Doug Pappas, RIP

I just learned from King Kaufman’s Salon column that SABR member Doug Pappas died last week at age 43 of heat prostration while hiking.

Doug Pappas wasn’t well known outside the SABR community, but he was a hell of a baseball fan. He was a Manhattan lawyer who seemed to spend all his free time researching and writing on the business side of baseball. He did amazing research, wrote clearly, and, because of the nature of Bud Selig’s administration, he spent a lot of his time calling Bud Selig a liar, then backing it up. Just about any time in the last four years that you’ve heard me railing about Selig, it’s been Doug Pappas’s research I’ve been spouting. In my dream where I told off Selig for an hour in my kitchen, I might as well have had Pappas on my shoulder as my little good angel, feeding my lines.

As King Kaufmann points out, another of Pappas’s regular targets was that silly Team Fan Cost Index thing that gets ginned up and sent to the media every spring, proving that it costs something like $36,250 to take a family of four to a game. Pappas would always do what Major League Baseball, if it were able to see beyond the next labor battle, should have done: he’d point out that this silly figure is based on a family buying four mid-range tickets, two ball caps, two beers, four sodas, four hot dogs, some pretzels, etc., but is passed off as the “average” cost for a family to attend a game. You might as well throw the cost of their SUV and parking ticket into the mix. The Team Fan Cost Index tells you very little about what a family might be able to go to a game for; all it does is (I assume) scare off a few middle class families every year when they see the story in their paper with the $36,250 figure in the first sentence. Every year, Pappas reminded anyone he could what useless junk that number is.

His site gives an idea of what he was up to. I loved his work, if only because I was glad that someone was so dedicated to the game. I love baseball, but I will always spend too much time on other areas to be truly knowledgeable, so I greatly appreciate those who are willing to spend their time helping me to better understand the game. Doug Pappas somehow made the time, and he made good use of it.

King Kaufman describes well what we’ve lost: “Those of us who love baseball had a watchdog in Pappas, someone to let us know about the damage being done to the game by those running it. I hope someone with anything like his smarts, insight and writing ability can take over that role, but that’s asking a lot. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Original comments:

Steve: Levi,

Sometimes I think I am being a gadfly on this site but apart from that I just wanted you and Jim to know that I enjoy this blog immensely.

So, to this average ticket price thing. The average price just gives someone a “ballpark” figure of what it costs to go to the game. Below I’ve compiled the “low-cost” index for the Chicago teams but more on that later. First, I think it’s telling that they do use the average. I think the point of this exercise is that team X is “family friendly” compared to team Y. An individual or a family can certainly go to the park more cheaply than the average but of course the average implies that a cheaper as well as a more expensive possibility exists. There is a social construction in this figure whether you, as a childless man, want to buy into that or not. In short, this figure is inclusive of families and the middle class. If you did a cheap index you would have to keep reducing it to its bare essentials. You would end up with one person, eating no food, sitting in the worst seats in the house. The index is not trying to figure out the cost to a single, stogie chomping scorecard keeping retiree, it’s the cost of a family going to the game instead of going to Blockbuster, the movie theater or Chuck E Cheese.

Based on my informal research, you see a hell of a lot more families at Comiskey (if you see people there) than you do at Wrigley because its more family friendly but also more affordable. I see in one of your other posts that you are bemoaning the fact that Wrigley is a meat-market. The ticket charge there is essentially a cover charge. I will admit that a lot of bad parenting goes on but when you take the kids out of the house to a game who wants to be a taskmaster? So, if you buy one kid a program you have to buy the other one a program. When kids (and adults) go to the park they want souvenirs. Obviously you don’t have to buy your kids jack squat at the park but I think most people would like to think that they would buy their kids something besides food. If not a hat then a pennant or a “thunder-stick” or some other BS. If you’re middle class you probably aren’t taking the kids on the el so you have to drive and so on and so on. The point of this is that costs a lot to go to the park whether you do it on the cheap or not. If you want to determine how much it costs to take a family to the park it would be silly to simply take the cost of the four cheapest tickets, no food, etc. People consume things at the ballpark and that needs to be taken into consideration. Still as an informal study I’ve tried to mirror the average for Chicago teams by following the same rubric but with more reasonable expenses.

Cubs

Ticket Price $14 each (but you can only go to three day games in Aug or any game in Sept or Oct — another reason the average is telling)
Four Sodas (no beer) $2.50 each
Four Hot dogs: $2.75 each
No program
Two moderate souvenirs: $12 each
Public transport $1.75 x eight (four round trips)
Total cost $115

Sox

Ticket price $6each (but must attend one of 17 half price dates on a mon or tue)
Four Soda: $2.25
Four Hot Dogs: $2.75
No program
Two moderate souvenirs: $12 each
Public transport $1.75 x eight (four round trips)
Total: $82 (that’s good value)

You could bring food from home and do this more cheaply but if someone is doing that you are either a cheap ass or a fat ass because you need more food than you can afford at the park. Good luck sitting though nine innings without buying anything at the park. As to ticket prices, if you want to take your kids to fireworks night or a weekend or a game during the summer at Wrigley this is blown out of the water. Again, this makes the average more telling than the baseline.

