Layoffs and sports

There were 681,000 jobs lost in December ’08, 655,000 in January ’09, and 651,000 last month (February).  That’s nearly 2 million people who have lost their income in the past 3 months alone – a staggering number!!  To put it in perspective, the total number of layoffs for the past 3 months exceeds to populations of the following states:  New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  That is 15 states!!!

How are all of these layoffs combined with salary cuts for many other workers going to affect ticket sales for sports teams?  The NBA and NHL sold most of their high-priced inventory (luxury seats and season tickets) before the recession really hit (October in my view).  MLB will be the first of the four major sports to fully test the murky waters.  I haven’t seen any sales figures yet from baseball, but MLS (a major player now) is reporting that several clubs are seeing very similar season ticket renewal rates as last year at this time.  I treat this more as an anomaly than a trend and don’t feel it will carry over to other sports or, quite frankly, individual game sales for the MLS.

Sports, and specifically baseball, have typically served as an escape during tough times for many Americans, such as during the Great Depression.  However, a day at the ballpark has become so expensive and the game has become so corporate that I’m not sure this will continue.  As Keith Olbermann observes:  “In the thirties, the highest ticket price for a major league game was seven dollars.  Now the high-end ticket at Yankee Stadium costs $2,500.”

The teams that are trying steep discounts usually reserve the ticket price breaks for large group buys.  For individuals and families, pro teams are opting to include more with the ticket purchase (e.g. gas card, food, etc.) rather than cut the actual ticket prices.  I highly doubt a gas card will have too much impact this year as a) gas prices are much lower and not as much of a concern and b) most people attending a game probably don’t factor gas into the total cost of a day at the ballpark.

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