Monday, January 28, 2013

The Digital Age Takes a Bite Out of Sports Tickets

The day of the souvenir ticket stub may be a thing of the past. One thing that can be a cherished reminder of an experience one had at a sporting event is being pushed by the wayside by many a sports team and soon ticket stubs may be no more. Why this is being done can be argued but should it be done isn't even up for debate in my opinion.

For many years I used to keep the tickets from games that I went to in great condition. I'll admit over the past few years I've just jammed most of them into my pocket only to be disappointed when its all crumpled up by the time I get home. This last happened with the Nationals first home playoff game in team history, I still kick myself for not keeping that ticket in as mint condition as possible. It was a historic game for the franchise and while some may see it as less significant if not totally insignificant others share the same belief I do. Now while that ticket may not be in the best of condition it and the painful memories of that game will be something I'll still cherish for years to come.

You see a ticket stub is more than the cost of the ticket or the location of where one sat or even the two teams or certain players out there doing battle. Ticket stubs hold memories that one can share with their children and grandchildren down the line. For some its the first game a father takes a son to, for others its the first date a couple went on and for others its a historical moment in sports history. Stories decades old have been told of a young boy that went to a game with their father and at that game they saw Jackie Robinson become the 1st African American to play in Major League Baseball; of grandpa taking in the game where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game; Roger Maris hitting his 61st Home Run; The Ice Bowl; Gretzky's first game, Cal's 2161; whatever the case may be. Many of those stories are accompanied with the ticket stub from that game. Either its been kept in a safety box, in a top loader, a book, been signed or even framed. All those games are a piece of history. And while tickets can be bought after the fact on the secondary market it doesn't make them any less special to he who bought it, at least if they're a collector, because that game holds a special or significant meaning to that person or someone they know.

In fact my boss told me a story earlier this month about his son giving him a Christmas gift. That gift was a framed picture of the two of them at a Baltimore Ravens game and next to the picture was one of their tickets from the game. That is what a ticket stub means to some people. I myself purchased a ticket from the 2002 NCAA Championship Basketball game because Juan Dixon and the Maryland Terrapins not only played in that game but they won it. Its an item I've added to my collection and the closest I'll ever come to having attended the game. The ticket also looks better than some shitty black and white or color 8x10 sheet of paper with details of the game and ad that isn't as easy to store or as nice looking as that little rectangular one.
The decline in the original ticket began a few years back as more people went electronic and "green." You could order tickets online and have the option of having them mailed to you at your home or you could print them off from your computer. Sure that was an easy option and you didn't run the risk of them being lost or stolen by the postal service. My first time dealing with the "print it yourself" option not only was there a service charge for handling of like $18 but you also had to pay $3 to print your tickets. Yes that's right. Not only was I using my ink and paper which I had paid for but I also had to pay $3 for a "convenience fee." Any way for a company like TicketMaster to make a buck. Then when you printed the ticket there would be extra stuff on it, like an ad or offer that would eat up that ink and helped to take up the whole page.

Earlier this year my work received our package for our Georgetown Hoyas season tickets but all that was inside was a card, much like a savings or debit card. With the card you have the option of using it at the stadium to get in and take your seats or you can print them off from the Hoyas ticket site. Luckily printing them off or emailing them to someone else was a free option with these but I'm not so sure that's the case if you bought single game tickets.

A few months later the same thing happened with our Washington Wizards tickets, and then our Washington Capitals ticket. Monumental Sports and Entertainment was moving full fledged into this new and cheaper way of doing tickets, any why not they were the ones running or part owners of the TicketMaster company when the previous situation happened, at least I believe they still were at the time. Plus Ted Leonsis is a mogul and technology guy so he's going to go for online and cheap the best he can so as to continue to grow his empire. That's not to say there hasn't been a lot of bumps along the way.  Fans are complaining about it taking longer to get into Caps games and the cards taking longer to get people in. I went to one game and did not see the cards being the problem as much as the security measures but I also got there 30 minutes prior to the game and had a paper printed ticket in hand.

Today comes word that the Washington Nationals will also be going the online route with their tickets and this just saddens me. I knew it would most likely be a reality at some point but there are just so many people, especially baseball fans, that love the thicker stock ticket over a card or the personal computer printed ticket. I loved seeing the special ticket that the teams would use for the team's first home game and then seeing different players for each of the next 4 or 5 games that would then recycle over however many pages the ticket book went. Now that's going to be gone.

