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The Astros are gouging their fans

From the Department of Things I Did Not Know:

As Major League Baseball does all it can to get recession-strapped fans through the turnstiles, a day at 29 of 30 MLB ballparks includes the option of bringing your own sandwiches, snacks, bottled water, soft drinks or, in some cases, all of the above. That leaves the Astros, and their stance on the matter is stated in their A-to-Z fan guide for Minute Maid Park.

"Visitors may not bring food or beverage items into the ballpark," it says.

I was shocked to read that the Astros are the only club that does not allow outside food. I was even more shocked at how pathetic the Astros' justifications for this policy truly are. Owner Drayton McClane says that banning outside food at Astros games "has been kind of a tradition in Houston." Yeah, it would take someone with some real power to change such a beloved and time-honored tradition like that. Someone like, oh, I don't know, THE TEAM'S OWNER.

But maybe McLane is just a big picture guy who was caught off guard by the question. Maybe there exists some real business justifications for such an out-of-step and fan un-friendly policy. Let's hear from the Astros' President of Business Operations, Pam Gardner:

As for the Astros, Pam Gardner, the team's president for business operations, said the team has opted to provide less expensive tickets rather than following suit with other teams regarding food and beverage rules. "Our financial model, dating back to the Astrodome, was dependent on a number of revenue areas, including food and beverage," Gardner said in an e-mail. "We elected to make our appeal to fans in the form of a $7 and $1 ticket every day. I don't think you will find many teams offering a $1 ticket."

And she's right about that. What she leaves out, however, is that according to the most recent Team Marketing Report, the Astros actually have the tenth highest average ticket price among all Major League teams at $28.73 a pop (the average, pulled up by the Yankees, is $26.64). That represents a nearly 4% increase over last year, despite the bad economy and the lackluster roster. It's also worth noting that the Astros sport above average prices for soft drinks, hot dogs, parking and programs. So sure, cherry pick those few cheap seats you're offering, but you're still charging people more on average for their tickets and higher prices for the hot dogs and Mr. Pibb you're peddling.

What else ya got, Ms. Gardner?

Gardner also noted that the Astros' relationship with Aramark, which operates concessions and/or premium food services at 13 MLB parks, including Minute Maid, "is predicated on their exclusivity on food and beverage."

Actually, the article is wrong about that. Aramark operates in fifteen Major League stadiums. And they have no problem working in fourteen that allow outside food. Sure, I'll grant that the seemingly powerless Mr. McClane might cave to Aramark on this point faster than the savvy Peter Angelos in Baltimore or John Henry in Boston, but he does have the tough and decptive Ms. Gardner working for him, so I have to assume that if they really wanted to push back on the terms of the Aramark deal they could.

A weak showing all-around, Houston. Quit being cheap and let your fans bring in a bottle of water or a peanut butter sandwich for crying out loud.