HIGHTOWER: Squeezing Out the Real Fans

Time again for Hightower Radio's "Wide, Wide, Wide, Wild World of Sports."Today's feature: The Squeeze Play! Not the classic baseball maneuver of the runner on third stealing home, but of us fans being able to squeeze our bodies -- okay, let's just admit it: our butts -- into the incredibly shrinking seats at today's sports stadiums. If you enjoy being jammed up in the coach section of airplanes -- you'll love the new and renovated stadiums that now treat paying customers as sardines.The Wall Street Journal reports that Atlanta's new basketball and hockey arena offers seats only 18 inches wide for most of its fans to squeeze into, as does the new Nashville football stadium, and the new basketball center for the Boston Celtics. Not only are the seats narrowing, but the rows are being jammed closer together, and there are fewer aisles -- making it an ordeal to leave your cramped seat to take a bathroom break or get a beer.All this compressing is being done, of course, to put more bucks in the owners' pockets and to make more room for sky boxes -- those spacious, luxury quarters reserved for the corporate customers, who are carefully segregated from the real fans. Today's sports palaces not only pamper the upscale clients with roomy sky boxes and padded executive chairs, but with gourmet grub, outdoor balconies, and even boat docks if your party wishes to yacht to the game.Meanwhile, your ordinary fans are sitting in chairs built for grade-schoolers, paying higher ticket prices than ever, and grumbling about what some call "fannygate." A Portland Trailblazer fan, who dropped the season tickets he held for 22 years, after being insulted by the tiny seats in the new arena, said: I don't mind sitting on a wooden bench for $7, but [for], $60 I expect a certain comfort level.This is Jim Hightower saying ... It's a part of the owners' efforts to shut out regular folks and convert the games to upscale entertainment parlors.

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