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Posted: Tuesday February 22, 2000 03:36 PM

Suite and Sour  

By dividing fans, luxury boxes ruin what's best about going to a game

By Michael Farber

Sports Illustrated

If in 1977 Reggie Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink, almost a quarter of a century later he has been replaced by someone in a crisp white shirt and a name tag who works in a luxury suite in Your Company's Name Here Stadium. Those carpeted aeries -- served by bartenders, stocked with munchies and TVs, with appointments every bit as swell as Alan Greenspan's to the Federal Reserve -- are the most subversive development in sports over the last two decades. They are, essentially, antisport.

If games that other people play remain a marvelous diversion, it's in part because they're a rare unifying force in a fractured world: Together we trumpet Our Team, the happy conceit that the men on the field or court or ice say something about Us. When attending an NHL or NBA game costs a family of four more than the rent, when the home team (and a dozen others) are available on television every night, the most compelling reason to actually go to a game is for the sense of community. You can sit with 18,499 of your closest friends, sharing a beer and a world view for three hours. The infernal skybox creates a gap more dispiriting than box seats ever did. The luxury boxes' glass barriers divide the crowd into people who want to see the game and people who want to be seen at the game. A luxury suite has all the comforts of home, which is probably where its inhabitants should have stayed.

If the suites were no more remarkable than the intrusion of hors d'oeuvres into an otherwise nacho world, they would be just another wedge widening the gap in America's supposed classless society -- albeit one that is eligible for a hefty tax write-off. They're more dangerous than that. The luxury suite has been a critical factor in sports' wild inflationary spiral, working in lockstep with payrolls and ticket prices. The naked craving for skybox revenue has fueled the explosion of new stadiums and arenas, pleasure palaces that often have been subsidized with public funds. When a new stadium with a glut of boxes wasn't on the immediate horizon, teams like the Browns and the Rams moved elsewhere, to better-upholstered digs.

Franchises might be helpless in the face of suite seduction, but fans are not. To those who resist, we offer a toast -- with suds, not a wine spritzer.

Issue date: February 28, 2000

For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, February 23. Click here to subscribe to SI.

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