The Baseball Hall of Fame, tucked in this tiny picturesque village of 2,032 in Cooperstown, NY, has its version of the World Series the fourth weekend of every July, when it welcomes not only its newest class of legends but also thousands of baseball fans from around the country.
Yet while Major League Baseball hikes its ticket prices to the Fall Classic—tickets last year ranged from $50 to $250—the Hall of Fame charges nothing to attend the induction ceremonies on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center. That’s where Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey were enshrined in front of 10,000 people Sunday, July 25.
“We feel that the Induction ceremony is timeless,” Hall of Fame spokesman Brad Horn told TicketNews. “When the tradition was launched here in 1939 to have an induction ceremony, the key point of interest was providing fans an opportunity to catch a glimpse of their favorite baseball immortals. And that principal has really been maintained over the years. The ability for us to keep Hall of Fame weekend free goes hand in hand with what Cooperstown represents.
“We’re not the World Series, we’re not the All-Star Game.”
The accommodations are sparse—fans bring their own blankets or chairs, sit hundreds of feet away from the stage and rely on giant video screens and speakers to see and hear the festivities—yet endearingly down home. Families dug into picnic lunches, games of catch broke out throughout the nearly three-hour ceremony and nobody seemed to mind when heavy showers arrived during Harvey’s speech.
The relative anonymity of this year’s inductees—Herzog last managed in 1990, Dawson won an MVP with the Chicago Cubs but went into the Hall wearing the hat of a team, the Montreal Expos, that no longer exists and Harvey was an umpire—coupled with the lingering recession resulted in the smallest Induction Sunday crowd in at least a decade. But it likely would have been a much tinier gathering without the lure of free admission.
“I’m just a baseball fan, but I think it’s great that anybody who wants can go and watch the Induction,” Margo Johnson of Yardley, PA said Sunday night as she sat outside the Hall of Fame, located about a mile from the Clark Sports Center. “Especially in these days and times. It’s great.”
Added Horn: “To keep that free is something that we’re very proud of. We feel that cost should never prohibit a baseball fan from living what we believe to be the best event of the baseball calendar.”
For the Hall, Induction Weekend pays for itself and then some. Horn estimated that up to 50 percent of the Sunday crowd makes its way to the Hall at some point over the weekend. Five thousand visitors paying $16.50—the admission fee for adults—to enter the Hall would net the Hall a tidy $82,500.
The Induction Ceremony isn’t the only free event during Hall of Fame Weekend: A minor league baseball game at Doubleday Field—the birthplace of baseball—was held Saturday afternoon, a few hours before more than 40 Hall of Famers participated in a parade down Main Street. With so many free attractions, fans have more money to spend in the Hall’s gift shop, which features everything from 50-cent postcards to rare memorabilia costing hundreds of dollars.
“We’re not entirely dependent on Hall of Fame weekend, but because of the large retail component and the typical purchase behavior of fans, Induction Weekend is important to our ability to generate revenue,” Horn said. “It certainly is our most important weekend, the one opportunity where we’re in the spotlight. Every corner of the baseball community, from stadiums in Los Angeles to New York, is aware Hall of Fame Weekend is taking place. It certainly is the best celebration that we do and our signature event.”