Earlier in the season, there was some concern expressed about the decline in attendance at Yankee Stadium. Over the first 22 games of the home schedule, approximately 3,300 fewer fans have attended each game, which represents a 7% year-over-year dip from last year’s average of 45,050. From my standpoint, however, the greater concern isn’t the people who aren’t going to the game, but the relative indifference exhibited by the ones who are.
It was easy to dismiss the Stadium crowd’s passivity earlier in the season when the opponents were Chicago, Toronto and Kansas City, but last night the Red Sox were in town. Granted, the Yankees’ offense didn’t give the fans much to cheer about for most of the game, but even so, the general vibe from the crowd was indifference. This lack of investment in the outcome was made further evident when what seemed like half the stadium emptied after the bottom of the eighth. If Mark Teixeira had launched Jonathan Papelbon’s last pitch into the stands for a dramatic walk-off victory, it probably would have landed in an empty seat.
After mentioning this perceived indifference on Twitter, there were alot of interesting replies. Ross of NYY Stadium Insider (@StadiumInsider) suggested that the proliferation of smart phones might be the main culprit. Although others disagreed, it does seem as if he has a point. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to look around the stands and see just as many heads peering down at their PDAs as looking out toward the action on the field. Baseball has always been a game conducive to diversion, but is the creeping penetration of technology starting to become too much of a distraction?
Although the handheld devices theory would explain less interest and interaction, it doesn’t address the increasing proportion of the crowd that is leaving early. It’s hard to pinpoint why more and more fans are opting to beat the traffic, but over the first 20 games of the home schedule, the ballpark in the Bronx has looked more like Dodger Stadium East.
So, what is behind this change in fan attitude? The knee jerk response would be to blame the corporate crowd that the new Yankee Stadium seems to attract, but I am not sure if that’s really the case. Since the Yankees have rekindled their dynastic ways, the well heeled have been a visible part of the fan base. Although the corporate crowd is paying alot more for its tickets, that doesn’t seem like a reason to leave early (unless you think an even richer, and more fickle, fan has taken the place of the old Stadium’s elite). Besides, I’ve noticed fans making a hasty retreat from all parts of the stadium, not just the premium seats. At least on an anecdotal basis, it doesn’t seem as if the early departures are an economic issue.
The best theory I can muster is actually an ironic one. More than ever, it seems as if fans are eschewing their cars in favor of mass transit. The $35 price tag for parking is probably a big reason why, but the improved public transportation infrastructure around the Stadium seems to be an even greater incentive. In other words, could it be that too many fans are taking the train?
Although the subway has always been an option, several new means of transportation have emerged over the past few years. Perhaps the most significant was the construction of a Metro-North station at Yankee Stadium. Before the new hub, suburban fans were all but forced to drive into the Bronx, but now the MTA estimates that over 3,000 people take Metro-North to the game. Meanwhile, the Yankee Stadium subway station remains one of the most trafficked in the system (in terms of fares paid at the turnstiles). Considering that the number of trips emanating from 161 Street dwarfs all stations in the vicinity, it seems clear that Yankees fans make up a large part of the ridership.
The link between mass transit and leaving early isn’t exactly a straightforward one. After all, more people taking the train should alleviate, not exacerbate, the need to “beat the traffic”. From personal experience, however, the opposite is true. When you know you have the relative safety and comfort of your automobile awaiting, there’s much less concern about getting a head start on the crowd. However, when faced with long lines to enter the station, crowded train rides, and limited schedules of operation, the benefit to leaving early is more tangible. In other words, although increased use of mass transit is certainly good for the environment at large, it might be causing a drag on the one at Yankee Stadium.
Whatever the reason, it just seems like something is different at Yankee Stadium this year. Of course, it could be that I am shifting the blame. The problem may not be with the fans in the stands, but rather the players on the field. Perhaps with a few more timely hits, Yankees fans would be on their feet cheering instead of using them to make an early escape.