Scrapping The Plan?

Yahoo is reporting that the Yankees are going to abandon their plan to be below a payroll of $189-million next year. The article explains that one of the main reasons for the change is the fact that revenue-sharing rebates are not expected to be as much as the Yankees projected. It also breaks down the savings the Yankees could accrue if they kept their payroll at certain levels.

I am sure that the revenue-sharing component has a lot to do with this idea. (I couldn’t think of a better word as I don’t think we can call it a decision yet. Plus, why would the Yankees let anyone know what they are really going to do as it only gives leverage to players looking for big contracts?) But I really think the impetus for this change is the damage it could be doing to ticket sales.

Yankee attendance is down. In 2012, they average 43,733 fans per game. This year they are averaging exactly 6,000 less per game. Now it is April, which is traditionally the hardest month to sell tickets, and we are only talking about 10 games, but I think there is more to it than seasonal factors. I have been a partial plan ticket holder for 10 seasons and this is the first season where I have been treated reasonably well by the Yankees. In past years I would never get a chance to upgrade my tickets. This year I had a 20-minute conversation with a ticket representative and got much better seats. The flip side to the improved service is that this year it has been a real struggle to find someone interested in buying tickets that I can’t use for the games. So I think the Yankees have an attendance problem.

Watching the games on TV certainly will lead you to agree to that conclusion. They don’t seem to pan around the stadium as much as they used to, but take a look when they do. They empty seats are not just inside “the moat” anymore. Big swathes of the upper deck are empty. Again its early and school isn’t out yet, but I suspect this won’t go away when July rolls around either because this is about price and product. Yankee tickets are expensive, $20 is the cheapest seat outside of the bleachers and once inside the park everything costs a lot of money. I think fans are willing to pay those prices when they think they are going to see a winner. But subtract a winning team from the formula and suddenly a $200 night at the ballpark doesn’t seem like a great investment.

The $189-million payroll goal was always a longshot because it appeared after the Yankees had made enormous commitments to A-Rod, Teixeira and Sabathia. The Yankees still might have been able to make it if they had developed enough quality minor leaguers to replace their aging core, but they didn’t.  Think about this. If Jeter exercises his option for 2014 (an almost certainty I would think now that he is out for 1/2 the year) the Yankees have spent just about half of that $189 million for 2014 on four players. Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Granderson, Cano, Logan, Youkilis, Hafner and Joba are all free agents. Gardner, Robertson, Nova, Pineda, Stewart, Cervelli, Bosch, Kelley and Nix are all arbitration eligible. Could the Yankees build a competitive team for 2014 under those conditions? I think that is the ultimate reason why the $189-million plan is probably out the window.