Nelson Mandela is getting a plaque in Monument Park

Via David Waldstein: The Yankees will honor the late Nelson Mandela by placing a plaque in Monument Park, which will be unveiled on Jackie Robinson Day next season (April 15th). Mandela famously visited New York and Yankee Stadium after being released from prison in 1990, and during that trip he put on a team cap and jacket and said “You know who I am. I am a Yankee.”

The Yankees already have several plaques in Monument Park for non-Yankees and non-players. The aforementioned Robinson has a plaque, as do the three popes who visited Yankee Stadium (Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI) and the victims of the Sept. 11th attacks. The decision to add a plaque for Mandela, who passed away last week, trickled down from ownership. Pretty neat. (Comments off because politics!)

What Went Wrong: Attendance and Ratings

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with two big signs fans are losing interest in the Yankees.

Where is everyone? (The Big Lead)
Where is everyone? (The Big Lead)

For the first time in five years and only the second time in 19 years, the Yankees missed the postseason in 2013. They didn’t just miss the postseason, they missed the postseason because so many of their best players either got hurt or underperformed. I’m not talking about minor injuries either — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira combined for 76 games (44 by A-Rod) while Curtis Granderson missed over 100 himself. CC Sabathia had the worst season of his career and Andy Pettitte battled injury and ineffectiveness for a long stretch of time. The only star-caliber constants were Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera.

As a result, fan interest was the lowest it’s been in years. Certainly the lowest since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. I don’t think the Yankees do a very good job of cultivating fans with caravan events and stuff like that — get to the Stadium early and Chris Stewart might shake your hand at the gate! — and their in-game entertainment at the ballpark is older than half the roster. The Subway Race is still pretty cool but the YMCA and the Match Game and Cotton-Eyed Joey are all outdated. Dammit do I hate Cotton-Eyed Joey. The giveaways* are pretty lame as well.

* Special shout out to the Yankees for the awful Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Day experience as well. Yes I’m still bitter.

When the Yankees aren’t winning, it’s not all that fun to go to Yankee Stadium. It’s too expensive and the non-baseball stuff isn’t worth it. When the Yankees aren’t winning and half their star players are hurt or playing poorly, they’re barely worth your time. That lack of fan interest showed this season in more ways than one.

Attendance

Attendance across baseball was down slightly this season, an average of 333 fans per game*. That’s 1.08%. The Yankees, on the other hand, saw their average attendance drop 3,245 fans per game from 2012 to 2013, or 7.4%. It would have dropped even more if not for the Mariano Rivera retirement tour boost in September — three of their four highest attended non-Opening Day games were in late September. Attendance has dropped 5,429 fans per game since the first season of the new Stadium back in 2009, or 11.8%. Obviously the team’s attendance has trended downward quite a bit the last three years, especially relative to the league average. I don’t think you needed the above graph to see that.

* Attendance data courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Ratings
Unfortunately, information on network ratings is hard to find, or at least I don’t know where to look. According to Joel Sherman, the YES Network saw ratings fall a whopping 33% this past season. Neil Best said it was roughly 39% back in late-May, so Sherman’s number passes the sniff test. The network’s highest rated game of the season was Alex Rodriguez’s return and I’m sure there was a boost for the Rivera/Pettitte retirement tour in September as well. The exact percentage of the decline really isn’t important. We know there was a significant decline in ratings in 2013 and that’s all that matters. If the numbers reported by Sherman and Best are true, that’s staggering.

* * *

So, clearly attendance and ratings were a problem this year, and they are one representation of fan interest. If people aren’t interested in the team, they won’t watch and they sure as hell won’t spend a boatload of money to attend a game. Thankfully I’m not the one who has the figure out the solution to this problem, that’s on the Yankees. The declining attendance and ratings is the result of many, many things I’m sure. Ticket prices and the economy, fan apathy, lack of star players in 2013, ownership talking about slashing payroll at every opportunity,  a team that isn’t all that exciting on the field … all of that and more is playing a part here. It’s a problem and, based on all the talk this winter, the club seems to think adding several big name players will be the way to fix it. Maybe it’ll work. They have to hope it will.

Yankees announce ticket prices for 2014 season

The Yankees have announced ticket prices for the 2014 season. Roughly 39,000 seats will have the same price as last year while approximately 9,000 will go down. Only 2,000 seats or so will have a price increase.

The team is also re-branding some sections — some field level seats will now be Outdoor Suite Boxes — and adding something called the Field MVP Club Lounge, which is currently under construction. The Home Plate Team Store is also being renovated. Pretty amazing that given the current situation, the team is adding even more premium seating. Anyway, Chad Jennings as the full details.

Update: NHL will play two games at Yankee Stadium next January

May 15th: Done deal, both the NHL and the Yankees have officially announced it. The first game (Rangers-Devils) is scheduled for 12:30pm ET on Jan. 26th (Sunday), the second (Rangers-Islanders) for 7:30pm ET on Jan. 29th (Wednesday).

April 16th: Katie Strang has confirmed the NHL is planning on two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium next season, with the three locals participating: Rangers-Devils (Jan. 26th) then Rangers-Islanders (Jan. 29th). The deal is expected to be finalized soon.

