a fan, it was hard on me. Tommy was the reason I played 2nd base! But I didn’t stop loving Cardinal’s baseball and if we lose Pujols, my sons and all the other young fans will be faced with the same challenge: to love baseball, first; Cardinals’ baseball, second; and individual players a distant third.