I’ll let Neil do the talking, via metroblog:
It says something about how the Yankees’ season is going that the biggest excitement at the stadium came when the team tried to ban fans from bringing sunscreen through the gates. Anyone who complained was pointed to the concession stands, which offered tiny one-ounce tubes for a whopping $5.
The club ultimately backed off, but the kerfuffle could foreshadow a bigger battle to come. Currently, neither the Mets nor Yanks restrict fans from bringing outside food or drink (aside from alcohol) into their ballparks. While the Mets say this won’t change next year, Yankees management has repeatedly ducked the question.
Why next year? Because that’s when the Yankees open their new stadium, with its 100-foot-wide “Great Hall” that will be jam-packed with places to stuff your face at ballpark prices. This, more than anything, is why the Steinbrenners demanded (and got) two city parks to create space for their new baseball palace, and it defeats the purpose if fans turn up their nose at ballpark food in favor of takeout pastrami sandwiches from the Court Deli up the block…
This may seem like trivial stuff, but it could end up deciding whether many New Yorkers are priced out of attending ballgames. Both the Yanks and Mets, after all, have already built new stadiums with thousands less seats than their old ones, figuring that the resulting ticket scarcity will allow them to sell fewer seats at higher prices than the old ones.
As deMause notes, there is a certain level of historical precedent for a potential decision involving stadium food. The Pirates and Eagles have both tried, unsuccessfully and with much fan opposition, to ban outside food inside their respective stadiums. deMause also chides the city for falling, in its stadium lease agreement, to force the Yankees to allow outside food in, but that point is moot.
This is, on its surface, a very basic populist issue with deep economics overtones. The Yankees will want their patrons to spend reams of money inside the stadium, and the easiest way to do that is through artificially-inflated food prices. As with any ticketed event, Yankee fans are a captive audience. When the vendors sell water for $4.75 and beer for $9, fans can’t go to the stadium down the street to price-shop. They’re stuck with whatever they can get once they fork over their tickets at the gate.
By allowing food in, teams are undermining their potential revenue streams, but they’re also acknowledging tacitly that happy fans are better fans. I’d rather order a pastrami sandwich from any number of New York City delis than eat a lukewarm and wilted boiled hot dog for $5. I’d rather bring in my $1.25 20-ounce water than pay out of the nose for a bottle. The Yankees would rather reap ridiculous profits on their concessions.
This issue — which will come to a head (or not) early next year — will pit the fans against the team. Fans won’t be happy if they can’t bring in food, and they’re continue to see the cost — beyond just the ticket value — of going to a Yankee game skyrocket beyond the level of affordability. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Yanks opt to pursue this route. I hope I’m wrong.