A Tale of Two (New) Stadiums: CitiField and Yankee Stadium

Baseball is a pastime, a way to leisurely spend an afternoon or evening, a pleasurable diversion from the (seemingly endless) insanity of the “real” world. Or at least I like to think so. With a bit more extra time on my hands due to the financial crisis, I got a chance to enjoy both new New York ballparks in a scant 36 hours this week: the new Yankee Stadium and the new home of the Mets, CitiField.

Making an Entrance

Maybe I’ve spent too much time optimizing user flows for websites over the last decade, but to me a critical part of how you experience a stadium is how you get into a stadium. My personal favorites are Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field for slightly different reasons. Growing up in LA, I frequented Dodger Stadium and one of the grandest designs is that it’s built into a hillside, so you came into the stadium on the level where you are sitting – no crazy stairs or elevators in the Stadium; you enter and you see the field almost immediately. Wrigley, on the other hand has a fairly dark concourse, but where ever you enter, you have a small staircase and you are greeted with a shock of green grass, like escaping winter and happening upon a Secret Garden, where everyone enters at field level.

For New York’s new ballparks, CitiField got it right, Yankee Stadium, not so much. The majority of fans arrive by rail, and for CitiField, the redesigned station is a straight shot right to the Jackie Robinson rotunda. Gone is the up and down stairs, dodging traffic, etc. And it’s a solid, straight-forward flow through the bag-check/frisk/ticket lines right into the rotunda, where two dead-ahead escalators take fans to the main concourse that give you a beautiful view of the whole field.

At Yankee Stadium, the 161st Street subway stations drop you off and you get to dodge a couple lanes of traffic before getting to the main gates. The gates are all aligned along the south part of the building, with a multitude of entry points, but the problem is that you have to walk through the nearest lines to get to the more open lines further down, so there’s a ton of congestion. Once you do the bag/frisk/ticket rhumba, you are then greeted with a great hall, but directly in front of you is a mostly white concrete wall. You have to take a couple stairs or escalators before you see the concourse, and you’re dumped off outside of 1st base, versus being dumped out behind homeplate like at CitiField. The addition of a MetroNorth stop at Yankee Stadium later this year will relieve the insanity of the sardine-packed subway trains, but it won’t do much to change the visitor flow into the stadium.

The Field’s the Thing (or Who Needs a Seat?)

Where both stadiums got it right is the true open feeling of the stadium. In the past, the concourses were somewhat narrow, and you stared at concrete with only a small snippet of the field (or sky) viewable through a tunnel to the seats. In both stadiums, the concourses are broad, with completely open views of the field.

In fact, it’s so broad that it seemed to us that there were more people standing at the game than actually sitting in their seats. For the Yankee game, we had the ultimate nosebleed seats ($22) in the next to last row of the upper deck in left field – high above the flag and foul poles. We sat in them for about five minutes (it was cold) and spent the rest of the game standing in (the relative warmth of) centerfield, or sitting behind the various seating areas all around the stadium.

Both parks seemed to get that, offering up a more social experience and giving you the opportunity to experience the game from multiple vantage points. We got to see the game much better than if we sat in our initial seats.

It’s the Economy Stupid

The only other thing I can say is that neither of these stadiums might have seen the light of day because there just wouldn’t be the city and state funding to finance them. Enough has been written about the exorbitant ticket prices at Yankee Stadium (they finally caved to drop the premium seats from $2,500 to $1,250 after most of them went unsold), but how about the food prices? Photo by Alexis MaindraultI think just one example should paint a clear picture:

  • Shake Shack burger at CitiField is $6.75
  • Johnny Rockets burger at Yankee Stadium is $9.00

And in general, that price differential between the stadiums seemed to hold up, with most CitiField entrees in the $6-7 range and Yankee Stadium in the $9-$10 range. The business model for the new Yankee Stadium might have been based on the Wall Street finance guy expense account world, but the empty suites and seats (making it look like a game at Safeco Field — sorry my Seattle friends) hopefully will send a message to the Yankees that they need to be more proactive about adjusting to the times.

Bag Check

Both of my companions to these games brought a bag to stadium: Alexis brought a backpack at CitiField, Andy a work satchel at Yankee Stadium. No problem at CitiField – just a check of the bag and we were through. The Yankees are a helluva lot less accommodating on what you can bring into the stadium:

  • No backpacks, briefcases, attaché cases, coolers, glass or plastic bottles, cans, large purses, bags or video cameras will be permitted into the ballpark. You must leave these items in your vehicle before entering the ballpark.
  • No laptops are permitted into the stadium.
  • No items will be claim checked. You will be asked to return them to your vehicle.

That said, if I don’t HAVE a vehicle, well, there’s Stan’s SportsWorld down the block, where we were directed. Nothing like trading your earthly belongings for $7 to a guy running a storefront!

Other Notes

  • CitiField is still like Shea in that the airplanes still make a helluva lot of noise taking off over the field; I did like the little touches that the Mets embrace that and actually showed planes taking off in the player montages that show up on the video board.
  • Sponsorships might have been harder to come by in CitiField than in Yankee Stadium. Two huge signs on either side of the huge CitiField centerfield video screen are advertising a construction equipment company in Queens. Take it a step further and the “race to the stadium” mid-inning promo/fan-distraction-event was two flatbed trucks, one carrying a light-stand generator and the other a forklift. In past years it was two Delta Airline jets or different color cars from a specific auto brand. At Yankee Stadium it remains the three subway lines.
  • Enough has been said about the Mohegan Sun Bar in centerfield at Yankee Stadium in the way it blocks the beacher views for both sides. I love the deck above it, but think the Yanks should totally redesign it in the off-season.
  • Want a fast line for $9 Johnny Rockets burgers or a $6 pizza slice at Yankee Stadium? Try the field-facing side of the food court in Centerfield, where for some reason the lines were extremely short compared to the concourse-side of the food court. In fact, arrive early at both stadiums and head to centerfield to get the best eats. The Carnitas at CitiField were tasty.
  • CitiField has a pretty extensive assortment of beers available in the centerfield food court area – more than I’ve ever seen at a ballpark (exotic stuff like Leffe and Tiger). Plus they have Brooklyn Brewery ales at all the “bottled beer” stands around the stadium in addition to the regular Bud/Heniekin. Regarding Yankee Stadium, the options aren’t great: http://riveraveblues.com/2009/04/the-stadium-beer-because-its-five-oclock-somewhere-10890/

Bottom Line

Listen, I’m a National League fan and my allegiances are to the Mets (right after the Dodgers) so there is always the possibility for a little bias, but I tried to keep really open-minded. Both fields are humongous improvements in enjoying a game (Shea was a pit, Yankee Stadium was showing its age), especially the openness of the concourses and better sightlines from just about all the seats. But in the end I think the Mets got some of the little things right more often than the Yankees did, with CitiField excelling in being lighter on the budget and a lot less hassle.

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