Driving to a Dodgers game sucks. Driving home from a Dodgers game sucks.
Such it is, such it has always been, and such it shall always be. Probably.
Is this such a terrible thing for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a franchise, though? For their Los Angeles Dodgers' business?
Here's Bill Plaschke in The Los Angeles Times:
Once again, the worst sporting experience in this town is driving into — and out of — a Dodgers game that fills a 56,000-seat stadium that is baseball's biggest and most unmanageable. Tuesday was the Dodgers' 10th sellout this season, which is 10 traffic nightmares too many.
Agreed. Plaschke offers some terrible examples. Fans who reach the parking lot an hour before game time, and still miss the first pitch. Fans who are still trying to park, four innings into the game. And of course we know that many fans leave in the seventh inning because they want to get home before midnight.
These are all terrible things. I mean, they don't rank real high on a serious hierarchy of horribles. But going to the ballpark should be fun, and none of that sounds like any fun at all. Here's where Plaschke loses me a little bit, though:
The Dodgers have won a surprising number of games while spending a stunning amount of money this summer, but none of that will fix their still-smarting public perception if they don't fix the gridlock, and they know it.
I'm not following the logic here. For many years, the Dodgers were hugely successful at the box office. For just as many years -- as Plaschke notes -- the traffic was terrible. If the gridlock didn't hurt the Dodgers' public perception back then, why would it hurt their public perception now?
Last year, the public perception was smarting because a) someone got assaulted in the parking lot, b) the team wasn't very good, and c) the owners were behaving atrociously, in a very public way. By far, the best barometer of public perception is attendance (especially in the absence of easily accessible, accurate television ratings).
The Dodgers' attendance is up 13 percent this season, compared to last season. That's a huge increase. Last season the Dodgers finished sixth in the National League in attendance; this season they're third. There's room for improvement, no question -- they were second in the league in 2010 -- and I expect more improvement in 2013, following a winning season and what's likely to be an interesting off-season. Still: 13 percent is really good!
Which doesn't mean the gridlock's any fun. Whatever word describes the opposite of fun, it's that word.
How do you fix it, though? How do you make the traffic better, so more people want to visit the ballpark? Again, Plaschke:
There's really only one answer, and it works not only for parking, but on a variety of levels.
The Dodgers need to shrink the stadium. Fewer fans, fewer cars. Shrink it by replacing a bunch of seats with patios and railings and the kinds of restaurants that are landmarks in other stadiums. Transform the mammoth into a more intimate creature that has been so popular in other cities.
Shrink it to also increase comfort, ambience and buzz.
Right. Instead of doing something to make the fan experience better and increase the number of fans, do something to decrease the number of fans.
In theory, this makes a certain sense. According to Plaschke -- and to the Dodgers as well, I suspect -- there simply isn't any practical solution to the traffic issues (more on that in a moment). But if you rip out 12,000 seats, then - presto, you've made the traffic better, especially on those nights when the game is sold out.
Hey, this would be great for fans like me. I hate traffic, and I know people with access to the good seats. If Dodger Stadium held 44,000 seats rather than 56,000, my experience as a fan would be improved by some measurable amount. No question.
But the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball shouldn't think exclusively about fans like me. One of the best things about Dodger Stadium is its size. The Marlins are visiting Dodger Stadium this week, and you can purchase an upper-deck seat for $10. The reason you can purchase an upper-deck seat for $10 is simple: There are a lot of upper-deck seats. There are a lot of seats, period. If there's one thing I can promise you, with metaphysical certitude, it's that if the Dodgers rip out thousands of seats, a) the average ticket prices will rise significantly, and b) there won't be nearly as many cheap seats available.
We might call it "the gentrification of baseball", and we've just seen it happen in New York. Maybe this makes me a radical, but it seems to me that you should build a ballpark big enough to hold the fans who are willing to pay a reasonable price for a ticket. And considering the Dodgers' attendance over the years -- and those 10 sellouts already this season -- it seems that 56,000 is just about right for Dodger Stadium.
Ah, but that traffic ... Again, if it were that terrible a problem, the Dodgers wouldn't have sold so many tickets over the years (including this year). What's more, I simply don't believe that there's nothing to be done about it. What I think is that nobody's really tried hard enough. Yes, building more roads is problematic because of the cost, and because of the surrounding neighborhoods. But what if the Dodgers offered free parking to every vehicle with more than two people inside? What if the Dodgers subsidized buses from satellite parking lots? What if the Dodgers provided the seed money for some radical new transportation system from a nearby population center?
There's been a great deal of talk about remaking Dodger Stadium, the way that Fenway Park has been remade. In fact, the Dodgers recently hired the woman who oversaw the remaking of Fenway Park. What's odd is that Fenway Park was expanded because there was obviously a demand for more seats. Are the Dodgers really going to shrink Dodger Stadium, in the immediate wake of a huge attendance increase?
The renovation and "enhancement" of Dodger Stadium will inevitably happen, even though there's nothing actually wrong with the old place, in all its early-1960s glory. You know, progress. But I can't help wondering ... Let's assume the Dodgers ultimately spend in the neighborhood of $200 million on Dodger Stadium "improvements" ... What if they assign just a quarter of that money to solving the traffic and parking problems?
Sometimes it's amazing, the good you might do with fifty million dollars.