50 years of baseball history: Super-payrolls and mega-inflation

Just how much of a difference is there between ticket sales and payroll?  The answer may surprise you. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 – Ticket price inflation runs rampant in all professional sports.  Major League Baseball boasts not only this massive inflation, but additionally a major disparity between its upper and lower circuits.  Ticket price data from 1957 shows that the box seat ticket prices of the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, and Boston Red Sox have increased by 344, 204, and 179 percent, respectively, adjusted for inflation.


(click to enlarge)



Despite the massive increases in price at baseball’s highest level, companion data for the 1957 Springfield Giants (now the Richmond Flying Squirrels), shows merely a 16% adjusted increase in the past 53 years, from $1.40 to $11 even.


But the increases at the major league level are not as gargantuan and profit-driven as they seem at first glance.  In fact, the profits gained from the inflated prices correlate quite well with the bloated payrolls of the three legacy teams in the data set.


(click to enlarge) (Note: Profit is actually slightly inflated, since we’re using only box seat prices. Obviously, not all 3 million purchased tickets were box tickets.)



It seems that instead of creating a crazily large profit margin, these two-fold, three-fold ticket price increases actually fund a payroll in a relatively profit neutral manner.  In fact, our three studied teams come out of average, just $11 million in the black.


So I suppose that this whole article deviated from the history perspective, but it does tie in to the “barely baseball-related” aspects that I promised back in the Introduction.

As an actual conclusion to the impromptu study above, it appears that baseball ticket prices may not be entirely absurd.  While ticket prices have gone up by an inflation-neutral 200-300%, player salaries have increased twenty-fold since the breaking of the reserve clause.  It just all goes to show that baseball is truly a business, just played with hundreds of millions instead of thousands.

For previous installments in the 50 years of baseball history, click below:


The Eastern League

Also, watch for a more in-depth companion article to this one.

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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

Contact Arjuna Subramanian


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