Politics and Other Mistakes

A short treatise on the price of ballpark concessions

This column isn’t about politics. It’s about self-indulgence. Of course, self-indulgence is a major factor in politics (it’s one big reason why so many creeps run for office), but it’s also a significant part of the lives of everybody who isn’t a monk. Or Mike Pence. Most of us are guilty of wanting what we want, and wanting it right now.

What I want is to drink a beer. Or maybe a few beers. After all, it’s summer and it’s hot. It’s the only sensible thing to do, and it’s also only fair that I get to indulge in my self-indulgences. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?

That’s a question I ask myself whenever I’m at a Portland Sea Dogs game.

If I weren’t such a polite person, I’d be accusing that Double-A baseball team of price gouging at the beer concession. The same 16-ounce can of local craft-brewed ale that I can buy at any licensed store for three or four bucks, or at any bar for $6 to $8 plus tip, goes for $12 or $13 at Hadlock Field.

Sure, it’s standard procedure for all sports venues to inflate the prices of their concession offerings. The cheeseburgers at Hadlock, which used to cost $4.50, now sell for $7.50, although they no longer have the texture and taste of hockey pucks. A Dunkin’ hot chocolate goes for $4, or about 30 percent more than you’d pay around the corner at an actual Dunkin’. A bottle of water will set you back $4.50, the same price as the venue’s signature offering, the Sea Dog Biscuit, but with less taste and fewer calories.

Until the Burke family, who owned the Sea Dogs from their inception in 1994 until last year, sold the franchise to Some Faceless Corporation, the nearly universal tendency of sports-franchise owners to force a captive audience to max out their credit cards for a couple of cold pilsners had been kept in check by local ownership. Under the new overlords, that’s no longer the case.

Diamond Baseball Holdings (no relation), the aforementioned SFC, has been buying up minor league teams faster than I’ve been buying six-packs. They’ve shelled out untold millions of dollars, and now they need to start squeezing their customers to earn a return on their investments. If Diamond operated like the Sea Dogs’ baseball parent, the Boston Red Sox, they’d just raise ticket prices — the Sox prices are the highest in the major leagues — but that’s not really a good option for a minor league team with a less numerous and less affluent customer base.

To make money, the Sea Dogs need butts in the seats. Otherwise, there’s nobody to buy overpriced beer and junk food. A well-placed team official told me rising labor and product costs are to blame for the price hikes. “Concessions is where we make the bulk of our money,” my source said, “so we try to maintain our margins the best we can, which helps our ticket costs stay so affordable.”

In other words, the low cost of admission brings in more suckers who then have no choice but to pay inflated prices for popcorn, fries and pizza. That’s a fine example of corporate self-indulgence, not to mention a harsh lesson in the pitfalls of capitalism. (It’s worth pointing out that convenience stores and bars face the same economic pressures as ballparks, yet they haven’t jacked up their prices nearly as much.)

I’m fully aware there are bigger problems in this state than the affordability of beer and hot dogs at Hadlock Field. But I did warn you at the beginning that this was a column about my personal self-indulgences, and since I’m not homeless, an asylum seeker or a sick person who can’t afford health care, those seemingly more pressing issues will have to be set aside for now. Also, I’m sure I’d be able to display more sympathy for the plight of those less fortunate than myself if I could just down a couple pints of reasonably priced beer while watching a ballgame.

In the meantime, did anybody manage to smuggle in a flask?

I don’t have to drink to have a good time. I just have to read your e-mails sent to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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