Take us back to the ball park

How is your position in the press box? Can you see the pitch or the court, or are you in line with the finishing line? Well make the most of it, because as this report from Richard Sandomir in the New York Times suggests, there is a trend for American stadiums to kick the media out of press boxes to make way for premium hospitality seats

The original press box at the 16-year-old US Cellular Field was a fine place to cover a White Sox game. From their nest behind home plate, reporters could easily discern the spin of a curveball or hear the thwack of bat on ball. But this year, the White Sox gutted it and remade it into the Jim Beam Club, with 200 theater seats and barstools that cost $260 to $315 each; when sold out, the club could generate $4 million or more in revenue.

“We were giving the press the best real estate in the building, slightly elevated behind home plate, which they don’t need,” said Jerry Reinsdorf, the real estate investor who is chairman of the White Sox. When asked why he moved the press to a much worse vista two levels up and along the first-base and right-field line, Reinsdorf unhesitatingly said, “Financial.”

Reinsdorf is far from unique among team owners looking at the extra money that can be made in arranging, or rearranging, their home facilities to accommodate more luxury suites or club seats.

At the same time, baseball reporters (usually print and radio) have been shifted to higher spots, as in PNC Park in Pittsburgh, or inferior aeries like the one at the year-old Busch Stadium in St Louis. The Cardinals improved the habitability of the press box before this season as part of renovations needed to play host to the 2009 All-Star Game; the press box is higher than it was in the old Busch Stadium, a design that gives preference to luxury boxes.

“Last year, it was a gulag,” said Joe Strauss of The St Louis Post-Dispatch.

After years of resisting his owners’ cries to expand their inventory of courtside seating, NBA Commissioner David Stern relented this season, permitting teams to move reporters into the lower bowl of arenas.

NFL reporters are used to inconvenient press boxes. They have been relocated to the corners of, or behind, end zones — as they are in the renovated Soldier Field in Chicago, FedEx Field in Landover and Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Or to higher altitudes, as they are in Giants Stadium. John Mara, a co-owner of the Giants, said the press box problem would be rectified in the stadium to be built with the Jets.

“Pampering the press used to be more important than taking care of your highest-paid customers,” said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant. “Now it comes down to the old real estate maxim: location, location, location.”

In NBA arenas, reporters in some cities have been moved out of earshot of the repartee among players, coaches and referees. “You could tell what Jerry Sloan was thinking by hearing how much he was swearing,” said Phil Miller, who until recently covered the Utah Jazz for The Salt Lake Tribune, referring to the team’s long-time head coach. “His reactions really guided your knowledge of what was going on on the floor.”

The Denver Nuggets added eight new courtside seats at $750 apiece by moving the press elsewhere. At Quicken Loans Arena, the Cleveland Cavaliers added 16 courtside seats (at $1,600 each) that flank the scorer’s table by moving reporters to comparatively distant locations. Similar changes have been made by the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, and by the Jazz and the Golden State Warriors.

For next season, the Los Angeles Lakers have sold 15 new courtside seats, at $2,300 each, at Staples Center, moving reporters 20 rows back.

This season the Knicks moved the last of the reporters who were still working courtside at Madison Square Garden to a press area behind a basket. That let the team sell 20 new seats, some of which cost $2,000 or more.

“Fans will pay a premium to experience the game in a way they haven’t before, and to separate themselves from Joe Average,” said Dan Migala, the publisher of a sports-marketing newsletter, The Migala Report.

At the Yankees-White Sox game last Wednesday night, none of the fans in the new club seats said they much cared that they had displaced reporters who now depend more on TV monitors than they once did. It is a sentiment they share with Reinsdorf. “It doesn’t matter if Dave van Dyck can see how much the ball breaks,” he said, referring to The Chicago Tribune’s national baseball writer.

Van Dyck said his former view mattered greatly; now he cannot see plays developing or the “full scan of the field”.

“It’s like watching TV from the side,” he added, still irate that the team did not consult reporters about the change.

At US Cellular Field, the relocated press box prompted a demand by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to meet with Commissioner Bud Selig to receive assurances that a similarly drastic change would not occur at other ballparks.

“We’re paid to do the job to the best of our ability,” Mark Gonzales of The Chicago Tribune said as he watched Wednesday’s game from high above first base. His new sightline hindered his ability to best describe, with his own eyes, Mark Buehrle’s no-hitter on April 18.

“I just feel hopeless,” he said.

What chance a switch of press facilities at Anfield or Old Trafford?

This is an abbreviated version of a piece published by the New York Times, which can be read in full by clicking here and registering

Baseball reporter expelled for blogging