Faced with a skyrocketing player payroll which could reach $75 million next season the Dodgers have been scrutinizing every part of their business for ways to boost revenue.
Among the first targets are some of the most loyal fans those with the best seats in Dodger Stadium.
The team is raising prices on about half of all seats, but the sharpest price increases involve prime field-level locations between the stadium's two player dugouts. Some of those seats have been held by the same fans since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
"It's a pure economical decision," said Dodgers President Bob Graziano. "You raise the prices where you have the opportunity to raise the prices, which is where you have the greatest demand for tickets. The fact is that the demand for those seats can support the ticket price increase."
Driving those increases, Graziano said, is the escalating cost of player salaries.
At the beginning of the 1998 season, the Dodgers had a payroll of $48.4 million. By the time all the contracts are negotiated and free agents are signed for the 1999 season, the team will likely have a payroll of between $70 million and $75 million an increase of 50 percent or more.
"It is no secret that in recent years the teams with the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball have experienced the most success in post-season play," wrote Ticket Operations Director Debra Kay Duncan in a letter to Dodgers season-ticket holders. "Unfortunately, we must now find new ways to bring in revenues as we increase the total of our players' salaries."
Those with between-the-dugout seats in the first four rows of the field level face the steepest increase. Their season tickets sold for $21 a game last season, exactly the same price as the 18 rows of field-level seats behind them. That has been the case ever since Dodger Stadium opened.
But next season, for the first time, the 850 or so seats in the first four rows will be priced higher than those behind them. They will be bumped to $35 a seat, while the rows behind them will be increased to $28 a seat.
Dodgers officials explain that the new "tiered" pricing arrangement is similar to that found in theatrical venues and some newer stadiums. And the strategy is not being limited to the exclusive field-level seats. Tiered pricing is being put into place for the loge level between the dugouts. In the first four rows, the price per seat will increase from $20 to $30 a game. The seats in the next 15 rows behind those seats will only go up to $25 a game.
The price increases have caused a stir among longtime holders of season tickets who have steadily improved their seats. That's because vacated seats are offered first to existing season-ticket holders, based on seniority. Some have had season tickets since the team began playing in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in 1958, before Dodger Stadium was even built.
Jim Cayton and his wife Lucille, who sit behind home plate, are among those who have had season tickets since the Coliseum days. He said the ticket price increase is exasperating.
"Hell, we have 81 games (a year) that gets into a lot of dough," said Cayton, 83. "If the team is worth something, it'd be worth it. But they come off (one of) the worst seasons they've had, and they push it up. We're not happy, I'll tell you that."
Wendy Goldman, a public relations executive whose grandfather picked out seats in Dodger Stadium as it was being built, said the four field-level tickets her grandmother buys each year help keep her extended family in touch. "No one is really close anymore, no one really talks anymore, but we have the Dodgers in common," she said. "I can't even imagine our life without the Dodgers."
Though her grandmother plans to keep the tickets, even with the price hike, Goldman will no longer be allowed to bring friends to the occasional game a luxury she enjoyed when the tickets were less expensive. Now, only family will be allowed to use the tickets.
Not all fans feel the price increases are unfair. Gary Romoff, whose father first bought field-level seats when Dodger Stadium was built, said the team should be free to charge as much as the market will bear.
"It's not a co-op," he said. "They're running a business and we're customers. And we can choose to go or not go."
For his part, Romoff is choosing to go and keeping his season tickets. Even Goldman's family and the Caytons plan to keep their tickets.
Bill Hunter, assistant director of ticket operations, said that as of last week, none of the 200 owners of prime seats had requested to be relocated to less-expensive seats an option offered in letters and phone calls to those in the first four rows.
Still, there is grousing among longtime season-ticket holders, especially given the club's ineffectiveness at signing marquee players.
The club failed to recruit star left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson, who signed a four-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and first baseman Mo Vaughn, who signed with the Angels. (The Dodgers were in early talks with Vaughn, but never offered him a contract; they did offer a contract to Johnson.)
Graziano said plenty of free agents are still available, and it is too soon for fans to criticize the 1999 lineup. "They shouldn't be disheartened yet, because we haven't played yet," he said.
Early last month, the Dodgers signed all-star outfielder and switch-hitter Devon White for at least three years. His salary next season is reportedly $2.5 million and will escalate each year until it reaches $5 million in 2001.
Last week, catcher Charles Johnson and outfielder Roger Cedeno were traded to the Mets for catcher Todd Hundley and minor league pitcher Arnold Gooch. Hundley will receive $5.2 million next year and $6 million in 2000.
Graziano stressed that the price hikes are only related to the increased cost of player payrolls not to the purchase of the team by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $311 million. Some have contended that Murdoch overpaid; Forbes magazine has pegged the current value of the Dodgers at $236 million.
Besides raising ticket prices, Graziano said the club is looking at other ways to boost revenue including paid tours of the ballpark and more events at Dodger Stadium on non-game days. (The number of non-baseball events has dropped off since the days when several rock bands could fill a stadium for a concert.)
Another new source of revenue, announced last week, is Fox Sports One, a marketing partnership that News Corp.'s Fox division has formed that would allow corporations to ink sponsorship deals with the Dodgers, Kings, Galaxy soccer team and Lakers and Clippers all at one time.
"I think we'll be able to generate additional sponsorship revenue (and) marketing dollars by teaming up with other sports entities in Los Angeles," Graziano said.
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