You might look at the standings and the box scores and think everything is going much better than expected in the Bronx this year. The New York Yankees — in the middle of a rare rebuild — have started the season looking like a playoff contender.
They’re currently leading the AL East. Aaron Judge, their massive slugger, has been one of the season’s breakout stars. Even the Yankees’ pitching, a question mark entering the season, has been better than advertised, ranking seventh in MLB. But there’s one area where the Yankees aren’t winning this season and it might surprise you.
At the box office.
According to a New York Times story published Thursday, the Yankees’ ticket sales and revenues associated with them are both down yet again, proof that while Aaron Judge and the young Yankees are surprising some people in baseball, they aren’t yet trending high enough to attract fickle New Yorkers who have entertainment options aplenty. That’s long been an issue in New York. It’s part of the reason the Yankees have felt the pressure to pay more for marquee names in the past — even marquee names past their prime.
This year’s Yankees team is noticeably different. CC Sabathia is still around, but Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez both retired last year, turning over the reigns to Judge, Gary Sanchez Didi Gregorius and eventually Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. Those names don’t quite resonate in New York City like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, though, which is why the Yankees’ struggles at the box office aren’t exactly surprising.
Still, early success be damned, the Yankees are behind even last year’s ticket sales and revenues, which were down by $46 million. The Times reports that the Yankees were down another $14 million in the first quarter of 2017 and their per-game attendance has declined about 3,800 over the same amount of games last season. The Yankees were 22-22 in their first 44 games in 2016 as opposed to 27-17 this season.
What have the Yankees done to combat this attendance decline? They’ve begun courting millennials, writes Billy Witz of the Times:
Marty Greenspun, senior vice president for strategic ventures, visited every other major league ballpark, conducted surveys of 5,000 Yankee fans and, with several outside consultants, examined ways the club could make the stadium more convivial for young adult fans.
“When there’s a trend going south, you look at it,” Levine said. “Like a doctor, if somebody’s hurt, you look at it and try and diagnose it and fix it.”
What the Yankees found out was that younger fans were more likely to buy tickets at the last moment — as they would for a play or a concert — and attend with a group of friends. They also preferred not to spend the entire game tethered to their seats. And they wanted a good deal. So after more than a year of planning, the Yankees rolled out a series of changes.
They removed 2,100 obstructed-view seats in center field over the winter, and created plazas — the kind of gathering spots in the outfield that have become popular at other ballparks. They have also made more than 200,000 tickets available for $15 or less, including the Pinstripe Pass, which comes with a drink (soda, water or beer) and park entry, but without a seat. They hired a new social media director to help better connect with young fans.
These are things that other ballclubs are doing too. It’s why you’re seeing the rise of things like ballpark passes, expanded craft beer selections and crazy stadium foods. But it’s definitely more eye opening when the Yankees are doing it.
Because make no mistake, the Yankees are about the least millennial, least trendy team in baseball. The Yankees scream tradition — from their pinstripe jerseys with no names on the back to their cap logo that’s been the same since 1949. What sells with the Yankees is history.
That’s not a knock. You’d sell history, too, if you had 27 World Series wins and Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris among your retired numbers. The Yankees just sell it a high cost. While there are $20 tickets in the upper deck, you’re looking at least $100 each for a good seat on the first or second level. That’s part of the reason the Yankees have come off as elitist in the past, like when COO Lonn Trost said in 2016 the club didn’t want fans to have the ability to buy premium seats below face value — and did so a bit snobbishly.
So take this whole situation as a reminder. Not even the Yankees are immune to trends and market dips. They’re trying to figure out how to get millennials engaged in their product, just like so many other businesses out there.
And what we’ve learned in 2017 is that, in New York, it takes more than a surprise first-place team and massive Aaron Judge home runs.
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