SCOTT SIMON, host:
Go toads. See? I told you. Time for sports.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: You know, going out to a ballgame used to be one of the joys of summer for a family. Nowadays in many cities - well, maybe Bill Gates' family can afford it - but ticket prices are going up along with A-Rod's salary. Families that used to go out to a game several times a year now have to save up to go to a baseball game like it was a trip to Disneyland or something.
Howard Bryant, our sports man and senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, joins us now. Morning, Howard.
Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (ESPN): Good morning, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: I am fine, thank you. What's changing in the stands? You notice a difference in the people who are sitting there and watching ballgames?
Mr. BRYANT: Certainly. I think it depends on the market and if you're talking East Coast, if you're the big East Coast baseball fan - New York, Boston -Philadelphia to a lesser extent - but certainly New York and Boston - the old-time baseball fan who could go to ten or 11 games a year, it's just too expensive.
Whenever I go to Fenway Park, when I grew up there, so many of my friends now talk about having two and three kids and it just doesn't work anymore. You've got $55 to go, you know, for box seats, plus $35 for parking, or in the playoffs, $50 for parking, and $200 to go to one baseball game.
SIMON: Now, of course, the teams say, but look at our payrolls, 'cause fans demand a winner and that's what we got to do.
Mr. BRYANT: Well, exactly, and that's the balance. The salaries of the game have gotten so enormous, the TV money is so enormous, that it really is a money story. And I think what ends up happening is that you've got to choose. And you've got to choose between whether or not you want to be part of this mega-billion-dollar industry or whether you're going to try to do it different ways.
And I think this is one of the reasons why you have so many minor league teams here around the area that are actually thriving. Because for a family of four, big league baseball is a very, very difficult proposition.
And I think what's really interesting about it as well is on the East Coast that's the balance. When you go to the Midwest, you go to a place - I just came back from Pittsburgh a couple days ago - you've got a public that paid $216 million from their taxes for a new stadium, and you've got a team that's going to lose 90 games, that hasn't had a winning record since 1992.
And the big question there is, well, how much more can we ask of the public? The good news for Pittsburgh fans is that even though their team is pretty much terrible these days, you can go to the game for under $20. So that's one of the places where you can actually still have a family go to a ballgame.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, you can get in to see them, even if you don't often see them win.
Mr. BRYANT: That's exactly right.
SIMON: Chicago Cubs, of course, were sold this week for the largest price ever paid for a baseball franchise. If you calculate that according to World Series victories, it's a particularly outrageous price. But…
BRYANT: When you said go toads, I thought the Cubs had changed their name.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Ooh, ooh…
Mr. BRYANT: That was cold, wasn't it?
SIMON: As toads tend to be, cold-blooded. But, Howard, I wonder, is that just phenomenal where you can get two-and-a-half million people to come out to watch a baseball team lose?
Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think in the Cubs' case, it's a very interesting phenomenon because - and I remember talking to Dusty Baker about this when he was managing there. The Cubs had had the best balance of both, that you had this big market and this phenomenal stadium in this great environment, and the fans weren't so cutthroat about the winning and losing because they were at Wrigley and it was the fan experience that was really part of being a Cubs fan.
And then after 2003, when they began, when they came so close to making the World Series and then everything collapsed, that there was a real change in the attitude with Cubs fans. And now they're getting closer to that Boston/New York mentality of win now or else, and by the way, you also have to spend $120 million a year to do it.
SIMON: And the long-term interests of the game are served by this division or not?
Mr. BRYANT: I think the long-term interests are not served by it, which is why I think in 2011, when you see the collective bargaining agreement expire, you're going to see a lot of demand for salary cap and you're going to see that the - the big battle that shut the game down back in 1994.
The problem that I have with this is even if you bring in a salary cap, does that really mean that prices are going to be lowered for the fan? I've never seen that happen. I don't think it's going to happen here, but I think that's going to be where the next battle is fought.
SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Going to talk to Spike Lee now. Thank you, Howard.
Mr. BRYANT: Outstanding.
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