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Sports Stadium Shrinkage Is A Trend. Who's To Blame For Attendance Drop?


Attending a major league baseball game is expensive. Bringing the whole family can be almost impossible for some, so many people don't. Although some teams, like the Yankees, still attract big crowds, the Tampa Bay Rays are acknowledging a new reality. Having priced many fans out of the park, they've torn out many of the seats. Commentator Mike Pesca sees a trend.


MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" was written 101 years ago, and most of the sentiment still stands. You can still buy peanuts and Cracker Jack. It's still one, two, three strikes, you're out. The only update might be the line, take me out with the crowd. Sixty-seven million fans attended a regular season baseball game last year, but those numbers were down from the year before. And some of that is, actually, by design, as in the design of ballparks. The seating capacity of stadia across American sports - not just baseball - is shrinking. The Tampa Bay Rays will be playing for about 26,000 fans maximum. That's 5,000 fewer seats than they have now. The Las Vegas Raiders will soon debut in a stadium that will be among the three most compact in the game. All 16 major league teams that have moved in the past 20 years are playing in tighter confines than they once did.

The reason for this shrinkage, the leagues will tell you, is that televised sport has beaten the live experience. As the TVs got better, the traffic got worse, I guess. And the couch beckoned. I just got back from Disney World. Disney movies are clearly cheaper and easier to get to than the live experience. And yet millions more people flock to the Magic Kingdom than did 10 years ago. There is an "Avatar" ride that had a wait time of - let me check the app. It's on an app now - three hours, five minutes. But with baseball and football, there is so little attention paid to the experience in the park. How about good Wi-Fi or some milling-about zones and food that challenges our collective delusion that Dodger Dogs aren't inferior, cylindrical foodstuffs? We have been gaslit about Fenway Franks.

Then there's the gouging. The New York Jets will charge you 40 to $50 for parking. And when you enter the stadium, you have to watch the New York Jets. Owners can continue to shrink their stadiums and their ambitions or they can start rewarding fans who literally give their teams the home field advantage as something other than chickens to be plucked or geese to be fattened before slaughter. Don't the fans have enough experience with slaughter, especially when we're talking about fans of the Jets, Rays and Raiders?


INSKEEP: (Singing) Take me out...

No, I'm not going to do that. Commentator Mike Pesca hosts the Slate podcast The Gist, which is still very affordable and welcomes new fans. He also wrote the book "Upon Further Review." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.