COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees seem desperate to fill Yankee Stadium this week, and the team's latest marketing maneuver - $5 grandstand, terrace, and bleacher tickets to Monday's and Tuesday's games - should not sit well with the team's season ticket licensees.
Attendance at Yankees home games is already down about 9 percent from last year, and the team is doing all it can to avoid what will likely be record low attendance at the new Yankee Stadium when the Houston Astros come to town.
In 13 home games this season, the injury-plagued Yankees have averaged 37,740 fans (paid attendance) per game. Last season, through the same number of home games, the team averaged 41,373.
One would expect the number of fans at a new stadium to drop as the newness begins to fade, but the drop at Yankee Stadium this season (despite sporting an above-.500 record) has been relatively steep. When the stadium opened in 2009, paid attendance never dropped below 42,000 fans. In 2010, the low dropped to 41,571. In 2011, it dropped to 40,045. Last year, the team's low point was 36,831, set during a mid-April game against the Minnesota Twins.
Thursday night, paid attendance for the Yankees' game against the Toronto Blue Jays was 31,445 - a record low - and that was against a team with recognizable players. Monday night, against the 7-18 Astros and with temperatures expected to be in the mid- to low-50s, I'd be shocked if the Yankees drew more than 30,000.
It's not just the Yankees who are desperate to get rid tickets to Monday's game. Season ticket licensees, already undermined by the team's decision to give away tickets for a sawbuck, are flocking to the team's online resale website to give away their ducats.
As of Monday morning, more than 2,000 tickets were listed on the Yankees' site, including nearly 1,000 offered for $25 or less.
The best deal? Tickets in the sixth row of section 212, which usually sell for $101 on game days, were listed on the site for $24 per ticket - a 76-percent discount. And for those looking to sit right behind the Yankees' dugout, tickets that sell for $923 at the Yankees box office were being offered for $495 - a $428 discount.
It will be interested to see how the YES Network covers the crowd (or lack thereof) during the Yankees-Astros series. If he had the chutzpah, lead broadcaster Michael Kay could quote the legendary Red Barber, who famously ordered television cameramen to pan the crowd at a near-empty Yankee Stadium in 1966.
During a September game in which 413 fans showed up to see a Yankees team that finished the season 70-89, Barber said: "I don't know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium...and this crowd is the story, not the game." (One week later, the Yankees told Barber that his contract wasn't being renewed.)
Yankee Stadium won't be as empty as that 1966 game, but Barber's line about the crowd being the story will likely ring true.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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