Friday, August 22, 2008

The Politics of Luxury Boxes

My hometown Columbus Dispatch has a column today in which a woman named Myrna Dupler, the daughter of a noted local architect named Howard Dwight Smith, is interviewed. Myrna is in her mid 80s now, and she's interviewed on the rooftop terrace of her apartment building, which overlooks the construction of the Columbus Clippers' new stadium. She has mixed feelings about it because her father was the architect for Cooper Stadium, the aging ballpark which the new place is set to replace next spring. Smith was also the architect for Columbus City Hall and numerous buildings on Ohio State's campus, including Ohio Stadium, home of the Buckeyes.

The conversation turns interesting when the interviewer asks her about how her father would feel about the new baseball stadium as well as the extensive renovations which were made to Ohio Stadium a few years ago:
"He was very proud of the aesthetics and the utility of that stadium," Dupler said. "It's such a nice place to sit. I've always liked it. There's something about the ambiance about a well-designed building. You just know it's right." . . . Asked what her father would have thought of the Ohio Stadium renovations, she said he would have understood that an updating was needed because "Everything was falling apart inside and they needed more room."

She added, "But he would not have liked all the boxes for the rich people. He was a socialist."

You don't have to be a socialist to lament the way new stadiums are pricing out the little guy in favor of the plutocrats, but it's worth noting that a healthy portion of the stadiums you, your parents, and your grandparents grew up attending were designed by guys who viewed the world like Howard Dwight Smith. After all, like all notable architects, he had like-minded mentors and disciples, many of whom were likely also socialists. As a result of this, our sportsgoing DNA has an inevitable touch of socialism about it that, for better or worse, has a hard time taking to the glittering new palaces of the day.

Yesterday's political post spurred a bit of a debate about whether sports and politics can and should be separated. I think stuff like this shows us that on some level, they really can't be.


Sara K said...

I knew it was only a matter of time before you began using this blog to advance your evil socialist agenda. ;-)

Amos said...

All due respect to this nice elderly woman, but these arguments carry no weight in the real world.

Look, one of the reasons that stadiums nationwide are architectural marvels - or at least much nicer than the giant concrete hunks of yesteryear - is because of the luxury boxes and the people who pay to sit in them.

So let's accept this as reality and move on. The existence of luxury boxes doesn't change that baseball is a wonderful sport, a day at the ballpark is a great family outing, minor league ball (even if your small town's stadium has skyboxes) is an inexpensive and fun outing (despite being pricier than it was years ago), etc.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Amos -- I don't think anyone is denying that reality. I just think it's important for teams and stadium owners to appreciate that, whether fans realize it or not, the origins and the majority of the history of the in-person professional sports viewing experience was a bit more egalitarian than they are today. Does that mean burn the boxes? of course not. But it wouldn't hurt for teams to appreciate that a lot of fans are feeling marginalized in this brave new world. And, from a self-interested, capitalist point of view, a team that can figure out how to address the issue (e.g. having cheap ticket days; getting creative with how seats are distrubuted, etc.) may do wonders for fan loyalty and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Sara -- Shhh!

mooseinohio said...

In many ways living in a minor league city, especially with a AAA team, is a blessing as general admission tickets are generally pretty affordable and because the ballpark typically are not bigger than 15,000 seats so even the lowest priced ones provide decent views and are relatively close to the field. I know both Louisville and Indy have picnic areas in the outfield for families and they can afford to do that in part because of the monies they make with luxury boxes so it seems to be a win-win.

Now onto a more serious matter that needs to be addressed ASAP as Craig writes "the construction of the Columbus Clipper's new stadium". There it is - one of the dumbest sports franchise names in history - the Columbus Clipper (competes with Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies). I lived in Columbus for years and never understood where that name came from and how it relates in any ways to Ohio. Has anyone ever seen a Clipper ship in central Ohio? The Scioto river can barely handle my kayak and the replica Santa Maria is significantly smaller than most Clippers ships ever built. Speaking of the Santa Maria I had several folks try to tell me that Columbus sailed to the 'New World' on Clipper ships - of course when I informed them that Clippers weren't built until several centuries after Columbus' voyages I had the pleasure of staring into very blank eyes.

So now that I have vented - can we start a petition to rename the team? But please remove "Horizon" and "Glory" from the list of potential names - been there, done that.

Peter said...

As a libertarian of course I have no problem with baseball owners charging what the market will bear, regardless of the impact it has on "the average fan". A good argument could be made that "the average fan" has made it pretty clear that NFL games are worth $60-100 a seat (plus parking, plus beer, plus food, plus merchandise), MLB games are worth $150-200 for a family of four, etc.

Nobody likes paying a lot of money to do the things they enjoy, but the fact that they make the conscious decision to pay that amount of money says that they've weighed the cost, and decided it's worth it. Or maybe they decided it's not worth it, and will go to a minor league game instead, or to the movies, or whatever...which is fine by me.

The problem is that the general public is supporting MLB, whether it chooses to attend games or not, through things like taxpayer-funded stadiums, the antitrust exemption, etc, so it seems like the league has some sort of obligation to make games "affordable" and "accessible". But how do you define terms like that in relation to baseball? What's a "reasonable" price to pay to attend a game?

...which, of course, is why we shouldn't be publicly funding stadiums and giving sports leagues preferential treatment, but I know that I'm beating a dead horse there.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Moose -- I have no idea why they're called the Clippers. The whole Santa Maria/Christopher Columbs thing wasn't really revived until later (remember Ameriflora back in 92?), so I'm thinking that wasn't the inspiration. I know they were a Pirates affiliate in their first year or two -- Pirates owner John Galbreath was from Columbus -- so it's possible that it was some lame attempt at using seafaring imagry combined with the always popular alliteration. Who knows? I may be content to stick with Clippers, though, because if the rumors are right, they're going to switch to being an Indians affiliate next season, and I worry that a change may inspire some unfortunate Indian mascot nonsense, and I really can't stand that.

Pete Toms said...

Read "Public Dollars, Private Stadiums" if you're interested in this subject. Craig, of the 9 cities examined which built private stadiums with public dollars, 2 are in your state.

mooseinohio said...


That could be rather interesting as Columbus is named after a man that helped to start one of the greatest genocides in history of the indigenous people that have since been named Indians. Would that mean the team would be destined to have internal strife, that is constant management v. player issues or one group of players siding with management for self interest reasons and helping to rebuff other players - may want to make sure the team doctors don't hand out blankets.

Also, since Indianapolis already has Indians as a mascot - maybe Columbus wouldn't duplicate.

Rob said...

The Clippers' name is obviously a reference to coupon clipping, not seafaring vessels.

Now, if you can tell me what a Blue Jacket is, I'll be impressed.

(And just to continue the socio-political debate that burns so deeply in the hearts of the Shyster Republic, let me suggest that the causal arrow for the luxury box phenomenon points in the other direction. The burgeoning luxury box population in this country is more a reflection of our current income inequality than the other way around. In other words, our stadiums may have been more egalitarian 60 years ago, but that's largely because our income distribution was less bifurcated.)