On an era when most pro sports franchises treated fans like human ATMs, available for cash withdrawal 24 hours a day, the Giants were different. They operated like an old-fashioned family business, one that valued their customers' loyalty over the size of their bank accounts.
That's gone now. Maybe your first reaction to the news that the Giants would charge up to $20,000 for personal seat licenses was outrage. Without question, PSLs are one of the great rip-offs in sports, a one-time fee for the privilege to cough up more cash to buy tickets.
But for me, the feeling was sadness. The Giants are selling off a large part of what made them unique. For decades, they were a mom-and-pop shop that just happened to be part of the richest sports league on the planet.
Now, if you've had four seats near the goal line since Giants Stadium opened in 1976, that shop will soon charge you $40,000 for the PSLs and $5,600 for the season tickets to keep them. There's another option: Move to the upper deck and "only" shell out $4,000 for the PSLs and $3,400 for the tickets.
The team blames the current financial crisis and soaring construction costs in the new $1.6 billion stadium. But will the bells and whistles of the new building really be worth a second mortgage to the average fan?
"This is no way to treat the fans," Dick Freyland said yesterday. The Bergen County resident has had his tickets since the team played in the Yale Bowl in the early `70s, and plans to pay the $1,000 fee to keep them. Still, he feels betrayed. "This isn't the way the Giants used to do business."
The proof was on display before every game. Walk around the Meadowlands parking lot, visit the first tailgate you see, and you might find a fan like Jerry Foley. He signed up for the soon-to-be-irrelevant season-ticket waiting list in the early 1990s, and after barely moving an inch for years, realized he'd be an old man before he actually got tickets.
So he sent team patriarch Wellington Mara a three-page letter explaining how he bled Giants blue, how every game day he would tailgate in Lot 13-A with a bullhorn to lead fans in cheers. He closed with this kicker: "All I want in life are healthy kids and Giants tickets."
A few weeks later, he got a call from Mara's office - he was getting his season tickets. Writing a letter won't work any more. Now, fans will have to sign a check, one with a lot of zeros, maybe to one of the ticket brokers that will gobble up all the PSLs they can find in search of a profit.
Wellington Mara is gone now, but his memory lives on with fans - and in angry letters to his son. John Mara called the decision to sell PSLs "the hardest one - by far" of his career running the Giants, made most difficult by the letters that tell him his father would never have done this.
"That phrase gets to me," Mara, the team's CEO, said in a phone interview yesterday. "They know where my sore point is. And they're probably right. But he didn't have to face this size of debt, either. ... As the costs went up, there was no other way of doing this."
Mara did not want to do this. He was about as fair as you can be when asking fans to subsidize your billion-dollar business. He could have charged much more - just take a look at what the Dallas Cowboys are doing at their new stadium, where the most expensive PSLs are $150,000.
In some cases, the Giants will be handing fans, who choose to sell their PSLs, a tidy severance package for their years of fandom. The team is asking fans not to view the PSLs as an investment, but there's little doubt some will jump on the chance to sell them for several times what they cost now.
Hey, the team is trying to make a quick buck off them. Why shouldn't they do the same?
The crowd at Giants games is going to change dramatically, and so is the way the fans feel about this franchise. And don't think for a minute that Jets owner Woody Johnson is going to be a hero and pass on the PSLs. That announcement of the Jets' plans is no doubt coming soon, which means fans from the two teams will pick up a significant chunk of that $1.6 billion price tag.
This is how it works in pro sports. It's not your loyalty that matters to teams any more, it's the size of your wallet. For most of their existence, the Giants were an exception. Not any more.
Steve Politi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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