Empty Playoff Seats: Not Just An Arizona Problem

Bruce Bennett - Getty Images

Remember all that fuss about the Diamondbacks not selling out their post-season games last year? Turns out that, this year, it's a situation being experienced by a much more storied franchise.

For the second consecutive playoff game, swaths of empty seats filled Yankee Stadium, entire rows without a single fan. And on Saturday night, instead of letting them sit embarrassingly open for Game 1 of the ALCS, ushers were told to fill them with fans from other sections. "We were up there," said Bill Brady, 46, of Roxbury, N.J., pointing from his new seat in Section 334 to the top of 434b. "Way up there."

Entire rows of Yankee stadium were empty for the opening game of the ALCS. Brady was one of dozens of fans ferried by ushers in the bottom of the fourth inning to Section 334 down the left-field line, which just an inning earlier had nine people sitting among more than 100 unfilled seats. One usher, who asked not to be identified, said he was told by a superior to start sending fans to the higher-priced seats. "I don't know what it's about," the usher said. "I guess they want to make it look better on TV."
-- Jeff Passan

No kidding. New Yankee Stadium was not just short of capacity for Game 1 + 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers, the announced crowds of 47,122 and 47,082 were more than a thousand less than the gate for the Diamondbacks' first home playoff game last season, which pulled a crowd of 48,312 to Chase Field. And the actual attendance may have been less than that, given that at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, just a few hours before first pitch, there were 6,800 seats being offered for sale on Stubhub.

There have been various theories put forward for this unexpected decline, which also affected Game 5 of their Division Series against Baltimore. A popular one is the cost, and that's not unreasonable. Passan states the face-value of tickets for the series is a minimum of $113 - and you can likely add $20-30 of "convenience fees" on top of that. I know, last season, my wallet breathed a sigh of relief when Arizona didn't make it, even though ours were much more reasonably priced, ranging from $20-210. It's probable I might have skipped the NLCS, saving my cash for a shot at (even costlier) World Series tickets instead.

The scheduling is likely also part of the issue, with the unusual 2-3 format for the Division Series leading to the Yankees playing five home playoff games in five days. Additionally, the Championship Series games over the weekend were not confirmed until they won Game 5 of the ALDS, late Friday night. That limited sales in the same way our Game 4 crowd was smaller last year, because that game wasn't going to happen until we won Game 3, less than 24 hours earlier. Fans are understandably unwilling to hand over what could end up an interest-free loan to a sports franchise.

However, the main difference is, the Yankees had the biggest crowds of any AL franchise, averaging 43,733 (albeit the lowest number in the new park). 15 regular season home contests pulled in a larger attendance than either Championship Series game - including seven of nine against Boston. And it seemed to have an effect, according to Tigers' outfielder Quentin Berry: "This is a very easy place to play right now. Coming from Oakland and how rowdy they were and how loud -- that was the loudest place I've ever been in my entire life. Coming from there, man, it made this trip so much easier to deal with the fans and the electricity here because it's nothing like Oakland was."

There's a good chance that New Yorkers have seen their last post-season game of the year - if the Tigers take two of three in Detroit, the Yankees are done. But it's certainly worth remembering this situation the next time the Diamondbacks make the playoffs, if Chase Field is not filled to capacity.

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