I will say the card can make it a tad more convenient if you have one per ticket compared to one per account as Washington Monumental has done. It is also something you can just keep in your wallet at all times but what if you lose your card or it breaks? Isn't it more of a hassle to have to report it stolen and have the tickets reassigned electronically? Also this is a real cost cutting measure. While programming the cards could cost a pretty penny, and I'd assume their is a computer program that is a huge time saver, its a lot cheaper for the sports teams to purchase the cards in bulk than it was to print season tickets in mass as they have for many years and then send them via FedEx, UPS or DHL to the season ticket holder. Now that the teams are saving money on the printing don't you think some of that savings should trickle down to the people who are buying the tickets? I mean depending on the sport and where one is sitting you're paying at minimum of $50 and up to a few hundred for every game. Sure a giveaway at a game is nice but just as the owners would like to save money so would Joe Schmo who makes a less in a month or even year than some players make in a game.

I'm sure another reason the ticket industry is changing is to cut down on scalpers outside of the stadium. Knowing that someone can print the tickets off of a computer like you can with these, the buyer will be more suspect to trust someone outside the stadium than they would if they had the rectangular ticket so more people are likely to go to the box office to try and purchase tickets than go to the homely looking dude shouting "TICKETS! TICKETS! WHICH ONE OF YOU CRAZY MOTHER F-KERS NEED A TICKET?"

What's even sadder is that the sports teams know that they can exploit the fans even further. Say you go to a game and see a perfect game thrown or someone breaks Kareem's all-time scoring record, or whatever other notable achievement that will cause resale of a used ticket to sell for more than a ticket normally would after the event. After the accomplishment has taken place you have to figure that the teams will see it as a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the fans that want to have a better looking piece of history by printing out 17,000 tickets that resemble the soon to be old school style and sell them for like $20-$50 per ticket. They know people will pay and those poor saps that already paid $50 to see the game may be paying another $50 on top of it. Don't believe me? They know we're all suckers and owners are all about the dollar. After all they need to have a profitable company or they'll just tell you that you're going to have to pay more while they still fail to improve their roster or upgrade the facility.

I really hope that fans voice their frustrations enough that the owners reconsider it but this reminds me of growing up and listening to Sony and Nintendo tell the consumers that the cartridge games cost more because of what they have to do in terms of making them and that once the games go to a disc the prices will drop. Well as the years have gone on and the systems have switched to the disc games the prices are still $50-$60 for most games. And why not...they know that we're addicts and we're going to pay exactly what they tell us to. Maybe not all of us but the majority.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Beast Leaves DC, Leading to Saditude

This day was bound to come. The writing has been on the wall for months, despite the feeling yesterday that the Nats could wait on making a move. Who knows who gets injured in the coming weeks or Spring Training. Many of us held out hope not wanting to accept facts or face the reality of the situation.

You see I became a Michael Morse fan in 2010 when he smacked 15 Home Runs for the Nats in 98 games. I had no idea who he was and at the time I was only really coming around to giving the Nationals a chance. I knew who most of the players were but like much of the DMV I didn't pay too much attention to the Nats because, well they sucked. This Morse fellow though, he had that something special to me as I looked over the box scores. The team boasted power from Adam Dunn, the seemingly oft-injured and "under performing" (to my expectations) Ryan Zimmerman, and the slow trotting and underrated Josh Willingham. Morse hit one less Home Run in nearly 160 at-bats less than Willingham, good enough for fourth on the team.

In 2011 Morse had a strong Spring Training but was kept in a platoon in Left Field with Laynce Nix. Because of this The Beast struggled mightily through May before being relegated to the bench. In late-May Morse was given a shot at first base when Adam LaRoche went down for the season due to injury and Beast Mode swept across NatsTown. The legacy began and, in my mind, Michael was the biggest character on the team. A team mired in a losing culture for so long had an identity. There was playfulness, there was excitement, and while winning can do that, you knew that Morse had a huge hand in that. By season's end Morse finished in the Top 10 in batting average, home runs and RBI, and fourth in Slugging Percentage.

After the season I came across this article regarding Ryan Braun's PED case and was surprised to read about Morse's situation from year's before. The story actually made me more of a fan. Here was an athlete that accepted the punishment handed too him. He didn't make an excuse, he didn't deny it or lie or go through some charade. Then to see that he was suspended three times for the same thing because of a technicality, I felt bad for the guy but knew I'd support him for the rest of his career. He was refreshing. Not a Lance Armstrong or a Barry Bonds.

