Rest in Peace: Bleacher Creature Udi Latarre

I spend a fair amount of my summer at Yankee Stadium and get to meet a lot of personalities.  From the folks over at Yankee Bar and Grill, to the Twitter folks who come hang out in 420a and of course the Bleacher Creatures.

Udi Latarre, photo from BleacherCreatures.tv
Udi Latarre, photo from BleacherCreatures.tv

A few years back I struck up a relationship with (Bald) Vinny Milano after some back and forth on Twitter.  Eventually he welcomed myself and my wife into the “Creature Family” and introduced us to a lot of the regulars.  One of those regulars was Udi Latarre, a creature of the highest regard.

Udi was a smile, a funny joke, a photobomb and a stiff drink every time.  Udi was a man who wanted to work hard in the IT industry and watch the Yankees play.  Udi was a sweetheart who always was happy to see a familiar face.  I only spent a few years getting to know him, but he was genuine and great.  Vinny sent along notice last night that Udi Latarre passed away earlier this week at home suddenly.

Udi Latarre, Photo from his Facebook.
Udi Latarre at the annual Bleacher Creature Softball Game, Photo by Tracey 

Yankee Stadium has lost some real personality since the move from the old place to the new.  People have critized that the common fan has been priced out, that it’s too quiet and just not the same.  But losing real people like Udi furthers that great people make up a venue as much as the fancy video screens, expensive food and high priced beers.  A house needs a family to be a home, and Udi was a member of a family.

Please take a moment in your day to remember that sometimes it’s more than just watching a baseball game.  It’s about the relationships that come from sitting next to the person next to you and making a snide remark about the other team.  The guy who starts the funny chant.  The guy who might have on a funny shirt about “the wave.”  Remember people like Udi, they just wanted to enjoy the game, like you.

Thanks for being my friend for a little while.  Take care Udi.

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.