Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The best value for the sports fan

In these tough economic times, it's nice to know that you don't have to go to Yankee Stadium II, Citi Field, or even hallowed Fenway Park to take in a good ballgame. Not when it's economically more feasible to stay at home and support the New York-Penn League's Tri-City Valleycats, the short-season affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Valleycats are mired in last place in the Stedler Division of the NYPL, but they are still a consistently solid draw. Attendance is actually up this year, it seems, and a big reason for that may be that the 'Cats don't have a radio outlet for their games anymore. They ended their association with Siena College's radio station, WVCR, after last season, with all of the games now being streamed on the internet through the team's website. Those that don't have computers but want to keep up with the team find themselves gravitating to Joe Bruno Stadium more frequently than they have in previous seasons. Even though the 'Cats are not likely to make the playoffs for the 3rd straight season, they are giving their fans lots of reasons to be there with their between-innings promotions. It's a sense of community that has people spending as much time on the concourse chatting with friends as they are in the seats watching the game.

You can actually hear the internet broadcast being played in the restrooms, believe it or not. It's weird, I know, but it allows for some continuity so you don't miss a second of the action.

Meanwhile, across the river, there is doom & gloom for the Albany Firebirds in Arena Football 2. The reincarnated Firebirds (who were the Albany Conquest from 2002-08) got off to a terrible start---again---and with the home season completed, the 'Birds have a slim chance of making the playoffs in what could be the final season for AF2 in Albany. Owner Walt Robb also owns the AHL's River Rats, and has lost a lot of money in recent years, prompting speculation about at least the 'Birds' future. The Rats are, for now, secure, especially now that they've got a local rivalry to heat things up next season, with the Phantoms moving from Philadelphia to Glens Falls. The Conquest/Firebirds have become a league doormat since winning back-to-back division titles in 2002-03, and the name change, marking the 10th anniversary of the original 'Birds winning the Arena Bowl, hasn't changed their fortunes as much as they'd like. AF1 is on hiatus due to money issues, but---and I hate to say it---maybe this is the end of indoor football in this generation.

The New York Buzz of World Team Tennis changed home courts for the 2nd year in a row, playing their home matches at UAlbany's SEFCU Arena. Like the 'Cats, the Buzz are in last place in their division in the short-season league, but what also hurts may be the insistence on raising ticket prices when better known players like Venus Williams or Martina Navratilova hit town. You'll get the hardcore tennis fans with the credit cards to burn, but Joe Fan gets left out of the loop if he can't afford to spend upwards of $45 per seat for "special attractions".

In sharp contrast, the Valleycats' ticket price range ($6-$10 on game day) makes a lot more sense. $10 will get you a seat behind home plate at The Joe, and it also gets you an end zone seat at Times Union Center, where the Firebirds play. Except that in the latter, it costs at least $40-$50 for a seat at the 25 yard line. And they wonder why attendance at the TUC is down.

I gave up on Arena football long ago, largely because there was something that didn't feel right. If baseball is to regain it's place as America's "National Pastime", it needs to start giving back to Joe Fan and stop catering to the corporate suits who can afford the exorbitant ticket prices at, say for example, Yankee Stadium II. More than anything, baseball is the people's game. Big business, which is at the heart of Major League Baseball, needs to realize this.

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