"Yankees sign Mark Teixeira to eight-year, $180 million deal."
"Yankees sell bleacher seats for Yankee Stadium opener for 25 cents."
Never before have two headlines highlighted the disconnect between athletes and fans more.
It's nothing new for athletes to be signing multi-million dollar contracts that dwarf the family income of most fans, but in the midst of a recession that is costing many their jobs, savings and homes, when will free-spending teams like the Yankees and players scoffing at $170 million offers like Teixeira finally feel a backlash from fans?
Sure, Yankees fans don’t mind their team's $423.5 million offseason spending spree. It’s not their money and they’d just as soon sign every free agent available as the Yanks' payroll exceeds half a billion dollars in the hopes of winning their first World Series since 2000. But at what point does a team’s payroll and the demands of its players become so out of whack from reality that it becomes hard to cheer for them?
Say you’re a Yankees fan who had season tickets to the old Yankee Stadium but got priced out of the new Yankee Stadium and lost your job recently -- how fired up can you be to cheer for a billion-dollar team playing in a billion-dollar stadium for a billionaire owner? It’s like a homeless guy cheering for Donald Trump to win the lottery.
Sports have always served as an escape from everyday life but the Yankees’ spending spree during today’s harsh economic climate seems to flaunt the fact that some of us don’t live in the real world. Some of us can still write blank checks to get what we want. Some of us can still laugh at nine-figure guaranteed contracts as if it were a slap in the face. Some of us can buy a world championship, or at least try to.
There will always be a disconnect among fans and the teams that they cheer for in today’s big-money era. But in a time when some leagues are cutting their workforces while others are shutting down, when some teams are trimming payroll while others are folding completely, it’s becoming increasingly harder to laugh off astronomical contract figures like Teixeira’s.
The disconnect is greater than simply comparing the tax brackets and lifestyles of players and fans. The Yankees are able to pay Teixeira and others top dollar because they charge top dollar for fans to watch their games. At the $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium, a seat behind home plate is going for $500 to $2,500, up from $250 to $1,000 last year. Most of the other reserved seats are selling for $100 to $500. The question now isn’t how can you cheer for the Yankees but how can you afford to cheer for the Yankees?
Thankfully, for its April 3 and April 4 exhibition openers against the Chicago Cubs the Yankees will be charging only a quarter for bleacher seats, harkening back to opening day of the original Yankee Stadium in 1923, a time when fans could still afford to go to the ballpark with the family and the team’s first baseman wasn’t making five times more than everyone sitting in the bleachers combined.