After seven visits to New York (and New Jersey) in six years I was finally completing my stadium list by a visit to the new Yankee stadium. I had been to Meadowlands (2005 England v Columbia), Yankee Stadium (2005 Yankees v Red Sox), Shea Stadium (2005 Mets v Diamondbacks), Madison Square Garden (2005 New York Rangers v Washington Capitals), CitiField (2010 Mets v Red Sox), MetLife Stadium (2011 New York Jets v New England Revolution), Prudential Center (2012 New Jersey Nets v Miami Heat) and then Sunday night I had been to Harrison to watch Red Bulls play DC United. All boxes ticked until New Jersey Nets move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in January 2013 (and become the Brooklyn Nets or something).
The Yankees are one of the biggest sporting brands in the world – in fact Forbes magazine last year calculated that it was THE biggest brand in the world. With over 80 home games a year, and an average attendance of over 41,000 (the 4th biggest in Baseball) and an average ticket price of $63 means that their revenue through the gate every season is an astronomical $206 million (Forbes actually put this closer to $300m). Fortunately, our tickets for the game versus Cleveland Indians cost less than $20 each, although when I bought them I had no idea what the “bleachers” were, or why they were so cheap.
So we headed up after work, waiting for the latest of the “end of days” storms to pass (Baseball is as vulnerable to the weather as cricket is) and ensuring that the game would go ahead, thanks to the useful @Yankeesweather twitter feed. As you arrive into the 161st street station you look out onto the neighbourhoods of the Bronx on one side and then the shining cathedral of American Sport on the other, separated by the subway line which literally touches the new stadium, causing the foundations to shake every time a train passes. Crowds of families headed to the ground, all decked out in their (Derek) Jeter T-Shirts and the famous NYY caps.
Five things I learnt from going to the New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians game – Monday 25th June 2012
1. The Bleachers are the cheap seats for a very good reason - They aren’t seats at all. They are benches. In the case of the brand new stadium, they are cold metal ones. They are cheap because a) they are uncomfortable, b) they are uncovered and c) they are the furthest away from the action. I have now heard two different stories as to why they are called Bleachers. The first one is because they face the sunshine in most instances (as they are opposite the batter) and so the sun bleaches the wooden benches. But I prefer the second one which is they are so-called because of the amount of bleach that used to be used to wash away the vomit as they were the area where the rowdiest and drunkest fans sat.
If you are sitting in the bleachers then you can only buy one beer per person (at an unbelievable $12 per pint) and they stop serving after the 5th innings of a game.
2. Despite there being a 40,000 + crowd, half of the fans aren’t watching the game
“Build it and they will come”. US sports grounds are fantastic. They build them big, with lots of facilities. But that is the danger – too many facilities and so there is so much choice of what to eat and drink that you miss parts of the game whilst you are queuing for your bucket of garlic fries, foot long hot dog or a dozen donuts. This also means that people are constantly moving up and down the aisles. Interestingly enough, Forbes calculate that the average spend per spectator $56 which I think is really high but then again that is only 3 beers and a couple of hot dogs!
3. The iconic Yankees brand may be seen the world over, but the club only gets revenue from local sales.
This was a real surprise to me – I simply thought they had a global retail network and superb marketing channels, but any sales of Yankees products outside of New York State are shared between the whole of the MLB teams (same with every other side). Very interesting socialist way of doing things.
4. Point a camera in front of a fan and they will do anything
Throughout the game we saw things like “Best Dress Fan Cam”, “Best Muscles Cam”, “Give Us a Kiss Cam”…you name it and the camera zoomed to the crowd to spotlight to feature someone unlucky enough to be picking their nose. But these distractions are only needed because of the huge amounts of commercial breaks they have in the TV coverage of the game. It is also hard for the players who stand around waiting to play the game. Last night we left at the top of the 8th innings with the score at 7-0 to the Yankees. It was nearly 9.45pm. The game had been going for 2 1/2 hours. Realistically, they had probably played for just over an hour.
5. The two “divisions” of baseball have different rules
Say that again? They two divisions have different rules. Last weekend the Yankees were away at the New York Mets in the “Subway Series”. The Yankees are top of the American League East, the Mets midtable in the National League East. When the Yankees travel to Queens they have to play by the National League rules which include the fact that all players on the team have to bat (including the pitcher), yet when the Yankees are at home they play American League which means the pitcher doesn’t have to bat and they bring in a “Designated hitter”, who doesn’t have to field. So they could bring in the unfittest, biggest “slugger” in the game just to hit the ball and do nothing else. The only comparison I can make is if a Premier League team played a Championship one and their rules said that they could have “rush” goalies when playing at home, but not away. Strange.
Overall it was a good night. Whilst a visit to the Yankees is not a cheap affair, it is an entertaining one, and one I would recommend to anyone visiting New York. Baseball is a good game to watch (a T20 version would be fantastic with say only 3 innings per side), and is a real slice of American life, more so than Basketball or American Football. Love it!