Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"House that Greed will build" Newsday 8/16/6

House that Greed will build

by Wallace Matthews
August 16, 2006

The Boss says his new ballpark will be "better for the fans."

This is not the biggest lie he has told concerning Yankee Stadium, his cash machine on the banks of the Harlem River, only the latest.

This morning, George Steinbrenner and a motley collection of as many politicians as he can fit into his bottomless pockets will wield shovels across the street from what they like to call "The Cathedral of Baseball" around here in a groundbreaking ceremony to kick off their latest scam, "Cathedral II."

Believe me, they will be shoveling more than just dirt.

The new Yankee Stadium, or whatever it winds up being called, will be better for George M. Steinbrenner III, former shipbuilder from Cleveland who 33 years ago pulled off the biggest heist in this town since Peter Minuit stole Manhattan from the Lenapes for a handful of beads.

But better for the fans?

Do you like the idea of paying even more for your seat than the already league-high ticket prices at Yankee Stadium? Do you not mind the prospect of being shut out of a game because the new park will have between 5,000 and 7,000 fewer seats? Are you OK with the idea of cozying up on the couch in front of the TV set because that is now the only seat for a Yankees game you can afford? Have you grown accustomed to seeing one precious bit of New York history after another fall to the wrecker's ball?

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, then The Boss is right. The new Yankee Stadium will be better for you.

For the rest of us, the ones who live not on planet Earth but New York City, this deal is as dirty as anything ever found in a puddle of black water in the subway.

Forget that it got railroaded through the City Council without a public hearing, or that the project will cost New York taxpayers some $400 million. Forget that the Yankees will no longer pay rent nor real estate tax, that they will not pay to tear down the old ballpark, or that they will be able to deduct the construction cost from the revenue-sharing pool, thereby weakening their competition as they strengthen themselves.

What really makes this deal so distasteful is that it has been built on 15 years of ever-changing lies, each with the same purpose: to enrich the Yankees and rip off their fans.

First, the South Bronx was unsafe. That didn't work. Then there wasn't enough parking. That failed, too. Then, in 1998, an expansion bolt fell out of the upper deck while the Stadium was empty, which was great news for Steinbrenner. The Roman Colosseum has been standing more than 2,000 years but he and his toady, Rudy Giuliani, insisted that Yankee Stadium, reborn in 1976, could topple at any moment.

Now, the spin is that this is not the "real" Yankee Stadium anyway, that one having vanished in the reconstruction, and to demolish it would have no more historical significance than razing a 7-Eleven.

All of this, of course, was designed to obscure the real reason: The old House That Ruth Built doesn't drive enough revenue, in the current vernacular, or at least not as much as it should.

Never mind that last night, for an essentially meaningless game between the Yankees and Orioles, more than 52,000 jammed their way into the park, or that this year they will top 4 million in attendance for the second year running. At an average ticket price of $50 a game - the high is $115 - the live gate alone generates some $2.5 million a night, times 81 nights. Throw in concessions, merchandising and the $60-million rights fee from the YES network, and you've got quite a haul.

Ah, but the new Stadium will have 57 luxury boxes, costing upwards of $500,000 each, where the well-heeled can attend a cocktail party with their backs to the game. There will be a gourmet restaurant that will make you long for a $7 hot dog. There will be amenities you cannot imagine and only the most privileged will be able to afford.

And oh yeah, there will be naming rights. Which corporation will earn the privilege of paying $20 million a year or so to place its name alongside that of "the most celebrated franchise in sports history?"

Yet to be determined, but try this one on: Fort Knox at Yankee Stadium.


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