Tagged: New York Times

The Real Test Is Of The Union

In a second chance to make a first impression, MLB is set to implement blood testing for Human Growth Hormone in the minors later this year – according to sources quoted by the estimable Michael Schmidt of The New York Times.

Schmidt says MLB’s decision comes on the heels of the first positive test for HGH, that of a British Rugby player.
The science is still behind the curve on this, but even the possibility of a breakthrough makes it incumbent upon the Major League Baseball Players Association to act, and act quickly. Executive Director Don Fehr has long said that when a reliable test was available, the union would have to look at it. That the process is not perfected is no excuse; Fehr needs to sign on to some sort of exploratory testing program on the big league level, if not this season, then for 2011.
Mark McGwire and the friends were hardly the only ones to be damaged by the Steroid Era. The owners have, at best, looked like hypocritical enablers, and, at worst, like passive-aggressive pushers. The lethargic pace of steroid testing, and the nonsensical, train wreck that is welcoming McGwire back to uniform this spring, has given the union the opportunity to look like the guys who are truly interested in preserving the integrity of the game, even at the partial expense of membership.
Rightly or wrongly (wrongly, I think; the owners probably had more knowledge than union non-player leadership, at least early on) the MLBPA draws the bulk of the public’s blame for the steroid test foot-dragging through the ’90s and ’00s. This – and I write this as one who has supported the union’s moves, stances and purposes, almost uniformly, since the ’70s – is the players’ chance to erase much of the perception in the fans’ minds that they care only for their wallets, and not for the sport itself.
Just come out and say you’re for HGH testing, in the majors, as soon as it is practical. 
Do it now.

Refund! Refund? Refund!

It is a
compelling story of the rich getting, if not richer, then at least getting
richer discounts
This week, the Yankees have been pounded everywhere from the New York papers to
the business publication Forbes for offering freebies, two-fers, and especially
, to only
those customers who had paid the stadium’s absolute top season ticket price of
$2,500 a seat.

There is
only one complication. The Yankees aren’t actually going to wind up giving
any refunds.
This is for the remarkably simple reason that the tickets for which they announced
refunds or credits,
are the ones they weren’t able to sell.

Though the
Yankees are in the most curious of business predicaments – they
  set the bar too high, the bottom fell
out of the economy, they made a gesture to give back some of their loot (and,
in the process, fill the embarrassingly empty seats), and yet they’re still getting
yelled at
– the
Steinbrenners have nobody to blame but themselves. More specifically, they can
chalk it up to an incredible, almost labyrinthine 
press release issued by an
outside publicity firm, that offered no less than fifteen different responses
and plans to the various ticket prices and locales. The document is slightly
less intelligible than a book of IRS forms, nearly as long, and obviously just
as confusing.

standard reporting on this has fallen in line with 
Forbes’ account: ”The bum
economy managed to turn the famous Legends Suite seats in the first few rows,
priced as high as $2,650 apiece, into infamous symbols of overreaching during a
time when businesses are gun-shy about lavishing money on sports and other
forms of client entertainment. So top seats will now go for $1,250 a pop, with
those who already laid out the bigger money getting a credit or refund…” There
was a snotty burst to the Associated Press from some television guy who’d
bought three of the $850 suite seats behind the plate. “”If they’re
offering only selective refunds, depend upon it: There are going to be
lawsuits. Great, more tickets nobody wants. The silver lining here is that even
more charities are going to be getting even more tickets from me.” The
shoot-from-the-hip complainant was named Olberding or Overmann or something. The
average egalitarian complaint echoed that of my friend Rich Sandomir of 
The Times: “The Yankees
did not consider giving refunds or credits to fans in nonpremium seats because
Hal Steinbrenner felt only a small number of top-tier tickets were overpriced.”

As it is,
the Yankees are actually not giving refunds or credits to almost any of their
fans. A Yankee source did say that as many as four ticket-buyers – literally, four
in the
suites hanging from the upper deck in left and right fields – would wind up
with some extra perks. But the source added they weren’t certain: it might only
be three


understandable confusion seems to owe to the first subheading (item “A” on a
list of ticket price adjustments that goes all the way to item “I,” then pauses
for a few sentences and then re-starts with another
item “A”, and then a “B” that is
followed by sub-
1, 2, 3, and 4). It reads “the full season Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses in
the first row in Sections 15A, 15B, 24B and 25 will be reduced from $2,500 to
$1,250 per regular season game. All fans who have purchased such full season
Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive, at their choice, a refund or a credit.”

The thing
is, sections 15A and 15B are at the far end of the Yankee dugout – most are
behind the camera well beyond
dugout – and sections 24B and 25 are their opposites behind the visiting
dugout. The front-row seats in those sections are the equivalent of fourth row
seats in the rest of the park. I’m reliably informed that the Yankees didn’t
manage to sell any
those seats, so there’s no refund to be had. Reality here reads like something
out of “Catch-22”: you can get a refund on those tickets, but only if you
haven’t bought them. And you can now buy many of those high-end tickets at half the original price, except you can’t, because the Yankees gave them away as make-goods.

So, amid
all the dollar figures, topic lettering, references to sections “15A and 15B,”
the press release had all the clarity of assembly instructions pulled out of a
swing set on Christmas Eve. The team certainly is giving its high-end customers
extra tickets – the ones it couldn’t sell – particularly those wide swaths of
exposed blue leather down the third base line. But that real story of what the
Yankees were doing was buried down in items C, D, E. Those who actually bought
those $2,500 front-row seats would be getting not refunds but a free set of
front-row seats further away from home plate. Buyers of $1,250 seats would get
24 games’ worth of freebies. Buyers of $850 seats would get 8 free games, and 4
more games’ worth in the $500 section, etc.

Speaking as
one of those $850 buyers, I want to make it clear that nobody, but nobody
, should feel sorry for us. Once you
are actually paying three or four figures for one
ticket to a sporting event, you are
on your own. The first year my father bought season tickets at Yankee Stadium
(1972), four seats to each game cost a total of $1,000, and we only managed it
by canceling all further vacations. Last year, the same four seats cost a total
of $1,000 per game.
advent of the Amazing Colossal Yankee Ticket Price didn’t exactly sneak up on
any of us, and we could have gotten out at any time – as hundreds, maybe
thousands, did.

But there
was a certain apparent inequity to the way the Yankee ticket adjustment was
framed – an inequity caused mostly by that blasted press release – that the
franchise didn’t deserve. It was not offering a fifty percent rebate to the
highest of the high rollers, and a token handful of tickets to the next group
down. It was giving the people who did buy tickets, all the rest of the tickets
that nobody had bought.

remains unaddressed, of course, is the 2010 season. Not mentioned in any of the
coverage of the cutbacks in the Bronx – at least that which I’ve seen – is that
beginning this season, the Yankees instituted multi-year ticket licenses. The
minimum commitment demanded of season seat-buyers at virtually all price ranges
was three years. An inverted sliding scale of maximum annual price increases
accompanied each
deal (the longer you signed for, the less they could raise the price of your
seats each winter), and the paperwork was as thick as a good-sized magazine. No
matter what the economy does, it will be fascinating to see whether the Yankees
try to enforce those price jumps next year, or hope they can just get people to
pay what they agreed to in more halcyon days. Or 75% of that. Or 50%.

Because if they can’t, the most dreaded thing imaginable might happen. The Yankees might send out another one of these press releases.