From the perspective of someone who’s a long time season ticket holder, the way Georgia’s athletic department goes about its business may be disheartening and — who knows? — in the long run, counter-productive, but in the current economic climate, you can’t say it’s unusual. There’s a book out now, The Velvet Rope Economy, that looks at how the market has segmented itself chasing the high-end buyer.
This is the opening scene of Nelson D. Schwartz’s new book The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business, which explains how everything Americans purchase — travel, leisure, education, and health care — suddenly got really good for the wealthy and a lot worse for the rest of us.
Income inequality has risen since the 1970s, and at the same time, companies have begun to cater to the only demographic whose prospects are growing. Fancy new sports stadiums with separate doors for box seat holders, VIP airport terminals, Uber Copters, and the privatization of everything from high school sports to firefighter squads are all examples of what Schwartz dubs the “velvet rope economy.”
“This pattern — a Versailles-like world of pampering for a privileged few on one side of the velvet rope, a mad scramble for basic service for everyone else — is being repeated in one sphere of American society after another,” he writes.
This isn’t about passing judgment. The market seeks out efficiencies and right now the upper end is where all the economic growth is. You’d be stupid if you owned a service-oriented business not to take note of that and find ways to market for that.
Which brings us to Georgia football. See if this sounds familiar.
I was really struck by ballparks and how now there’s so many levels and so much space given to clubs, and the thousands of dollars that you have to pay to get these packages. There was a time when a baseball game was like this quintessentially American experience and now it’s become the province of the 1 percent or the top 10 percent. Ordinary fans are priced out.
That’s been going on for some time. I remember being in a group that bought Braves season tickets back in the day. Over time, we found ourselves adding more people to keep individual costs down. How many folks do you know now who have baseball season tickets just for themselves now?
It’s the corporatization of commercial sports and it’s coming soon to a football team near you. Butts-Mehre may not do everything well, but it’s a well-oiled machine when it comes to raising revenue. That’s not going to stop any time soon, but it’s certainly worth asking at what cost over the next twenty years or so, when the next generation of fans would ordinarily be expected to step up and take their place supporting the program. Does this sound like the sort of attitude the athletic department adheres to?
There are companies that don’t do as much segmenting and still do well, like Southwest. The Green Bay Packers have luxury boxes, but the experience still tries to preserve as much of the community experience as possible. In some of these institutions, you have more of that egalitarian spirit, and that preserves more of a sense for Americans that we’re all in it together.
From a lip service standpoint, certainly. Will that be enough? Let’s just say I’m not particularly optimistic.