Last week’s news about the Yankees changing their secondary market ticket policies would’ve only been a thing for a day if it wasn’t for Yankees COO Lonn Trost coming out and saying that it wasn’t appropriate for certain sorts of people -- Poors? Normals? The Unwashed Masses? -- to sit in premium seats. But that led to more questioning of Yankees officials, which caused Yankees president Randy Levine to wade in.
Levine didn’t really help the Yankees’ image in this respect. Indeed, it’s clear from his comments that he either thinks fans are stupid or at least hopes they are.
One of the concerns fans have about the Yankees’ ticketing policies is that their secondary market product, Yankee Ticket Exchange, imposes price floors on tickets. Meaning that a ticket holder who wants to unload a ticket cannot sell it for below a certain price, even if it’s more likely that someone would buy it for a cheaper price. It would be reasonable to think that the Yankees impose a ticket floor because, seeing as though they take 5% of each sale, it’s better that the price of the ticket is higher. One might also think that the Yankees want a floor so that the face price of their tickets does not seem so exorbitantly high compared to cheap, last minute ticket prices on Stubhub. I mean, those aren’t selling points you crow about publicly, but it’s certainly reasonable for businesspeople to be motivated by such things.
Levine chose to explain the policy in another way, however. He said that brokers who dump tickets to “unattractive games” for well below the list price are “devaluing the team’s brand.” As if the Yankees themselves are not responsible for the existence of “unattractive games” by virtue of the product on the field, the face price of the tickets, the ballpark experience or some combination of all of those things. Put differently, cheap tickets are only bad for your brand if your brand is all about portraying your product as a luxury good and making games inaccessible for people with tighter budgets. Nice brand, there, Randy.
Levine went on to say that the Yankees have the right to protect its property -- meaning its ticket inventory -- by putting price floors on resold tickets, “as long as it’s done in the free-market society.” This is about as rich as it gets, as what Levine fails to mention is that the only purpose of a price floor -- literally, the very reason you impose one -- is because you want to specifically circumvent the free market. A free market that, otherwise, would price the ticket lower than the fixed price the Yankees want.
This is not shocking, of course. If you had to choose one single factor which defines the economic history of baseball over the past 150 years it would, without question, be “owners doing everything possible to keep the free market away from the sport.” This is why they sought and obtained protection from the antitrust laws, which are designed to keep free markets healthy, fair and, above all else, free. This is why they carved up the country and TV markets into exclusive territories, insulating themselves from competition. This is why they imposed a draft, so that young players could not shop their services to the highest bidder. This is why they have imposed limits on how much draftees can receive in signing bonuses. This is why they have devised set pools of money for teams to spend on the international market. This is why they have attached strings in form of draft pick compensation to players who declare free agency, thereby limiting their marketability.
There are some competitive justifications for some of those things, but most of it is designed to keep teams from having to compete in the free market. The same goes for price floors on tickets. A free market would allow other secondary ticket sellers to compete on equal footing with the Yankees, but that doesn’t happen. A free market would allow you to get a ticket below whatever arbitrary number the Yankees want you to pay for it, but that’s increasingly rare. A free market wouldn’t result in thousands of un-resold tickets and the subsequent empty seats clearly visible on every Yankees broadcast, yet we see that all the time and we will likely see more of that this year.
Which, again, if that’s what the Yankees want to do, that’s what they’ll do. They just won’t be honest about it. They’ll tell you that they’re concerned about ticket fraud but behave in a way that shows that they’re really concerned about shoving out a competitor. They’ll tell you they’re concerned about their “brand,” but then let slip that the “brand” involves keeping undesirables away from their rich season ticket holders. They’ll tell you they care about the free market but seek they sort of protection from that market that would make a Soviet-era toilet paper concern blush with embarrassment.
Imagine how stupid Randy Levine and the Yankees think you are. Then quadruple that and you’re probably still not at their level of disdain for you or your intelligence.