Morse started 2012 on the disabled list and didn't return to the lineup until June. Once back Morse was the team's primary Left Fielder and added protection to a line-up that consisted of rookie phenom Bryce Harper, LaRoche, Zimmerman, and eventually Jayson Werth upon his return from injury. As Natitude soared throughout DC many a fan became accustomed to participating in Morse's late inning walk-up music A-Ha's "Take on Me."  Morse helped lead the Nats to the best record in baseball and had possibly the highlight of the year when he had to replay a grand slam after the umpires had to go to the video replay.

A season that saw a Morse bobblehead, females who loved him, and males who had man crushes on him didn't come without some hate.  Despite being a huge part of the team and being knowingly slower than most of the players Morse drew the ire of some fans, we'll go with intoxicated since they thought they could play it better, when he failed to get to some balls hit to Left Field in the team's first home post-season game in history. I sat their and listened to the negativity all the while going "hey dumb asses you realize he's playing with a sore hamstring AND they have him shaded too far towards center when a right handed batter is up?" But I digress.

For me I was lucky to attend the bobblehead game and I was lucky to attend that first home playoff game, a game in which I sat in Left Field right behind Morse. Loving The Beast like I did I started a card collection of him and was able to grab some very rare cards. My favorite, which started the collection was a card from Topps Tier One that he inscribed "BEAST MODE," I later picked up a Topps Tribute auto inscribed "The Beast." They are by far two of my favorite pieces in any of my collections. At the playoff game I also ended up picking up a game-used bat which is just amazing to look at and for Christmas I bought myself a Morse jersey.

Unfortunately the off-season came to early for the Nats and certain players would be staying and certain players would be going. Morse was a bubble player. It would depend on what transpired between the Nationals and LaRoche. Before the Nats and LaRoche contact talks got serious, the Nats added Denard Span to play CF. That move meant Harper would play LF and Werth would be in RF. Morse was now a option at First Base or a trade chip because you're not going to have a guy getting paid $7 million getting paid to come off the bench...this isn't the NBA and in baseball guys making that much tend to either start or spend time on the disabled list...I'm looking at you A-Rod.

For months the saga between LaRoche and the Nats played out with LaRoche wanting a 3 year contact and the Nats holding steady on a 2 year offer. The drama went on for so long because if LaRoche signed somewhere else then the team signing him would forfeit a 1st round draft pick to the Nats. Many fans, especially me, preferred the Nats save the money on a LaRoche deal and use it for help in the bullpen. This month however the Nats and LaRoche agreed to a contract and that set in motion the move that would eventually make Morse a member, once again, of the Seattle Mariners. There was talk of Seattle, Boston, New York (Yankees), Texas and Baltimore all being in on Morse. I'd have loved Baltimore since I'm a fan of theirs as well and they're still local so I could go to O's games, he'd be reunited with his pal Adam Jones and I could see him play over 100 games in the season.

The move is unfortunate since I feel that LaRoche will not only not duplicate his production from last season but I feel he's likely to get injured again. I didn't like the signing two years ago and I'm not too fond of it now. I love how well he produced last year and I get the team needed a left handed power option in the lineup but Morse is THE MAN, even if he is addicted to those Real Housewives shows. The team also has durability issues with Zimmerman and Werth so if either of them goes down the team will be missing more power from the line-up and Morse could fill in in the outfield. The team also could have rotated players allowing them to rest, of course not keeping a regular lineup or routine can hurt more than help.

As I mentioned the Nats decided it was in their best interest to stick with LaRoche as well as stick with younger options on the bench in Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore who will most likely supplant LaRoche in a year or two. My preference would be to see the team trade LaRoche after the season and re-sign Morse since he'll be a free-agent at the end of the year. Injury riddled or not, which Morse admittedly has been, the kid has talent and power, he's hit some of the longest home runs I have ever seen and playing first base will limit his injury risk compared to being in the outfield. And while he's not as good defensively at first base as Roach he's not much of a dropoff.

You better believe the first thing I'll do when MLB The Show comes out is I'll be trading Roach for Beast the second it enters my PS3.  Yes I'm really gonna miss Michael. From his long flowing locks (man crush) to his running around the field and high-fiving fans when the team clinched a playoff spot to his laid back joking demeanor to his presence in the lineup I will miss Beast but will also cherish so many memories from his time here in DC. While I'll still be able to follow and interact with him on Twitter I'll always be saddened that he's no longer rocking the Natitude. Thank you Michael for all that you did for the team and the fans. Hopefully that ballpark doesn't stunt your numbers out there on the West Coast and hopefully you'll be back on a team in the DMV after the season. Keep BEAST MODE alive!