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SI Does Not Know Why People Really Go To Ballparks

Every year Sports Illustrated likes to do ballpark rankings to show which parks are the best to go to. And just like many major surveys by sports media organizations, it doesn’t get to the heart of what fans care about. I only wish the easy explanation for why it was done in this manner is SI wanted to skew the results in a certain fashion, but that is much too convenient. To view this years rankings, click here.

For our first example, we look at the Affordability category. Correctly, fans are asked about ticket costs. However, the other question that SI asks is “How would you rate the affordability of a trip to your hometown ballpark?” This encompasses ticket prices in it and thus skews against the large ballparks by double counting ticket prices. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to more largely weigh the ticket price, but they do it in a roundabout way and don’t acknowledge it to the survey taker. We’ll see next that food prices are double counted, as well.

In the Food category, it all looks good until we get to the following question: “What is the must-have food item offered at the ballpark and what makes it so good?”. Now I understand that people eat at the ballparks, even I do. But the people are not there for the food, they go for the game and once in a while, there’s some concessions that make fans want to visit stadium A more than stadium B. But I think we can surely say that’s a minor factor and you don’t have any gourmet food critics decide to go to a stadium to taste the food.

The next category is one that I’ve gone back and forth on: Team Quality. People go to more games if the team is winning in most markets (except those where ownership has disillusioned the fans. Cough Florida Cough). However, Team Quality says almost nothing about the stadium itself. If we’re ranking the ballpark experience, then this is relevant. Darren Rovell of CNBC agrees, stating “Team quality is the number one factor as to whether you go to the game or not.” However, I feel like the rankings were made to reflect the quality of the actual ballpark itself. Team Quality can vary widely from year to year (I’m looking at you again, Florida Marlins), but if the ballpark hasn’t changed much, does that mean it varies just as much? And I don’t even understand how the question “Which player on your team is the most worth paying to watch?” fits in to either of these.

The Tradition & History section is very relevant and correct to be included. It must be noted, however, that franchises like Colorado, Arizona, Tampa Bay and company are disadvantaged with their inability to have much history, being under 20 years old.

I have a lot of qualms with the next category, since I feel the questions in it are very vague. This category is Ballpark Atmosphere. The first question listed is: “How would you rate the atmosphere at the game?” Well, what exactly is apart of the ballpark atmosphere? Are we talking about seating and views, as the next question seems to indicate? Ability to follow the game while waiting at concession stands? A lot of concession stand options? Do bathrooms count as part of this? Don’t forget about music played during the game and the ability to hear that music and other announcements well. Are those apart of the atmosphere of the game? The vagueness of this first question has left this category, for now, unreliable and not useful.

I’ll let Rovell speak for me about the next category. “FanIQ doesn’t belong in a ballpark ranking.” I happen to agree for the Fan Hospitality category, as well. We’re ranking ballparks, according to the title of their survey, not ballpark experiences.

Promotions is a category I’m fine with having in the survey, as they can sometimes take the form of an activity in the stadium, and even so, you don’t experience the promotions unless you go to the stadium or eBay. Yes, the Red Sox have no reason to have a promotion, since all of their games sell out, but sometimes a gimmick can get kids more easily wanting to follow a team.

Getting To The Game is the last category I find to be of importance. Parking around the stadium and transit options are not part of the ballpark, but if neither existed, no one would want to go to the games. And besides, the price of them factors into the price of being able to go to the games. Dodgers fans know how annoying their parking makes it to leave the game.

The Neighborhood around the stadium asked fans: “How would you rate the dining and drinking options within walking distance of the ballpark?” In my view, this is not a large factor and often can be out of the team’s control anyway. Assuming that they are near the stadium, those options are likely to be priced closely to stadium fare unless it’s from a large restaurant chain.

A much better survey would be something like Ticket Prices & Availability, Food & Beverages, Tradition & History, Seating Quality, Transit & Parking, and a miscellaneous category that would include questions about bathrooms at the ballpark, concourses (size and ability to follow game from them), promotions and cleanliness of the stadium (as we’ve seen certain stadiums have rat issues).

Finally, I will conclude with my own input based on SI’s rankings. I can only commentate on 5 stadiums: Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Camden Yards and Angels Stadium. Angels Stadium, when I visited, was in the midst of the renovations that gave it it’s current look. Over time the traffic must’ve changed, because when I went it was very easy to get to the game (the Angels rank 16th on the SI list). In fact, I went during a double header and had no trouble finding parking. The neighborhood around the stadium is definitely nothing special. Tickets were likely a little cheaper (after inflation adjustment) back then, as well, but the games are still pretty affordable.

Camden Yards is a beautiful park, with tickets that can easily be purchased at great prices. Of course there’s the warehouse where they had the Cal Ripken consecutive games count that adds to the atmosphere. Getting to a game there is pretty easy due to the small volume of traffic, and it helps that there is the light rail option. The neighborhood ranking (No. 5) is a bit high considering that if you go a few blocks in the wrong direction after the game, you can end up in a neighborhood that isn’t the safest.

As for the remaining three, it’s pretty much spot on. But saying Fenway is higher on History & Tradition than a stadium that has monuments for their important retired players and is known as “The House That Ruth Built” is kind of silly. If anything, I think both have an equally high amount of it and should be tied on that end. The Yankee Stadium transit options (No. 26) are not worse than Shea’s (No. 25) in my opinion, seeing as there are two different subway lines (technically three, but the B and D trains run on the same line) for getting to the game. Though, if you’re going by car, it is a little bit easier to get Shea Stadium in terms of traffic.

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