April 10th: Via Helen Elliot: Yankee Stadium is the “preferred venue” for an outdoor NHL game on January 26th of next year. The NHL is hoping to play three outdoor games next winter — the scheduled Winter Classic in Michigan plus two others. Dodger Stadium is the favorite to land the third game.

The Yankees have been trying to lure the Winter Classic — the NHL’s annual marquee/cash cow event — to the Bronx since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, but scheduling conflicts with the Pinstripe Bowl have prevented it from happening. The Pinstripe Bowl contract doesn’t expire until 2015, but the Winter Classic is usually played right around New Year’s. The tentative late-January schedule of this game could make it possible. Either way, I’m totally there if it happens. (h/t Ryan Dadoun)

What Went Wrong: Yankee Stadium

(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

The current version of Yankee Stadium is now four years old, so we have enough data to definitively say something like “the place gives up homers like crazy.” It’s no longer a small sample size fluke, like we argued back in April 2009. We also have enough data to say that the place can be pretty lifeless at times, and that seemed to be especially prevalent this season. The place is only four years old, so it’s a problem.

Attendance
For the most part, attendance over the last eight years has held pretty steady, and therein lies the problem. There should have been a spike when the new building opened, just like there was when the old place closed…

Total Per Game Capacity MLB Rank
2012 3,542,406 43,733 87.0% 6th
2011 3,653,680 45,107 89.7% 7th
2010 3,765,807 46,491 88.9% 7th
2009 3,674,495 45,364 86.7% 8th
2008 4,298,655 53,069 92.3% 5th
2007 4,271,083 52,729 91.7% 7th
2006 4,243,780 52,392 91.2% 5th
2005 4,090,692 50,502 87.9% 5th

There was a spike after the 2009 World Series, but for the most part the new place was selling seats at a similar rate to the old building (before the closing spike). I doubt the Yankees expected that. The problem was especially noticeable in the postseason this year, when there were swaths of empty seats in the club’s five home playoff games. Was the lack of postseason attendance overstated? Definitely, but the fact that there were empty seats to talk about in the first place is a problem.

Obviously we can point to the ticket prices as a culprit for the less than stellar attendance, but I don’t believe it’s that simple. Maybe it is, I just happen to think there are more factors in play. The economy has sucked the last few years, parking prices are ridiculous, stuff like that contributes as well. I never have trouble finding $20-ish dollar tickets to a typical regular season game, but I’m one person, one data point. The Yankees have won plenty in recent years, so performance isn’t an issue.

Long story short, the Yankees aren’t going to drop ticket prices because they’re still selling a ton of tickets. The prices are set at what people are willing to pay (not team payroll, contrary to what many seem to believe), and they won’t drop until people stop paying. Given the size of the city and surrounding areas in addition to the high tourist traffic, I wouldn’t count on it happening anytime soon.

Atmosphere
This one is entirely subjective, though I suppose you could bring a decibel meter to the park like they did with CitiField. Good luck finding historical data for the Old Stadium to use as a comparison. Besides, crowd noise isn’t the be-all, end-all of stadium atmosphere.

Anyway, has the atmosphere of the old Stadium been overstated in comparison to the new place? Absolutely. Trust me, that place wasn’t exactly rockin’ all the time like you’ll be led to believe. It was definitely more energetic than the current Stadium though, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. Why is this? Tons of reasons, really. The building itself doesn’t provide great acoustics, but that’s not a “the Yankees screwed up!” thing, that’s a “the City of New York says you can’t build like that anymore” thing. Is the security crew too harsh? Maybe, I’ve never had an issue though. There are a lot of factors beyond the team control here.

One part of the stadium experience the Yankees do control but have largely ignored in recent years is the quality of the between-innings entertainment. How long has the Cap Game been going on? The Subway Race? I mean, the YMCA-dancing grounds crew was neat the first time and literally never again after that. I have yet to see anyone say “oh great, it’s Cotton Eye Joey!” during a game. Monument Park as well, it’s hidden way in center field and can’t really be displayed, even if you’re sitting up in the grandstand and just looking around.

I also think the Yankees have generally done a poor job of cultivating fans in recent years. They don’t have any caravan events, don’t let kids run the bases after games, don’t do any of these super-fan-friendly things other teams around the league do. Yeah I can get to the park early and shake hands with a fringe roster player at the ticket gate every so often but who cares? Baseball is more of a generational sport than any other, dads and sons and grandkids all enjoy it together. I don’t think they’ve done enough to reel in the younger fans out there, the ones who are still impressionable.

This turned into more of a rant than I expected, so my bad. I think the new Stadium is pretty awesome in general, I love the nice wide corridors and the restrooms that are actually properly sized and all sorts of other stuff. The food choices could be a little better, but that’s terribly important to me personally. The postseason attendance and atmosphere problems this year were very noticeable though, and they really helped make some of the other deficiencies at the new building stand out. It’s never going to be the old Stadium in part because what we remember of the old Stadium has been romanticized and no longer jibes with reality, but I still feel it’s lacking compared to other state of the art facilities.

Attendance data via ESPN.