Rising ticket prices, Aaron Gordon writes, have created a class divide among fans.
In the upper deck of Citizens Bank Ballpark, with a hot dog in hand and dozens of screaming fans swarming the camera for attention, John Kruk declares, “This is where the real fans sit” for a Baseball Tonight commercial. The screaming fans likely paid above face value for their upper-deck seats. Their game-day bill—assuming they purchased food, a modest amount of beer, and transportation—is flirting with triple digits. Still, this is the cheapest game-day experience the Phillies have to offer.
Being a “real fan” is supposed to be the ultimate merit-based title. There’s no membership to purchase, no trade union to join, and no minimum-spending requirement. Likewise there’s no sign-up bonus, free gifts, or perks. Knowledge and passion for the team are the only metrics of fandom.
So what does your seat location have to do with what kind of a fan you are?
The wrong answer would blame stereotypes. Real fans are blue-collar, working class folks who devote an undue amount of personal loyalty and investment (in non-monetary terms) to their teams. The real fan utilizes sports as the ultimate distraction.
Based on this, by default, everyone else must be casual fans. The casual fan—still working with stereotypes here—has a strong portfolio, a house in the suburbs, and has the word “director” or “manager” in his title. The casual fan can easily afford seats in the lower deck, or even behind the dugout—they’re probably corporate seats after all—and only goes for business or social reasons. He has no deep loyalty to the team; he could just as easily like their rival if he got transferred. For the casual fan, a team is a networking tool.
It’s pretty obvious these stereotypes don’t hold. I grew up in a town with some very wealthy individuals who knew every last prospect in the Yankees’ farm system. Likewise, we have all encountered the jackass in the local bar who screams his head off every time a run is scored but doesn’t know the infield fly rule.
So why did Kruk say the real fans sit in the upper deck? Moreover, why did ESPN include that clip in a commercial for Baseball Tonight if it’s not true?
As anyone who watches BBTN knows he’s prone to do, Kruk misspoke. He meant to say “Only real fans sit here.” It’s a minor adjustment, but a crucial one. Real fans are everywhere, but you must be one to sit in the upper deck, because there’s no other reason to be up there.
Consider Yankee Stadium, the ultimate example of modern-day class division. Legends Seats cost roughly $100 per inning, and unlike their distant cousin, the luxury box, they’re brandished in front of everyone so our very essence can seethe in jealousy. They’re essentially stadium thrones, and much closer to the recliner family than the bleacher category. The curved backrests extend well above the neck; there are two wooden armrests for each seat, free food, beverages, parking, and raised platforms for optimal viewing of the game. Most of the seats are corporately owned, so most people are essentially sitting there for free. There are a lot of good reasons to sit in Legends Seats that have nothing to do with baseball.
I’ve never sat in a Legends Seat, but I’ve sat in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. It’s the fifth and final deck, but with a row of luxury suites invisible to the eye from field level, it’s more like the sixth deck. But it’s also way back. When stadiums evolved beyond those pesky load-bearing, view-obstructing poles (which you can still find at Fenway), it meant the upper decks had to be set further behind the lower deck, since the concrete supports had to be out of view. That meant each subsequent deck must be about two-feet further back for every row; so the sixth deck might as well be on the other side of the Deegan. Combined with the overpriced food and beverages, there’s no good reason to be in the upper deck other than to (barely) watch baseball.
The real fan wasn’t excommunicated to the upper deck, as if the High Priests of the Legends Seats had cast him away. Instead, the distinction lies in who would pay money in the HDTV era to use binoculars at a baseball game. Only people with a limitless passion for a game would do such a thing. Only the real fans would sit up there.
—Photo Hello Turkey Toe/Flickr