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Baseball '89 : A Preview : The Money Game : Baseball Is Still a Sporting Bargain

April 02, 1989|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

Lyrics the Angels, Dodgers and Harry Caray would prefer you never heard:

"Take me out to the ballpark . . . Take me out to the game . . .

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack . . .

I don't know if I can afford to come back . . . "

Rest easy. The seventh-inning stretch is safe, as are the collective wallets of Angel and Dodger fans everywhere. Turns out inflation is having a tough time finding a good seat.

Make no mistake--it does cost more to trip a turnstile at Anaheim Stadium or Chavez Ravine these days, but at least your ATM card can recover with a few days' rest. And sure, America's pastime takes more of a bite from your billfold, but all things considered, the game remains a sporting bargain.

Bring the wife and two kids to an Angel game today and you'll pay $36 for four field-level tickets, compared to the $28 you would have spent five years ago. That's a little more than a 5% increase each year. Not bad.

Inflation hasn't entirely forgotten the Dodgers. Those same four box seats you paid $24 for in 1984 now cost $28, a modest 3% increase each opening day.

As for peanuts and Cracker Jack, well, let's just say it costs more to crack a salted shell these days. You pay the same buck for a bag of peanuts at Anaheim Stadium as you did in 1984, but here's the catch: the bag is smaller. And while the price of Cracker Jack remains the same, you wonder if perhaps the box hasn't shrunk or the prizes aren't as clever.

Say that a family of four ventures into Anaheim Stadium for an Angel game this season. They splurge and get the club level seats ($9 each) and pay $4 for parking. They buy a pair of game programs ($1.50 each). They visit the concession stand in the fifth inning and order four hot dogs ($1.50 each), three large sodas ($1.75 each) and a small beer ($2.50). A souvenir man laters convinces the family to buy an Angel pennant ($3.00). Total: $59.75.

It could have been worse. Someone could have snuck into one of the concessions shops at the Big A and forked over $150 for a letterman's jacket or a major league pin collection. Worse yet, they could have tried to get Laker tickets.

The damage is less at Dodger Stadium, where that same family would spend about $51.75 on a comparable ticket-parking-food-souvenir package. Then again, when you annually lead or challenge for the lead in major league attendance, as the Dodgers often do, you can afford to be less greedy.

"Our club philosophy has always been to try to price things as modestly as possible," said Bob Graziano, Dodger vice president of finance. "It hasn't been to charge what the market will bear. If you charge too much on the short term you might make a lot of money, but you'll exclude some of the young people or lower income people who will be with you on a long-term basis."

The same goes for the Angels, who aren't in any hurry to alienate any of their customers.

Still, almost no item during the last five years has eluded baseball's price markup. Programs, pennants, caps, T-shirts, helmets, baseballs and bats all cost more. So do beer, a hot dog, coffee. Ticket prices have inched up, too.

In 1984, a reserved field- or club-level seat at Anaheim Stadium cost $7; now it's $9. A terrace-level seat costs 33% more, up from $6 to $8. Center field club or terrace seat are up a dollar, from $6 to $7. Lower view-level seats increased from $4.50 to $6, and general admission tickets were bumped up 50 cents, from $2.50 in 1984, to $3 today.

Blame the higher price of doing business, which includes higher salaries, minor league costs, travel, front office costs . . . blah, blah, blah. You've heard it before.

Simple economics explain the hike in souvenir prices at Anaheim Stadium, said Sam Maida, whose job it is to order and set costs for more than 300 souvenir items at the Big A.

According to Maida, you can thank rising overseas labor and transportation costs for the increase in baseball mementos. Also contributing to the price jumps is a major league licensing fee that went into effect last July.

In short, a manufacturer pays major league baseball a fee to become an "official" souvenir supplier. Of course, that same manufacturer, said Maida, probably passes on the cost of the fee to the distributor, who then passes it on to the consumer. You've heard that before, too.

"Sometimes you hate to raise prices," Maida said, "but sometimes you have to."

Maida said he does what he can to keep prices stable. For instance, if a souvenir manufacturer doubles his price for an item, Maida usually drops the company from his lineup.

"In that case, the guy prices himself out of the market," he said. "I've got 300 items and 200 more people knocking on the door."

The Dodgers are after the same clientele as the Angels, mainly the family trade. To that end, the Dodgers have raised their ticket prices only slightly during the last five years, an average of 20 cents each season.

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