Friday, October 06, 2006

The Yankees Lose and so do their fans

The Baseball Gods occasionally work in wonderful and mysterious ways. Major League Baseball launched a postseason advertising campaign starring Tommy Lasorda. Thursday afternoon moments after the Detroit Tigers squared their best of five ALDS against the New York Yankees at a game a piece; Tommy sent Red Sox Nation an email.

The subject line: “A Message from Tommy to Red Sox fans.” The body of the message: "CATCH THE GAMES! IT'S YOUR DUTY, JUDY." Tommy’s ‘plea’ to Red Sox Nation likely wasn’t very well received, along the lines of the welcome back Terrell Owens can expect Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Philadelphia Eagles. That said, if you’re a member in good standing of Red Sox Nation, Thursday afternoon was a great day – the Yankees lost. Before game two of the Yankees – Tigers series was played at Yankee Stadium Bud Selig; and Major League Baseball stuck it to Yankees fans.

The game originally scheduled for Wednesday night was ‘rained out’ even though little if any rain actually fell before Major League Baseball postponed the game at 10:00 PM. It did rain later in the evening (at 11:30 PM), but by then the teams and 57,000 fans who purchased tickets had long left Yankee Stadium. If Major League Baseball started the game at 8:00 PM (it rained briefly at 8:30) the game would have been played Wednesday night.

Once the game was ‘rained out’ Major League Baseball moved the game to Thursday afternoon. That’s were the story took a decided left turn, alienating thousands of Yankees fans.

Major League Baseball franchises offer a standard rainout policy during the regular season, along the following lines: “A game is considered official after 4 1/2 innings have been completed; five innings if the Indians are losing at the time of the delay. No inning may begin after 1:00 a.m. The curfew rule is waived on the visiting team's last regularly scheduled visit. If a game is postponed prior to being an official game, please hold on to your tickets.”

Generally teams offer fans a ticket to another game during that season or in the subsequent season. They’ll also offer a refund if a fan can’t make it to another game. The Yankees have a very generous policy. The Yankees credit season ticket holders’ accounts and refund credit card charges to fans that purchased tickets just for that particular game. The Yankees send an automated message to tickets holders to apologize for the cancellation and assure fans they need not worry about losing the money they paid for their tickets.

Once the regular season ends Major League Baseball (the office of Czar Selig) decides the rainout policy. Wednesday nights’ cancellation policy would be handed by Major League Baseball on behalf of the Yankees and their fans. This is what Major League Baseball announced would take place: “No ticket exchanges will be honored and no part of the purchase price will be refunded by reason of the failure of the ticket holder to use his/her ticket on the rescheduled game date, per the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball.”

Yankees Public Relations director Rick Ceronne made it clear to SBN Thursday, the policy was Major League Baseball’s and not the Yankees. If someone purchased tickets for game two believing the game would be played Wednesday evening and for whatever reason (work) couldn’t make it to the game Thursday afternoon, they would lose whatever they had paid for the ticket and had no legal recourse.

How much did Major League Baseball sell ALDS games at Yankee Stadium for: Division Series tickets are priced at $91.00 for Field-Box seats; $71.00 for Main and Tier-Box seats; $66.00 for Main Reserved Seats; $61.00 for Loge-Box seats; $48.00 for Tier Reserved seats; and $22.00 for Bleacher seats.

Needless to say, many Yankees fans weren’t happy -- thanks to Major League Baseball fans that purchase tickets in good faith where looking at losing whatever they had spent on their tickets.

"It rained a little bit, but I don't know," said Hoboken resident Nicole Rossi, 26, who was wearing a Derek Jeter jersey in a New York Daily News report. "I thought it was terrible that they delayed the game before it was raining. Then to get our hopes up and take the tarps off and postpone it for the afternoon when most of us work and can't get off for it, it's just really disappointing.

"I won't be able to come back, so I'm not a happy fan right now."

"Is this ESPN related or rain related?" asked Jeremy Schein, a 26-year-old Manhattanite who works in finance. "The ultimate question is if the network or MLB made the call. You know how hard it is for us to leave work and come here and then hear that it's 1 p.m. (today)?"

And how does Major League Baseball feel about sticking to Yankees fans?

"We wanted to get the game started, we thought we could," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, the executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. "The forecast indicated we could get in two, three innings tops and would have to stop again for an hour and a half to two hours. We didn't want to burn up two pitchers if we had that coming through."

"Both teams wanted to get a full nine innings in, which is understandable," Solomon said, disputing any undue Yankee influence. “We all wanted to get that in.”

"We did consult with both teams. They were willing to do whatever we thought was proper and, in this case, we decided it was not proper to continue."

Amazingly Solomon didn’t even acknowledge baseball’s most important stakeholders – baseball fans who paid to attend the game Wednesday night. Fans that spent their money on buying tickets we’re out of luck if they wanted their money back if they couldn’t attend the rescheduled game.

The biggest Yankee fan, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner made it clear to the New York Newsday he wasn’t pleased with what had taken place Wednesday night in the House that Ruth Built.

"I think we should have played," Steinbrenner said upon leaving the Stadium. "We should have made up our minds earlier."

Say what you want about Darth Steinbrenner, but understand he has set the bar very high when it comes to customer service. It’s hard to feel sorry for Boss Steinbrenner, but Wednesday night MLB’s policy was a complete opposite of what the Yankees have established for their games. The paying public isn’t going to care, they’re going to blame the Yankees, not Major League Baseball.

Even more embarrassing, a breakdown in communication had the Yankees resting in their clubhouse and the Tigers getting ready in Yankee Stadium’s outfield once the tarp was removed from the field at 9:30.

"At 9:35, they said 10 o'clock start," Todd Jones said. "Then Justin [Verlander] goes out there and starts throwing and not one Yankee was out there. They went from, 'We're going at 10 o'clock,' to six minutes later, 'The game is canceled.' And it hasn't really rained hard out there? Is that what I'm hearing”

"They definitely got information that I didn't have, that our team didn't have," Tigers game two starter Justin Verlander told New York Newsday. "Half of our team was out there. Not one of their guys was. I don't know what happened."

Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, said, "I understand [Verlander] did some soft tossing and some stretching but he didn't do any real pitching. We wanted to get the game started. We thought we could."

What took place Wednesday night visa-vie Yankees fans was wrong on every possible level (and remember this is being written by a card carrying member of Red Sox Nation). The decent decision would have been to offer fans who couldn’t attend the rescheduled game a refund, with a caveat that any fans who wanted a refund had to return their tickets to the Yankees by 8:00 AM Thursday morning. Those tickets could then have been resold to people who couldn’t buy tickets for Yankees post season games when they where originally put on sale Thursday morning. The ticketing technology exists. It would have been a win-win for everyone.

Virtually every ticket sold today for any sports/entertainment event includes a bar code. That bar code facilitates opportunities that create customer friendly servicing opportunities. Major League Baseball managed to turn a bad situation Wednesday night into a terrible decision. It made no sense whatsoever. It speaks of greed and an utter contempt for baseball fans. It uniquely demonstrates how little Major League Baseball cares about its fans. Major League Baseball should be ashamed of their decision making process when it comes to post-season rainouts. A rainout is a rainout – except when it takes place during the playoffs.

Hey Tommy Lasorda I’ll tell you where you can put the tickets I paid big bucks for a game that never took place – just give me a chance Tommy and I’ll show you!!

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The New York Daily News, the New York Post and New York Newsday