Sports Are a Business and the Dodgers Are Run Like One
When Stan Kasten was subject to questioning, the immediate examinations had to do with the teams spending and approach to the 2019 offseason. Probed to what appeared frustration, Kasten offered a set of answers that erupted the fanbase, disappointed thoroughly in the longtime baseball executives answers. While he phrased poorly, Kasten was not wrong. Sports are a business after all, and the Dodgers are simply run like one.
The immediate reaction to Kasten’s approach is easily summed up in horror. How could a team, set in the middle of one of the countries biggest markets, be looking to shrink its payroll? How could the Dodgers be trading players, fan-favorite player, and signing ones the fans were never particularly interested in?
While making the moves almost nobody wanted to see, the Dodgers ticket prices continued that gradual rise, parking prices cost more than a lower level ticket for a Diamondbacks game, and the Dodgers are signed to a lucrative TV deal that blacks out most of their fanbase from seeing the games in the first place.
The answer is complicated, the justification is rough, but to the disappointment of many, there is an answer.
Sports, not limited to the Dodgers or any particular team for the matter, are a business. A multi-trillion dollar industry broadcast globally for the entertainment of the fans. Teams, at the very root of this, are set on a foundation like any other company anywhere: the goal is to make a profit no matter how disappointing it may look to the fans.
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Of course, the goal of the team is making its fanbase happy. The Miami Marlins are a prime example of a failing business. They are trying to make money in ticket sales, they aren’t bringing in the crowds to do so and the level of spending for on-field talent has resulted in a disastrous output.
Now the argument there might be that they are in a rebuild but their shortcomings in attendance have been a long-standing issue. The team in the heart of the South Beach, in a market they should be successful in, has been at or near the bottom of the league in percentage of stadium capacity filled since 2013. In 2018, the Marlins filled an average of 48 percent of their stadium.
Why is that relevant? Because when Kasten took the microphone and answered questions, his answers raised eyebrows, not confirmed suspicions.
Kasten first called the fans’ concerns over the team anecdotal. Noting that they were fictional issues. He carried on to talk about season ticket output, something that is trending towards an all-time high. He talked about how staying under the luxury tax was a massive benefit to the team financially but the main point here is ticket sales.
The team, with or without Bryce Harper, will put fans in the seat in 2019. Since 2013, the Dodgers have marginally lead baseball in attendance. The team will put cars in the parking lot and dispight the outrageous prices, fans will still buy food at the games. That is Kasten’s concern.
Again, as disappointing as it may seem, he is right. The Dodgers are trying to make a profit in a big city. When they signed the deal with Spectrum to broadcast games exclusively on their airwaves, the decision was not made to hurt anyone, it was purely financial.
But, through all of this, there is a problem. Kasten is running a business. His concerns are very clearly narrowed to the business aspects of the game: put players on the field, be a contender and put people in the seats.
If you want to look at a non-‘anecdotal’ issue, many fans can no longer afford tickets to a game. The highest seats in the ballpark are going for more than $35 a piece. A hot dog costs as much as a second deck seat in Phoenix and people cannot watch Dodger games at home without the right TV provider.
This is where a solution is needed.
Signing a lucrative deal that cuts 60 percent of your fan base from being able to watch the games is poignant. Charging almost nine dollars for a hot dog and 45 dollars for the highest and farthest seat in the ballpark makes your games unreachable to a fan base that wants to be there. That is not okay.
So, the team needs to find that middle ground. That doesn’t mean shred the contract with Spectrum and make games available on television but find a reasonable mark for ticket prices. Kasten knows that he will fill seats so base the price of a ticket off of how much money he can project to make.
The rising ticket prices come off as the Dodgers brass taking advantage of a loyal fanbase when, in reality, the prices could have remained close to neutral and netted the same value year after year. So, instead of getting riled up about not signing Bryce Harper, let’s look at this differently.
Harper was not in the cards and when you really look at this critically, the Dodgers do not need him to be a World Series team. They didn’t need him in the last two straight appearances and honestly, that will not change moving forward. If the fans want to be angry, take aim at the business, not the ballplayers.
At the end of the day, sports are a business and Kasten and the people surrounding him are businessmen. They are running an operation and that’s what everyone saw when he spoke. The point was publicly addressed poorly but, again, at the root of his words, Kasten talked business to the masses.
The City of Angels is a culture with a beating heart. A heart that could be placed right on the field at Dodger Stadium as the culture in the city seems to revolve around its beloved team. The ticket sales prove it. But, perhaps the issue in LA is not who they are putting on the field, rather, it is who they surround the field with. The issue in LA is in the business, not the dugout.