It’s Sunday at noon, and maybe you’re trying to decide still on what to do this fine summer day with your family. If you’re lucky enough to live within shouting distance of any one of 30 MLB cities in North America, why not take the gang out to the ballpark? You know, like the traditional song sings about the good ol’ days with our national pastime.
These days, it depends on your socioeconomic status. Gone are the days of getting cheap seats: The average MLB ticket price is now almost $36 for one ducat. Oh, you have a family of four? Well, you’re paying almost $150 then to merely get into the stadium. Are you driving there? Will you have a beer or two? Will the kids want to eat the hot dogs, the peanuts, and the Cracker Jacks?
It starts to add up: the Sunday afternoon adventure now costs the average family of four over $200 to go watch America’s oldest professional sport. If you’re around Phoenix, it will be cheapest ($126). If you’re in Boston, it will be the most expensive ($324). And if you’re in Oakland, it’s average on the dot ($204). Talk about inflation! In South Chicago a century ago (1919), you and your buddy could go for two bits.
The cost of attendance for a baseball game has risen most dramatically since the opening of Camden Yards in Baltimore (April 6, 1992), which changed the economics of baseball forever. Until that point, most teams played in civic stadiums that served multipurpose to the community and were built on the cheap as concrete testaments to mid-century, post-war efficiency and urban renewal.
Now, only one of those stadiums remains (Oakland); the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers have each built two new ballparks since the mid-1990s. Building costs are passed on to the consumer, as are the rising economics of players’ salaries, now reaching ridiculous levels of the tax code. When an age-23 outfielder turns down a $440M contract, you know something is wrong with the sport.
The shift in the sport also means only wealthy teams are winning: As we have shown, it’s pretty improbable a small-spending team will win the World Series. That means fans in places like Cincinnati, Oakland, and Pittsburgh pretty much know their team can’t win it all, despite a combined 21 playoff appearances since Camden Yards opened—and rich organizational histories dating back forever.
Remember this when checking out the payroll leaders this year in MLB: The World Series winner almost certainly will come from the group of 13 teams in the top half of payroll rankings. We will do a closer examination of this next Sunday, just as the MLB trade deadline wraps up, making the rich richer—and the poor poorer.
American’s pastime, indeed.