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Alex Ferguson on why New York Yankees are struggling to fill Yankee Stadium

Alex Ferguson Posted 23rd May 2013 view comments

The first time that I realised that the New York Yankees were struggling for attendance was during the World Series. In 2009.

During game six - which the Yankees won against the Philadelphia Phillies to clinch a celebration that went on (in my own head) for days - there were parts of the stadium that were NOT like the Bronx Zoo that I had experienced during the World Series in 2003.

There have been swathes of empty seats at Yankee Stadium this season

There have been swathes of empty seats at Yankee Stadium this season

There were a ton of empty seats, particularly the best ones behind home plate. Friends insisted to me that the seats were in fact sold, but Manhattanites couldn't be seen to sit in them because of the alarming recession the city was in at the time.

I was saddened. I would have killed to have had a seat at the stadium during the clinching of the World Series, something I didn't get to see in 2003 from my Yankees (they lost to the Florida Marlins that year).

Although there is no denying that the new Yankee Stadium doesn't smell half as bad, the views are generally better and there's more legroom, there was a magic about the old place that the new one can't replace.

Alex
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I'll be honest, I prefer the old place. Although there is no denying that the new Yankee Stadium doesn't smell half as bad, the views are generally better and there's more legroom, there was a magic about the old place that the new one can't replace.

Firstly, as the subway train slowed down in its approach to 161st Street station, you passed the stadium, and there was a little glimpse of the outfield that titillated you in such ways indescribable in the polite surroundings of skysports.com.

Secondly, there was the 'black' at Yankee Stadium, a giant sightscreen that helped the batters see the pitches properly. Thirdly, there was the fact that at the old place, players and fans were relatively close to each other.

Fourthly (and most importantly), the ticket prices were cheap, making it relatively inexpensive to get a seat in the Upper Deck at Yankee Stadium and watch some baseball - and you were relatively close to the action.

Magic

Oh, and I could sit there and drink a beer at Stan's - the bar opposite the station - finish it at 6.30pm, and be in my seat in the bleachers for the opening pitch at 7.05pm. And last but not least, the place had magic and atmosphere. Opponents and opponents' fans feared coming there.

The new one is a little different. You're further away from the field. The 'black' isn't like the old one, into which I saw Darryl Strawberry launch a home run in 1998 against the Seattle Mariners. I don't have a prayer of getting out of a Stan's and into my seat in 20 minutes, unless I'm an Olympic sprinter.

When I arrive in the stadium, it seems that I'm in a museum instead of a baseball stadium - except that drinks and eats at the Museum of Pinstripe are out-of-this-world expensive. So are the souvenirs. Opponents and opponents' fans do not fear coming there - it's a Baseball Disneyland to them.

But don't get me wrong, I don't hate everything about the new home of my beloved Pinstripers. It was a place that my wife - God rest her soul - really liked. For a woman who hated Loftus Road and sports stadiums in general, she liked the size, the shape, and legroom.

And in true irony, she didn't actually see a game of baseball - the game was rained out! But she liked the feel of the stadium, and I still have a photo of her face smiling out, under an umbrella.

Also, the walk to the stadium is longer and you can build anticipation more. The stadium itself is basically beautiful. And if you love home runs, you'll love Yankee Stadium. Because there's no gap in left field, the stadium is easier for home run hitters.

I happen to love home runs (as a Yankee fan, I really should, bearing in mind the amount of money spent on home run hitters by the Steinbrenners over the years), so it works - especially if the guys in pinstripes are hitting them.

Also, Monument Park, where all the great Yankees 'go to rest' is still a part of the stadium, and not outside. And it smells a hell of a lot better.

Problems

But right now, the Yankees have a real problem. The attendance is down nearly 10 per cent year-on-year, according to Yahoo. To mine down the stats, on average, only 75 per cent of Yankee Stadium fills up - that's 11th in the league for that stat.

They are third in total attendance behind the LA Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. They are only sixth in average attendance. Ironically, Yankees games on the road are fuller than Yankees game at home.

The problem for the Yankees is two-fold. The first one is ticket pricing. It is not a cheap date. Tickets range from $300 to $15. Still, a mid-priced ticket will set you back $60-80 - which is about the same price as Manchester City fans were complaining about at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium earlier this season.

This is something that the Yankees can do something about - and have done. They've slashed ticket prices to try and get fans through the door, and we'll have to see by the end-of-the-season if this comes right on the attendance front.

The second problem hurting the Yankees is the team itself. Although the team is performing miraculously right now, leading the American League East by one and a half games despite having their superstars out with injury, the fact is this: The superstars are out with injury.

The fans that would be fighting amongst themselves to sit in the expensive seats and take photos of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira can't - all three are injured.

Andy Pettitte, one of the Yankees' pitching legends? Injured too. Young fireballer Joba Chamberlain? Yep, him too. Centrefielder extraordinaire Curtis Granderson? Only just come back.

The only legend playing is Mariano Rivera - and he's only on for one inning in a game - if Joe Tourist is lucky. The current team of relative unknowns (bar second baseman Robinson Cano, who went very 'New York' by taking on Jay-Z as an agent) is playing gangbusters but it's not going to fill seats.

And that's a problem that the Yankees, with the enormous payroll that they paid to the likes of A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira et al can do nothing about.

Cheap deals

The Yankees have tried to fight the fall. They recently had tickets available for $5 in certain parts of the stadium, and have cheap deals on Mondays and Tuesdays.

They got a judge to ban ticket reseller Stubhub from having a booth within 1,500 yards of the stadium, making it more difficult for secondary market ticket holders to pick up their tickets (have none of them heard of printers, we ask?).

But if you go to Stubhub this year, there are still thousands of tickets available for the big cross-town battle with the New York Mets on May 30 and the visit of the Dodgers on June 19. And they are being sold at cut prices compared to what people were initially charged.

A problem that the Yankees also have is snobbery. Once something stops being trendy with the New York crowd (ie they hear that no-one's going to the new stadium anymore), then they stop going.

Even if a team's the most successful team in the world, if the cool people aren't going, no-one's going. And in a world still being hurt by a recession, who can afford $300 for a great seat nowadays?

So how do they overcome their problems? Give out cheaper deals, and hope the fans come back. Get the players back from injury. Oh, and win, win, win.

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