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Spring Training Ticket Prices Are Out Of Control

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These games are rapidly becoming unaffordable for many.

Rich Pilling/Getty Images

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Saturday at Sloan Park, there were a couple of Giants fans behind me in line.

I got to talking to them and discovered they had fourth-row seats in section 119, which is just past first base. These tickets have a face value of $38.

I asked how much they paid. $100 on StubHub, they told me.

One hundred dollars for a game in which about half the regulars for both teams started, and the game ended with minor leaguers at most of the positions.

You'll say that StubHub sellers charge what the market will bear, and you would be correct. However, I present as evidence of my "out of control" headline the following, from Thursday's Cubs/Giants game at Scottsdale Stadium (click to embiggen):

scottsdale ticket pricing

That's from the Giants website, the team's official pricing link, about an hour before Thursday's game started. $47 for a lawn ticket, $91 for an "upper" box seat, which as you can see from the seating map isn't that close to the field. And plenty of lawn tickets were available -- just to check, I entered the maximum number of lawn tickets you could buy, 24, and had I wanted to, I could have bought 24 lawn tickets for that game. These prices are higher than for many Giants regular-season home games in San Francisco.

Yes, I understand dynamic pricing, I understand that supply and demand is driving some of these decisions. In some cases I think greed is taking over. The Giants, winners of three of the last six World Series, are likely going to sell out their spring-training games no matter price they charge. The Cubs, coming off a 97-win season and expected to be strong World Series contenders this year, are likely going to do the same.

So what's the right thing to do? Provide some affordable entertainment with games that many times are nothing more than glorified minor-league scrimmages, or maximize profits? It seems clear what road they've chosen, and again you'll argue that people are paying these prices, so what's the problem?

I'm not the only one who's noticed this. Jim Caple of ESPN.com wrote about this as well, and asked why this is happening:

Why are people willing to pay so much for games that don't count and often are played by Triple-A and Double-A players you've never heard of after the fifth inning? Because as expensive as it can be, spring training is a wonderfully pleasurable, inviting experience. While so much of the rest of the country is enduring cold, rain, hail, ice and the occasional snow of late winter, you can come down and watch the Boys of Summer while relaxing in spectacular 80-degree spring sun.

While that's correct, there's another thing Caple is missing. These games had been an affordable way for people who once lived in the Midwest and grew up as fans of the Cubs or other Midwestern teams, but who now live in Arizona, a chance to see their ballclub play, even if it's only for a month.

With prices rising at a near-exponential level, that's become more difficult, although I will give the Cubs, at least, credit for holding the line on prices for spring season-ticket holders. My lawn tickets cost $10 per game, and the highest-priced seat, for a season-ticket holder, is the above-mentioned $38. Demand, incidentally, has become so high for Cubs spring tickets that there is now a season-ticket waiting list for spring training.

Major League Baseball, in a way, is driving this bus by branding Spring Training (and they use those capital letters) as a "jewel event." This is from MLB's press release about the new spring team jerseys that every team must now wear, forcing the Cubs to stop their tradition of wearing white pinstripes at home during spring training:

Consistent with how Major League Baseball brands Jewel Events, increased Spring Training imagery also will be featured on-the field. Rawlings baseballs will be stamped with this year’s Grapefruit League and Cactus League logos. The bases used in every Spring Training matchup will feature jewels of the league logos and the on-deck circles will also showcase the AZ and FL marks. Additionally, Spring Training fields are scheduled to be stenciled with the Grapefruit and Cactus marks, similar to the Opening Day, All-Star and Postseason field décor.

Thirty-two years ago, I walked into Phoenix Municipal Stadium for my very first spring game between the Cubs and Athletics. I bought a box seat for $3.

Now, before you think I'm just pulling a "get off my lawn" act, I certainly don't expect pricing for spring training, or anything, to be the same as it was three decades ago, and the dream of a $3 spring ticket died with the turn of the millennium. But one of the best things about spring training was the laid-back atmosphere at games and the ability to see big-league entertainment for $10 or less.

It's all become a profit center now, big business, and I suppose you can't blame the teams for seeing the dollar signs. But in doing so, the previous feeling of spring training has in many ways been lost, and I'm not sure we're better off.