After that last out of the last game in September, as the beer cups and hot dog wrappers are swept up and the tarp goes back on the field, there’s a silver lining to the baseball team that didn’t make the postseason: At least you can get a ticket next year. For fathers who see bringing their kids to the ballpark as a life-changing rite of passage, it’s financially difficult to justify going more than once a year. I’d love to be able to take my 4-year-old to every homestand at Fenway, but it’s not worth the price. Mostly because the average preschooler doesn’t care about baseball. He doesn’t know if the team is winning, losing, or doing the YMCA during the seventh-inning stretch. What we both care about is father-son bonding time at the ballpark, possibly enjoying a sport I also enjoy — and soft serve that comes in a novelty helmet. It may sound blasphemous to Red Sox Nation, but if the team took a nosedive for a decade, at least I could get a bleacher seat with my boy anytime I wanted.
At this point, I’m willing to trade quality of the starting lineup for quantity of games. In the doldrums of the early ‘90s, tickets were pretty damn reasonable — even adjusted for inflation. Today the league average for a ticket at face value (which isn’t really a thing in the era of StubHub) is $31; in 1992, the Sox finished 23 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays and the average ticket price was $11.67. Also, Boston fans who went to a game during that awful season would have their last chance to see Wade Boggs before he left for New York to do victory laps around Yankee Stadium on a horse.
Once a team’s ticket prices go up they rarely come down. The law of Major League economics is that a hot team can charge whatever the market will bear. The Chicago Cubs are witnessing it right now. Wrigley Field was never a cheap seat, but since they ended their 108 year World Series drought last November, everyone who was “Flying the W” in 2016 is paying an average of $150.63 so far in 2017 according to ticket resale site TickPick. That’s the highest average ticket price in baseball.
A team doesn’t even have to win the World Series to feel the effect of a price hike. Owen Watson at FanGraphs found that teams who get knocked out in the Wild Card or League Division series had large increases the following season. His hypothesis — these are teams that seldom reach the big show and gave their fans a glimmer of hope. Although, teams that went to the World Series between 2008-2015 saw ticket prices rise by 2.4 percent. Of course, a winning club isn’t the only reason ticket prices are jacked up. One of the biggest factors is getting fans to pay for that new (or, in the Red Sox’s case, refurbished) stadium.
Growing up with a losing team isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a kid. It builds character. Those who are born into championship franchise are raised with the expectation there’s a ring ceremony every opening day. The first year that team misses the playoffs they’ll throw an epic tantrum. One of the great aspects of pro sports is that it lets people collectively experience failure and heartache, and those are the two qualities that will keep kids in good stead during tough times. What’s not going to serve them well is pouting when things don’t break their way. That’s not to say that fans of losing teams don’t throw batteries on the field and dump beer on each other. But a mediocre team has more opportunity to demonstrate how to be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. Until that team wins their first World Series in a century. Then all those losers can suck it.
So when the heat around the Red Sox dies down over the next decade, and they start looking like the crappy Sox of yore, I won’t complain about snagging a pair of cheap bleacher seats with my boy.