Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are Football Games Worth the Ticket Price?

Be warned: this post is lo-ong, circuitous, and more theoretical than practical.  Enter at your own peril.

Last week, I bought tickets to the Chargers game that was played on 9/11.  I purchased the tickets a few days prior to the game, and so I expected that the seller would expedite the tickets to insure that they would get to me on time.  Although I received the tickets prior to the game, the envelope just had a stamp on it, which means that the seller hadn't shipped them specially.  Although I (happily) got the tickets in time to see the game, I was slightly astounded that the seller hadn't taken more care.

This got to thinking: even though the implicit understanding in the eBay sale was that I would get to use the tickets for the game, all that was explicitly described was that I would receive tickets.  In short, whether the tickets got to me in time for the game was irrelevant; I had simply paid for two, physical pieces of paper. 

If there was ever anything with illusory monetary value, it is a ticket to a professional ball game (or concert, or play, or just about any live event).  In most cases, the only monetary value that they hold is prior to the game.  Who wants to pay for a ticket to a game that has already passed?*  Paying full-price for a ticket past the game's date is kind of like paying sticker price for a car that has already been totalled.

So, it is not that the ticket has a value in itself, it is the experience that creates the value.  The ticket is merely a means to an end.

If you are an elitist** like I am, you are likely aware that a similar idea was put forth by the critic Walter Benjamin close to 80 years ago.  In his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"***, he questioned the value of, say, spending the money to travel to France to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, when you could purchase a post card with a picture of the Mona Lisa for a nickel, and see all that one could want to see in the painting.  Others in writing about this essay, and Benjamin himself, have justified arts by suggested that, when viewed in person, art has a quality that is missing when viewed in terms of a reproduction.

This is kind of my rationale for going to a football game.  While I could watch the game from the comfort of my living room, view the game in HD, and save a bundle of money, I would be missing out on a critical part of what makes the game enjoyable.  The ability to share in the emotions of group over a bad call or a phenomenal effort by a quarterback is something keenly missing in watching the game at home.  There is a wonder and a value in a community of fans, together, in real-time that is absent when watching the game at home, alone.

And those tickets, those pieces of paper?  They are a tangible reminder of an ephemeral experience.  And there is value in that.  While I will not go so far as to suggest that buying tickets and going to football games is a Kantian categorical imperative (e.g., that all men and women everywhere should do what I suggest and buy expensive sports tickets), for me****, the ticket's worth (if I am able to go to the game) far exceeds its cost.

And in this life, that is something special indeed.

*I know, I know, some people want mementos of famous games, and these tickets do have some resale value.  But in general, the point stands.
**I had a professor in grad school who insisted that if somebody had a graduate degree, especially in the arts, that person was automatically an elitist and should not be considered otherwise.
***(An essay beloved by elitists the world over)
****Behold!  The elitist, post-modernist speaks!

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