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Madden: McClatchy refuses to correct mistake

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy recently went in front of a camera and admitted that, yes, raising ticket prices after a hundred-loss season was a mistake.

In other news, Vatican City has confirmed that the Pope is, indeed, Catholic.

Many local media outlets are unabashedly pro-McClatchy because, after all, he saved baseball in Pittsburgh. It should be pointed out that dragging a drowning man to shore doesn't justify trying to strangle him later.

Anyway, McClatchy's mea culpa seemingly has gained him a degree of forgiveness from the ink-stained wretches and from those who wield microphones and cameras. But Pittsburgh sports fans won't be forgiving McClatchy anytime soon, nor will appreciably more of them be heading to PNC Park.

That's because admitting a mistake isn't quite the same as correcting it.

McClatchy said he shouldn't have raised ticket prices. So what? Last time I looked, the Pirates' ticket prices were the same as they were before McClatchy's admission. Tickets still cost more than they did last season.

Correcting the mistake would be simple. But McClatchy hasn't done it, which makes me believe he doesn't want to do it, which makes me believe he doesn't think raising ticket prices this season was a mistake at all. McClatchy is just trying to say the right thing PR-wise, but until he does the right thing cash-wise, his words should be considered absolutely meaningless.

McClatchy should return ticket prices to the levels of last season. He should figure out how much each season-ticket holder overpaid and give him the appropriate credit toward season tickets for next year (which would not only right a wrong, but also guarantee a lot of renewals). He should drop single-game ticket prices to their levels of last season. And he should give every fan who redeems a ticket stub from any Pirates home game in April a discount on a future ticket purchase.

It would cost the Pirates some money. But it would gain the Pirates some much-needed goodwill. And it would get people in the ballpark.

None of this is going to happen, because McClatchy doesn't really think he was wrong to raise ticket prices this year. Actions -- or lack thereof -- speak louder than words.

Tickets, of course, aren't the only things overpriced at PNC Park.

According to a story in the Post-Gazette Thursday, it costs $151.08 to take a family of four to a game at PNC Park, which is the 13th-highest figure in the major leagues. The Pirates have the highest-priced soda in the majors, with fans paying $3.75 for a 22-ounce cup. That's pretty expensive Coke. At that price, maybe it should be coke. Maybe the Pirates should sell it in a vial, not a cup.

McClatchy defended the Pirates' concession prices thusly: "The fans don't have to eat when they're at the ballpark." Is that rich-boy arrogance or what? A hot dog and a pop are part of the baseball experience. Having to mortgage your house to afford them, however, tends to dull said experience.

McClatchy is a wealthy snob. He's joined several country clubs since coming to Pittsburgh, and now he wants to make PNC Park into a baseball version of a country club. The poor need not apply. Like Judge Smails said in "Caddyshack," "Some people just don't belong."

If that sounds extreme, consider again that McClatchy has not atoned for his admitted mistake by lowering ticket prices.

McClatchy won't make money running the Pirates that way, but McClatchy doesn't need to make money with the Pirates. He already has money. McClatchy bought the Pirates to stake out his own little fiefdom in major-league baseball and to compare school ties with guys like George Steinbrenner.

Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill recently called the Pirates' administration with a great idea: Why not do what they do at Wrigley Field in Chicago and put a little emphasis on the left-field bleachers? Why not lower ticket prices for those seats and make sure there's always 500 available on game day?

Great idea, Brian was told. We might try that for a game or two.

For a game or two? Gee, how magnanimous.

The Pirates don't want to be fair. The Pirates are not sensitive to your needs or your budget. The Pirates aren't sorry they raised ticket prices after losing 100 games last season. The only thing they truly regret is that they can't figure a way to pick your pocket on an even grander scale.

During an appearance on ESPN Radio's "The Dan Patrick Show," Pirates outfielder Brian Giles said that raising ticket prices after a hundred-loss season made no sense. Brian, you just don't get it. McClatchy isn't constrained by basic business principles like supply and demand. McClatchy lives by the words of P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."

And every time you step through a PNC Park turnstile, you are that sucker.

Mark Madden's talk show is heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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