An Honest Businessman?

added 6/10/2009 by Scott Barzilla

You know me. I very rarely ever come praising the Chronicle, but maybe they've heard our pleas recently. Who knows, maybe a few of them even read this column. First, they took the best remaining sportswriter there (Zachary Levine) and gave him a higher profile. Then, they produced maybe the hardest hitting news piece on the Astros in quite some time. I don't know how many of you read the Chronicle these days, but the piece on food service was a muckraking piece if I ever saw one.

It seems the Astros aren't so friendly to their faithful fans, as they are the only team in MLB not to allow food or drinks from outside the ballpark. This wasn't all that much news to me, but I'll bet it was news to a lot of Astros fans. Some fans in the article that were interviewed indicated that they weren't aware of this information. The fact that it has been Astros policy for years probably contributed a lot to that fact. Ignorance is the best friend of the businessman.

A few years back, my mother and father ran into The Grocer at the ballpark. They are mini season ticket holders and Drayton often circulates the crowd to see how customer service is going. My father asked him why he didn't allow fans to bring in food or drinks. The Grocer responded by saying that very few stadiums allow this. When my father rattled off all the stadiums he had been to that did allow fans to bring in refreshments he said he didn't want to discuss it anymore. I guess it's unpleasant to be caught in a lie.

In the movie Wall Street Michael Douglas's character Gordon Gecko tells us that "greed is good". This may be true, but when greed and dishonesty are put together it makes for bad business. Astros president Pam Gardner gave us the company line about how we have $1 seats for kids. That's great. What's the average amount of money paid per ticket at the ballpark? Is that figure the lowest in the league? In point of fact, the Astros' average exceeds the league average. This is after we figure that towns like Boston and New York collectively raise the league average artificially.

Of course, I asked Pam Gardner the same question about food and drinks at a SABR meeting. The answer I got was fairly similar and a simple "we aren't considering that right now." At this point, I suppose it is pointless to argue this specific point, but this is an opportunity to point out a problem I have had with the McLane ownership the whole time. He hasn't exactly operated on the level since he has owned the team.

In the 1990s, it was his constant complaints that he was losing money. Of course, no owner would open the books and show you exactly how they were losing money. It came out later that many owners use the concept of amortization to cook the books and make it look like they are taking a loss. Even after The Grocer got his ballpark he still said he was losing money. If you believe any of that I have some good waterfront property in the Mohaje Desert for you. Why lie about, making a profit? Simple. If people knew you were making money at the Astrodome, then why would they approve a new palace for you at their own expense?

Far be it from me to begrudge Drayton McLane from making a buck. In fact, I have been on these boards arguing that they should be rebuilding. Rebuilding is usually cheaper then trying to wrestle in another pennant. I just object to people being dishonest about it. Whether it is Drayton setting the policy directly or Aramark dictating policy, Drayton is getting more money from it. He can charge Aramark extra for the privilege of having a monopoly. One can easily abstain for three hours.

The article demonstrates one thing clearly. Houston Astros fans have a unique ability to bend over and take one on the backside. Fans interviewed in the Chronicle piece indicated they didn't think much about the policy. I have a simple solution. The next time you go to a game, don't buy anything. If enough people do that, Aramark and Drayton will feel it. Only when they feel pain will they change the policy. Often, the pocketbook is the best way to deal with a greedy liar.