What about the “Baseball-related” itinerary? I would be very interested the average cost of this trip. What if you multiply your ballpark individual expense by four?

Levi: I think your analysis is correct, Steve, but you’ll notice that without truly skimping–i.e., the kids won’t be leaving the ballpark unhappy, because they’ve been fed and they’ve gotten some souvenirs–you’ve gotten a cost for the family drastically lower than our friends at Team Marketing Report. Their cost for the Cubs? $194.31. For the Sox? $160.23. All you did was do what any family on a budget would do: you looked for cheap seats. Period. TMR’s use of the average ticket price is wrong because 1) the most expensive tickets both aren’t available to the average budget-conscious family in the first place (They’re held by season-ticket holders or scalpers, for the most part.) _and_ they’re not of interest to the average budget-conscious family. A better plan would be to use the cost of the cheapest non-bleacher seat, because that’s really what the family that has to count dollars will look at. You can even scrap the idea of looking for budget dates–although at Comiskey that would be silly, since _everybody_ looks at the two budget days*–and you’d still end up with a price much lower than TMR’s.

Second, a casual fan doesn’t buy a scorecard or program. Period.

Third, and this is my main complaint about this index: MLB should every year loudly refute this shit. Sure, they don’t want to encourage people to bring their own food, and they don’t want to mention that souvenirs are expensive, but there is absolutely no reason for them not to, every time this report comes out, mount a PR offensive about how cheap the cheap seats are, how great the views are in these new stadiums even from the cheap seats, what a great time kids have at the ballpark, and how goddamn expensive the movies are, let alone the NBA and NFL. The idea is to convince people that they can afford to get in the door. MLB knows that once they’re there, they’ll buy stuff, because that’s what people do, and that’s good for MLB. MLB sure as hell shouldn’t let some outside group determine what people think it wil cost them to go to a ballgame. Yet every year, they not only let this story get out, but they almost encourage it, because they’re always looking at any chance they can to say that players make too much money. And that’s because the people who run MLB are shortsighted liars, for the most part.

The idea of keeping a running total of ballpark expenses for the trip is a fun one. I’ll confer with Jim.

*The Sox tickets are way overpriced on non-budget days because the lease on Comiskey Park calls for the Sox to pay rent only in years in which they sell more than (I’m going to make up a number here, but that’s not really important to the story) 1.5 million full-priced tickets. If I remember right, they’ve only paid rent once, in 2001 (?), primarily because they sell so many tickets at half price or through group sales or at a discount of some sort. And that’s why they set their prices so high, because the marginal gain they would get from lowering them appears, to them, to be less than the gain from not paying rent. It’s a silly, shortsighted strategy, of course, because getting a fan in the door is worth almost any cost in the long term. But again, they’re MLB owners, so expecting the long view is just about futile.

Jim: Yes, I am definitely going to keep careful track of expenditures on the trip, if for no other reason than to make sure that Levi and the hangers-on pay their fair share for the hotel rooms and the rental car. So far, the only expenditure is that we’ve bought tickets for both the Red Sox and the Phillies. Both were $20, which is the second-cheapest seat you can get at Fenway Park (they have a very small amount of $12 seats), and the third-cheapest seat at Citizens Bank Park (they also have $15 and $18 seats). Actually, I’ve also paid for my plane ticket to Chicago already, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.

To compare Chicago prices to southern California: both the Angels and Dodgers have a “family pack” for Wednesday and Sunday games, which includes four upper-deck seats, four hot dogs, and four sodas. The Dodgers’ deal is $48 and also includes parking, and the Angels’ deal is $39 without parking. Adding $24 in souvenirs to use Steve’s matrix, they both come out to a little over $70. Not bad. (Actually, what the Angels’ deal does include is $8 in game tokens for the pitching machines/hitting machines/whatever it is they have in the “interactive baseball-style game” area at Angel Stadium. So if that will pacify the kids enough that they don’t need souvenirs, that really cuts the cost down.)

Steve: Okay, I think we can agree to agree. MLB should do a lot more to make themselves family friendly. Alas, it is clear they have given this terrain over to the minor leagues and are instead concerned with luxury suites and leather vibrating chairs right behind home plate. I think that probably gets to the core of why they don’t try to squash the “average ticket” thing. They don’t want to do anything to alter the perceived value of their sport. If they advertise how cheap or inexpensive their games can be, perhaps they fear that people will think of them as a lesser product. I think it’s interesting the Red Sox and the Cubs are the two highest priced teams while the Expos are the lowest. Right there you see the difference between the Mercedes and the Kia. If a Mercedes cost as much as a Kia it would lose a lot of its luster, no? Baseball makes a hell of a lot more money off the luxury suites than the upper deck reserved so why do anything to advertise how cheap a game when you risk alienating people who are paying a far higher premium to see it?

thatbob: I can’t help but notice that Levi’s argument reflects upon his larger crusade against the abuse of the arithmetical average in describing American culture and economics.

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