There’s no shortage of reasons to be frustrated with the Seattle Mariners right now, but today I’m here to briefly rehash a common complaint: ticket prices. They could always be lower, and until the end of time it will be lamented that things cost more than they should in the eye of the purchaser. But last night we saw an embarrassing microcosm of a larger issue.
The 11,265 tonight at Safeco is the ninth smallest crowd in club history. The last time they had a sub 12,000 crowd was September 9, 2014 vs. the Astros.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) September 5, 2018
Tuesday nights are never a big draw and Baltimore is wretched, but the draw is over 5k less than an average Tuesday night the rest of the year. The Mariners are slipping out of playoff contention, yes, but still have a fighter’s chance, and by all indications last night was an opportunity for a win. But the echoing emptiness of Safeco stood out, broken only by scattered boos as a bullpen implosion, quiet bats, and a series of defensive miscues led to a sloppy, ugly loss. It reminded me there must be a fundamental disconnect or disinterest between the deciders in the organization and the fan base, and it’s approaching a breaking point.
Baseball is not dying. Contrary to what you have read and will read again, baseball has been declared comatose for over a century, and it will likely continue to be. But what baseball IS is more expensive than ever. As Maury Brown covered earlier this year, the average cost of a “non-premium ticket” around the league is $32.44. The Mariners, however, come in above that, with the 8th-highest average “non-premium” price in the league at $37.33.
I have never paid that much for a ticket, because I am a man without a family or much disposable income. If given the opportunity, I will cheerily snag a $15 ticket, bus down to Safeco, bring food from home or grab something cheaper outside, and have a lovely time. The trouble is, unfortunately, two-fold.
Firstly, on a larger scale, even those fortunate enough to have either the financial or obligation-related flexibility to drop a minimum of $15-20 on a ticket are no longer competing, as was long the case, with the alternative of a night at the movies, or a decent dinner out. I love baseball with all my heart, but why should anyone with a less fanatical fascination with the basic machinations of the game choose a night at the ballpark for more than double the cost of a monthly subscription to Netflix? Perhaps the organization is able to more than recoup the lost earnings with a few high-price investment in luxury boxes - that is a question for a more skilled economic mind than my own, but the toll the lack of understanding of the average fan’s situation is taking seems underestimated by the team.
This isn’t a Mariners-unique issue, but it is a unique choice to not be part of the solution. Lest they settle for simply outdoing the Mariners on the field, the Oakland Athletics have been baseball’s most progressive team in pushing creative ways to make ballgames affordable for average (and young) fans. From free games to subscription packages, Oakland and a few other teams have made great strides towards making the ballpark a cost-effective option. The Mariners dipped their toe in with creative promotions as well as their own ballpark pass (albeit at $98 to Oakland’s $20), and even that slight concession was a step forward, but as the light of the season dims, the second issue is exposed in full.
It’s easy for anyone, be they an individual or a massive corporation, to hide behind the security that nobody else is doing something different, so they’re simply keeping pace with everyone else. But that’s not good enough. Jerry Dipoto and the front office needn’t (and, realistically, SHOULDN’T) operate as though the last 17 years of Mariners baseball have occurred, but the business end of the organization has no such excuse. Whether through our recent interviews or our consistent work covering the team over the past few years, we have gotten to know numerous members of the Seattle Mariners organization. They are good people who by-and-large feel similarly to the rest of us - they want to be able to go to Safeco, a place they love, and enjoy baseball with friends and loved ones. But somewhere along the way the message is getting lost, and with it, fandoms.
The Mariners are not playoff-bound this year. Summer is ending, and I want to spend as much of it as I can in a place that has always felt like home to me - Safeco Field. But I cannot justify paying to do so, and if I can’t afford to, there are thousands more less fortunate than me who are assuredly facing the same sad realization.
Let us come to the park, Mariners. Please.