Met and Yankee parks arrive in tough times

The Mets and Yankees just opened gorgeous stadiums, filled with fabulous amenities, at the worst possible time, especially since both financed the stadiums privately but received millions in tax-free bonds and/or government-funded infrastructure upgrades. Some expensive seats, expected to be snatched up by corporations or the affluent, didn’t sell. Worse, however, is the anger of the average fan who felt priced out of the ballpark, or at least the decent seats.

At Yankee Stadium, the average ticket will set you back an MLB-high $72.97, up 76% over last year. Much of that hike comes from the top seats, which drew headlines with their $2,625 pricetag, even prompting general partner Hal Steinbrenner to admit some tickets may be overpriced.

Citi Field is 13,000 seats smaller than Shea Stadium, with a higher proportion of luxury or season-plan seats. With the Mets, a stadium named for a company getting bailout money stirs populist rage further — at least one cynic suggested renaming it Debits Field.

“The main problem with Citi Field, the name aside, is that there’s no middle class there anymore,” says Greg Prince, author of “Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets.” “They made it more intimate, but they got carried away. You won’t be able to just say, ‘Hey, want to go to a game tonight?'”

But both clubs emphasize that the anger is misguided and based on misperceptions. “The whole stadium was designed for the fans,” says Alice McGillion, a spokeswoman for Rubenstein Associates, the PR firm that represents the Yankees. “Once fans come into the stadium, they’ll have a different reaction.”

“It’s sad to see that reaction,” adds Mets exec VP of business operations Dave Howard. “The attitude comes from people who are not well informed; we intentionally made sure the Mets remained affordable and accessible.” The word Howard wants to get out is that the Mets have 250,000 seats this year at $15 or under, including many at $11, less than the price of a Manhattan movie ticket; nearly 40% of all seats cost $25 or less.

“We have the lowest average ticket price of New York’s nine major sports teams,” he says. Additionally, while the Mets have added plenty of new and improved food selections (like New York’s beloved Shake Shack), the average price of basic food concessions is 6.5% less than it was at Shea Stadium. And with 1,000 new employees (and fewer people in the smaller stadium), fans will find their wait on food lines less torturously long. While calling the upper level the Promenade may sound pretentious — “Do I have to buy a parasol?” Prince quips — Howard says the goal was to distinguish it from Shea’s Upper Deck, which seemingly stretched miles away from the field.

The Yankees, who gave 20,000 Bronx residents a free preview (and free lunch) for the team’s first workout, only sell about one-third of their seats at $25 or less; they did not lower concession prices, though McGillion points out there are some package deals for hot dogs and drinks that provide substantive savings. Additionally, a Hard Rock Cafe built into the stadium will be open year-round to the nonticket-holding public.

(Both teams also tout easier access from the street, bigger seats and wider concourses as boons to the average fan.)

There will be other opportunities for fans to explore the new ballparks: Both plan to continue the long history of hosting concerts and other events, with Citi Field (which is already prewired and engineered for it) likely to host a major concert during this year’s All-Star break. Of course, tickets for a rock concert are rarely inexpensive anymore, either.

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