Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dodgers Parking Underscores Elitist Front Office Attitudes

Nice article from Steve Hymon on Friday summarizing the parking problems around Dodger Stadium over the past year. For those of you who haven't followed this issue, one of this blog's favorite issues (search "parking" on the sidebar for earlier articles), Frank McCourt overhauled the entire Dodger Stadium parking system last year, leading to a disastrously snarled Opening Day as well as dozens of messes thereafter. Hymon recaps last year's Opening Day catastrophe and McCourt's grossly ineffective system:

Opening Day in 2007 has already gone into the record books as one of the worst traffic days in stadium history. A new parking system, requiring fans to park and exit in certain locations as opposed to picking their own spots, led to epic gridlock.

"Leaving the game was like walking out into a war zone," McArthur recalled of her two-hour journey out of the stadium parking lot. "There was literally nowhere you could go."

The Dodgers, for their part, like their parking prospects this year, pointing to a lineup featuring 1,000 new spaces, which were created when some landscaping between lots was removed. As for the team, they play host to the world champion Boston Red Sox at Dodger Stadium tonight and Sunday afternoon, followed by the regular season opener Monday against the division rival San Francisco Giants.

Hymon goes on to discuss how tonight's Coliseum game will be supported by free shuttle service from Dodger Stadium, as well as a number of public transportation options that the Dodgers have (to their credit) repeatedly publicized (knowing that 110,000 fans will make Exposition Park quite a jam this evening). But then the article gets interesting, as Hymon asks a Dodgers representative the painfully obvious question: why not restore bus service to Dodger Stadium, making it publicly accessible for its fans (and joining almost every other major MLB team of note):

The bus service to the Dodger game is the exception, not the rule. Once the season begins, the Dodgers will remain one of the few teams in the Major Leagues without mass transit serving their stadium.

The other big league parks in California -- in Anaheim, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland -- are next to rail lines. And the stadiums for the Padres and Giants were deliberately built with a limited number of parking spots, many of which are expensive, to encourage people to take mass transit. The Angels' ballpark is next to a Metrolink and Amtrak stop, although train schedules aren't coordinated with game times.

Conversely, the Dodgers have more than 16,000 parking spaces, more than enough for most games. Buses used to stop behind left field, but service was suspended after the 1994 season because of transit budget cuts. In 2004, low ridership prompted the team to suspend the shuttle service it provided that year on Friday nights from Union Station.

City and county transportation officials have said they don't have the money to add new routes and that altering existing ones would inconvenience other riders. So the closest bus stop remains on Sunset Boulevard, down the hill from the park.

And the Dodgers aren't willing to foot the bill for new service.

"We think this should be done by the public," said Howard Sunkin, the team's senior vice president. "We've spent in excess of $150 million to restore the stadium, with more to come, and our fans are looking for public transportation."

So what Howard Sunkin is saying is, screw the public, we're not paying for public transportation options--and he's hiding behind the $150M stadium refurbishments as a weak shield. But let's look into that $150M:

  • The majority of that money has gone toward additional "luxury box" seating, as well as two exclusive clubs with special eating options not available to the normal ticketholder;
  • That $150M includes the cost of redoing the luxury box seating after only one year, as the sightlines were awful and ticketholders who paid the hefty fees complained (in fact, the only reason why "luxury boxes" exist in the first place is there isn't enough elevation to add additional rows of seats, without having each fan starting right into the back of a head);
  • The source of that $150M isn't the McCourts' noblesse; rather, Dodger ticket prices have increased by more than 100% in most areas, and parking prices have almost doubled as well from $8 to $15 since the McCourts took over--and by the way, even the people in the cheap seats are feeling the sting of higher prices.

Sunkin's haughty, elitist response is absolutely absurd and further reinforces how the Dodgers organization is out of touch with the common fan. Offering a public transportation option is more than a simple economic calculation; it's a business responsibility for a quality major league team that wants to take advantage of its large market fanbase. And it's not like the fans who are interested in taking the bus are net losses--not after buying $8 glasses of beer and $5 Dodger Dogs.

It's striking that the Lakers, with fewer lower-priced seats available, carry a strong passion among the full spectrum of income classes in this city, especially since most people can't even afford to go to a game (and if they do go, they are so high up in the nosebleeds of the Staples Center that they need oxygen tanks to breathe). Meanwhile, the Dodgers--who have no shortage of seating options for most games--can't find a way to fill extra seats that are otherwise going to sit empty for games.

Get in touch with the fans, Dodgers, and underwrite a couple of buses here and there. Those fans will reward you with concession and souvenir sales and attendance records, and may even give you a shot at returning this town to being a Dodger town rather than the Laker town it has been since the late 1980s. Be nice to your fans--all your fans, not just the rich ones--and they'll be nice to you. Do the math.