21 April 2006

How the Dodgers Can Afford to Sell Better and Cheaper Hot Dogs

Two nights ago I went to my first Dodger game of the season. They lost, largely thanks to a couple of really boneheaded errors. It wasn't a particularly good game and the Dodgers did, as usual, what they could to make it a not particularly great experience. But I'm a sucker. I love baseball enough that I had a good time in spite of the fact that I didn't come close to getting my money's worth.

I splurged on the seats - 50 bucks. As seats at Dodger Stadium go they were pretty good; just slightly to the right of home plate in the loge section. Still, the stands at the stadium slope so gradually that I was a lot further away from the action than I was last year when I sat in some $38 seats that were much higher up in Yankee Stadium. In the equivalent section in Dodger Stadium, you might as well be watching from a blimp.

At one point my friend Bill and I went to get food for the four of us who were at the game. We lost an entire inning waiting in line at an extraordinarily inefficiently run concession stand - and it was one of the "express" concessions. Then we paid $34 for four really awful hot dogs, a bag of peanuts and a bottle of water. Earlier, we'd bought three beers for $25.50. Well, hell, let's add up the whole evening:

$200 for four tickets - oh, and another $24 because I bought them online there was a $6 per ticket "convenience charge." Just who's convenience does that mean? It was probably more convenient for the ticket seller to have me buy the tickets online than otherwise. It was certainly more convenient for the Dodgers. So - $224.

$10 for parking.
$25.50 for three beers.
$34 for Bill and my run to the concession stand.
$32 more for other food and beer at various points during the game.

The four of us spent $322.50 to go to a baseball game.

I know that they have to pay their overpriced ballplayers salaries, but still... that's insane.

What's to be done?

I have a suggestion, at least for the Dodgers. It ought to appeal to Frank McCourt, who before he was a baseball franchise owner was a property developer. (I can't believe he hasn't thought of this already. I wonder what, if anything, is stopping him?)

Find somewhere else for the Dodgers to play for a few years, then tear down Dodger Stadium.

In its place, recreate Ebbets Field - the Dodgers old homeground in Brooklyn - along with the old Brooklyn neighborhood around it. There's plenty of room at Chavez Ravine to do all that, and the Dodgers own the land. The new Ebbets Field will, of course, be one of these old-fashioned, new-fangled stadiums with better sightlines and all the mod-cons. Have it seat, say, 38,000 or 40,000 people - which is plenty. Stock the fake Brooklyn around the stadium with shops, restaurants, bars, a nice hotel or two, theaters, maybe a California baseball museum. Tack on some very high end condos. Build short, old-fashioned looking trolley lines to the stadium from all four different directions, from areas where there is available parking already and either don't allow any private cars into the area at all, or at least restrict them heavily.

Consider that this is all on a lot right next to downtown Los Angeles, with great views out over the city, with a park around its perimeter, and with close access to and from three major freeways. This is some of the most exceptional, and valuable, land left in any urban area in the country. It is also land that lies around unused from October through March, and even when it's in use, in terms of revenue producing time, it's only used three to four hours a day.

Boosted by the proceeds from the sales and leasing of commercial and residential real estate - 24 hours a day, year round - and probably some cuts of the new businesses that are attracted to the area - the Dodgers could pay for their high-priced players, improve what's on offer at the stadium (Like get some decent food. Would anyone who really likes hot dogs possibly eat a Dodger dog if they didn't have to?) and probably lower prices.

They could finance the development easily. With the land they already own in Chavez Ravine and also in Florida - where they own a great deal of land in Vero Beach, around their spring training facilities - there isn't a financial institution in the world that wouldn't happily make the loans to a project like this.

The trick is that the Dodgers have to stop thinking of themselves as strictly a sports franchise. It's a money losing business model for all but a very few teams. The New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs - some of baseball's only profitable franchises - are not simply baseball teams. They are, in essence, content providers to big media groups; cable TV revenue is the only thing that keeps them in the black.

For some reason, despite being located in America's largest urban area, the Dodgers haven't been able to make enough of a profit from cable TV. They do need to do more to boost their media presence in Spanish, and even Japanese, Korean and Chinese language markets; but it's still not likely to put them in the position of the Yankees.

What the Dodgers need to do is to recreate themselves as part of the entertainment division of a big property development company. When I worked for business magazines in Hong Kong, the first thing I'd look for whenever I heard about a new, huge deal going down, was the property angle. Scratch the surface of any major business deal in Hong Kong - whether it was a manufacturing center, a port facility, even a high-tech or communications venture - and you'd find that at it's heart, it was all about property development.

At the moment the Dodgers are way under-utilizing some of the most valuable real estate in the country. If they were making the kind of money that they could be, if they were simply one part of a much larger enterprise - something that would attract tourists from all over the world, as well as locals on a regular basis - they could make the sort of improvements that I, and most of my baseball loving friends - would love to see - and eat.