Fans Held Hitless By Two Monopolies

There's more than enough blame to go around in the Yankees/Cablevision standoff. It might be amusing to watch these two giants fighting over the spoils of fleecing the public -- if it weren't so annoying.

The Yankees -- who filed an antitrust suit against Cablevision last Monday -- are trying to paint the company as the heavy. And, to be sure, those of us who are hostage to Cablevision's clumsy, greedy monopoly, which seems to be only nominally regulated by government, shed no tears for that avaricious behemoth.

Indeed what angers so many of us who live under Cablevision's thumb is how it get away with pulling all sorts of nonsense which it could never get away with if it were competing for our buck in an open marketplace.

And yet -- the same happens to apply to the franchises that comprise Major League Baseball, including (and especially) the Yankees. It's just that we invest so much emotionally into our favorite teams that we forgive them for exploiting the system -- as long as we get to watch good baseball.

That's one reason nobody who's paid ridiculous prices for tickets and hot dogs at a New York-area ballpark is dumb enough to believe that the Yankees are Cablevision's innocent victims. Fans have come to expect to watch our home teams play for free -- or at least included with the price of basic cable -- and having watched baseball owners ply their unique brand of incompetent hardball over the years, it's clear when a team is leveraging its monopoly -- whether it's over us, the public, or over a cable company.

Make no mistake: baseball's antitrust exemption is precisely what's enabled it to act like it's the only game in town -- because of course, it is. What it boils down to is that us fans are so anxious about losing our favorite teams, we'll pay through the nose to worship them.

Even when the machinery of this most beloved of all our pastimes starts to come apart -- like now, when greedy owners fight with greedy television networks, or, in the past, when player strikes or owner lockouts derail a season; or when owners dictate the construction of ballparks -- we put up with it, and come back in droves.

But maybe it's time to stop. What Cablevision and the Yankees have in common is a government-sanctioned monopoly. In 1922, when Major League Baseball was granted its antitrust exemption, the pivotal reason given was that fans were so desirous of stability and continuity at the highest level of the game, that it was OK to grant them the clubbiness that would ensure that stability -- to prevent players from being raided or bought away from teams, or to prevent rival leagues from springing up.

Unfortunately, the powers that be in baseball have proven that they're only capable of squandering the public's trust in them. Continuity? Stability? -- just ask Minneapolis, or for that matter, Brooklyn. In most business, when one operation is failing due to incompetent ownership, another one opens up to take advantage of the needs of the consumer. In Major League Baseball, when an owner runs a team into the ground, s/he starts demanding a new ballpark and threatening to move the team; if the team is all but in receivership, the team moves, punishing the fans.

What would revoking the anti-trust exemption do? Well, it would allow competitors at all levels to establish leagues and teams wherever they wished. In the New York metropolitan area -- where the wildly popular Brooklyn Cyclones, Staten Island Yankees, and Long Island Ducks the have proven, to no one's surprise, that even at its humblest level, professional baseball can provide some of the best entertainment value for a dollar -- allowing teams along the whole gamut of professional levels would make it possible for families to enjoy more reasonably priced games. And multiple teams would prevent broadcasters from monopolizing coverage as they can, say, when there are only one or two major franchises in a region.

Would there be a downside? It's possible that established teams could be adversely affected -- though it's frankly hard to imagine a team like the Yankees suffering much. There might be some instability, which would lead to some regional realigning of the major leagues, as marginal markets underwent turf wars. But the benefits would easily outweigh the defects. A particular city might lose an unprofitable major league franchise, then see it replaced with a minor league team that is fully capable of prospering. It would end the process of team owners holding cities hostage to stadium-building proposals.

Who, apart from the owners, can argue that it's not just to take baseball's fate from their hands and allow true competition and market forces to determine which teams play where, and how much fans have to pay to watch games -- in person or on TV?


Nevertheless I feel this is FABULOUS!!