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April 7, 2009: No Bailout Needed

Today’s post in our week of special piece Welcoming Back Baseball is a guest post by my good friend Patrick Hughes, who is a devoted Giants fan living in San Francisco. Today the Giants are having their own Opening Day and Patrick has been texting me updates from the ballpark. But here’s a piece he wrote about what he had to go through to obtain that seat he’s sitting in as I post this:

No Bailout for Baseball Needed
by Patrick Hughes

You’d think by now that I would be used to the swindling tactics of Major League Baseball, but purchasing Opening Day tickets today took the cake.

I just paid nearly $68.00 for a Viewer Box seat, Section 112, Row 35, Seat 13. Un-f***ing-believable.

In the early days of Pac Bell, the only way a working stiff like myself could ensure tickets to the best games involved schlepping down to the ballpark on some random Saturday in February at the crack of 10:00am. For weeks, I’d pore over the schedule ahead of time and pick out the ten most interesting match-ups. You know, games versus the hated Dodgers, Mets, Cubs, Cardinals, the occasional interesting interleague game and a game or two during the final divisional series’ in September (just in case things got interesting). All in all, I’d shell out for about 10 games, including Opening Day. Kinda fun, now that I think of it. Going back and forth with me mates on what games would be of interest, driving like madmen through SOMA, while imagining nightmarish waiting line scenarios. Old fashioned fan stuff. Except for the first couple of seasons at the new park, I always managed to get the tickets I wanted.

For Opening Day, I didn’t care where I sat, just as long as I got in. A random sampling from my ticket collection shows I paid $19.00 in 2002, $22.00 in 2003, $23.00 in 2004 and $33.00 in 2007.

I’m not naive, I understand how it works. Sports in America is a racket and owners fleece the fans for all they can. We will put up with $10.00 beers and the $7.50 Sheboygan sausage. Hell, I don’t mind these extra charges just because Magowan borrowed $170 million, instead of getting the city to build the stadium and kept the Giants in San Francisco. Still, baseball is not as bad as football. In football, the rationalization is that since there are only 16 regular season games you are going to pay more. No explanation needed. It’s what punters will pay despite the billions made with television contracts. I wouldn’t be surprised that an individual ticket for a Dallas Cowboys home game at the New Texas Stadium to exceed $200 next season. But that’s not supposed to happen in baseball. At 162 games a season, it is supposed to be affordable.

Back to today. Keep in mind that I rent. I’m sure you Season Ticket holders have your particular complaints about seat licenses, parking and whatnot. I am ranting about one man trying to buy one ticket. For 2009, the Giants have completely changed the system. First of all, you can’t just buy Opening Day tickets at the ticket counter. Now you have to register online and wait until a lottery is held for what they refer to as a “Ticket Purchase Opportunity!” I imagine this is more about harvesting viable email addresses than preventing rioting in China Basin, but that’s me. Turns out I’m one of the lucky ones! I received a note earlier this week informing me that I can buy up to four tickets today! March 5th! Starting at 10:00am! I’m up. Card ready, fingers twitching. 10:00am strikes and I am furiously typing away like a harried parent attempting Hannah Montana tickets, fearing for the sanity of an adolescent daughter.

The first thing I notice on the ticket screen is that there are now three classifications of tickets: Regular, Feature and Premium.

OK. I get it. Very clever. Feature games are against top media market teams and every Dodger game is a Premium.

The difference between Regular and Premium is about $20.00. Then I see the notice in BIG LETTERS that I now have approximately a minute and a half to make my selection, the time counting down in ominous red blinking numbers.

Think fast, I say. Be steady.

My eyes settle on Regular Lower Box–$35.00. Not bad. These seats went for $28.00 last year, but I don’t follow the line ‘Premium’–Opening Day is actually $52.00.

Bang. Too late. I click the link. Time is wasting.

It opens up another window showing me the actual view from the seats. Section 112. I have a moment to think. Not bad. Behind home plate, just a tad to the first base side, right under the press box. Great sight lines to watch last year’s Cy Young winner, Lincecum as the opening day starter. Added bonus is that Section 112 is for the handicapped, so there will be extra legroom. As a veteran ball park rat, I tell you, sitting with a group of Special Needs kids is actually pretty awesome. They don’t get plastered and actually spend most of the game concerning themselves with their bright orange foam finger and then leave by the seventh inning. The only wrinkle is when they wheel in some poor fellow flat out in a iron lung. The endless stream of questions can be distracting and I really fear the outcome of an errant foul ball. Anyway, I’m feeling optimistic, clicking through ads, trying to get to the credit card data entry window.

However, this Doomsday Clock is tormenting me, counting down my One and Only chance at Opening Day salvation.

There. I click it. Finally. And as an extra bonus? A $9.25 ‘Convenience’ fee added to the bill. How about that? Convenience Fee. Great. What’s next? A ball polishing tax? A bat waxing surcharge? My enthusiasm is starting to waver. Thing is, I associate this fee in my youth with Van Halen tickets via Ticketron. You paid extra because you spoke to an operator and had them mailed to your home. Not now. In the unregulated seller’s market of 2009, this is how it goes. You want on the boat? Now it’s going to cost you extra. But add the anxiety of the ominous and slyly unexplained time factor of doom, I am starting to feel abused, though no time for reflection.

The final ignominy comes at the end, just between the final invoice and a confirmation number. A fresh screen informs me about the greening initiatives of Major League Baseball and now I have the option of downloading my ticket to a PDA and just flashing my phone at the game to gain entry–for an additional charge of just $2.00. Given that I am not much of a gadget man these days, I opt the for printing my ticket at home option. As I slide the cursor over to the Complete This Transaction button, the ticket charge jumps to $6.00! What’s this? For my own ink and paper? Are they that concerned about The Impending Economic Apocalypse? No time to think.

20 seconds left and BAM! I have my 2009 SF Giants Opening Day ticket!

$52.00 for the seat and a whopping $15.25 in charges. A quick calculation. This means Standing Room Only tickets on any random home game are now $30.00. God Bless America. Please note: Tickets are non-refundable and remember that no coolers are allowed and removing your hat during the Star Spangled Banner is now mandatory.

(Tune in all this week for more special Welcome Back Baseball articles and pieces!)

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