Whose Stadium Is It, Anyway?

Unable to score admission to the biggest athletic events of the season? You weren't alone. Tickets for the Astros' first game at Enron Field March 30 and the April 7 season opener were sold out by mid-morning of their release date in January.

The Astros and everyone else connected with the ticket sales assured the public that nobody was playing favorites in the rush to land an opening-day seat. After all, this was a sports park for the common people -- the public had to approve it in an election, and the public is paying the taxes to support it.

So those who wanted single-game tickets first had to show up to claim a numbered wristband, then wait in the crowd days later as an unbiased lottery drawing determined who got the seats.

If their long waits in line proved unsuccessful, baseball fans' only remaining chances at an early peek at the new ballpark were prohibitively expensive: Tickets went for up to $325 with local ticket brokers and $250 on eBay.

Why the sellout scramble? It's not just the citywide fascination with the new stadium's retractable roof. There simply weren't many tickets available. At 42,000 seats, Enron Field is already 13,000 seats smaller than the Astrodome. And a record 21,000 of those seats have already been spoken for by season ticket holders. That leaves just half for the general public to buy on a single-game basis, or so it would seem.

Matt Rogers, a ticket-sales spokesman for the Astros, claims that group sales (of 25 or more tickets) were not allowed for either the March 30 exhibition game or the April 7 season opener. "We felt those were such important days in the life of the community with the new stadium opening," he says. "We wanted to maximize the number of tickets available to individuals and families."

It sounds fair enough, but contrary to claims made by the Astros, some individuals and families had a better chance at the much-desired tickets than others.

According to an Enron e-mail sent to its area workers, employees of that company could snatch up to four tickets each for both Yankee exhibition games and the season opener against Philadelphia. And they could buy up to eight tickets each for the April 1 exhibition game with the Texas Rangers -- all at face value of $10 to $12.

Enron spokesman Mark Palmer says that the company purchased approximately 1,800 tickets from the Astros for these first four games and then sold them to employees. Enron started trying to buy "as many tickets as the Astros would sell to us," he says, back in August and September of last year, well before the January release date. It seems that the corporation's $100 million naming-rights deal with the Astros got the company far more than a sign on the stadium. In fact, says Palmer, the deal included "the ability to buy tickets on a space-available basis." Since there is no "space available" on opening day, the corporation is apparently getting preferential treatment. It was unknown how many other special Astro "thank you's" are being said with set-aside seats to the first games in the new ballpark.

Looks like the unconnected baseball fans will just have to wait for a mid-season slump to get into "our" stadium.

E-mail Lauren Kern at lauren.kern@houstonpress.com.


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