Depression baseball

There have been several articles in the past few months about what the economic situation might do to baseball, and with them many comparisons to the Great Depression. Most of them have been driven by looks back at attendance figures. A couple of days ago, however, the New York Times ran one that gave more of a flavor to Depression-era baseball. Even if it’s not very instructive with respect to what 21st century baseball may face in these bleak times, it was interesting all the same:

Some owners, it seemed, lived in another world. Navin, the owner of the Tigers, bought a racehorse in 1931 even though his players were reportedly having their meal money reduced. Others focused on yachting . . .

. . . The Depression also forced teams to innovate. The Cardinals, for instance, expanded their network of minor league teams. Several teams, including the Cubs, did not charge women for admission, a promotion that East Coast teams soon copied.

A few teams generated income by allowing live radio broadcasts. Taking a cue from the minor leagues, the Cincinnati Reds in 1935 became the first team to host a night game, which proved very popular with fans.

The end of the blue laws in Pennsylvania also helped franchises in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which, until 1934, had not been able to schedule home games on Sundays.

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  1. Wooden_U_Lykteneau said...

    Indeed. Because it’s not like sports are competing against *more* entertainment options now vs. fewer then, right?

  2. Pete Toms said...

    Some good reporting recently on baseball during the Great Depression.

    Following is a quote from a piece last month in the Denver Post.

    “In 1929, before the market crashed, major-league baseball ticket revenues were $17 million. By 1933, gate receipts had plummeted to $11 million. A big-leaguer made an average of $7,000 in 1929. That dwindled to $4,500 by 1936.”

    Commenting on the Denver Post piece, chair of economics at Clemson – Raymond Sauer – wrote on his blog.

    “Obviously, the impact of the depression on the finances of a baseball team was severe. They were fortunate to operate under the reserve clause in those years, which limited the duration of player contracts to one year, making adjustment to declining demand much simpler.”


    “…In contrast to the monetary figures, baseball attendance held up well during the depression. This is because teams lowered prices in response to declining nominal demand. [Note that the aggregate price level dropped 25% between 1929 and 1933.]. This should not be taken as evidence that sports are “recession-proof” since the financial side of the operations are inextricably tied to the aggregate economy.”….

    I see the same pattern this offseason.  Ticket sales are reportedly good but there is a lot of “discounting” going on.  And the FA market indicates that player contracts are getting shorter and the compensation declining.  ( Yanks excepted )

  3. The Common Man said...

    Your headline made me think this was an article about being a Cubs fan, Craig.  Or maybe the Royals.  It seems like MLB was very creative in exploiting new revenue streams in order to stay afloat.  I wonder what new developments we’re going to see, aside from shorter contracts and MLB network.  Are we so saturated that there is nowhere else for the game to expand further?

  4. Pete Toms said...

    @ The Common Man.  Sports in 3D could be the next “big thing” in pro sports.  It is already happening and the early reviews are very positive.

  5. The Common Man said...

    @ Pete

    The skeptic and crumudgeon in me wonders how much 3D would actually improve my enjoyment of the game.  I’d rather not have the urge to duck on a line drive up the middle.  Then again, I still don’t have HD.

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