Sociology at a Baseball Game Part 2: “I Feel Like a Rich Person”

What does it mean to be rich? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath talks about what social class has to do with baseball.

This is the second installment in a three part series on my most recent attendance at a baseball game. In the first part, I talked about racial stratification and segregation. In this installment, we are going to talk about social class.

My family and I try to attend at least one Major League Baseball game each year. We typically buy tickets that are somewhere in the middle- or low-end price range and our the tickets we have bought the last several times have been dependent on coupon restrictions. Each time we attend, we think that next time we will buy all-inclusive tickets. The all-inclusive tickets range in price and options, but all include food and drinks of some sort. This year, I managed to get some coupons to make all-inclusive somewhat affordable. (Does this make me an extreme couponer?)

Our tickets included an assigned outdoor seat with unassigned indoor (and air conditioned) seating, too. These tickets included an all-you-can eat and drink buffet and drinks (with and without alcohol). The buffet included three stations with someone there to serve you. One man was making gourmet macaroni and cheese, another was grilling brats and other sausages, and a third was carving roast beef. You could go to bar for drinks, but servers also came around to take drink orders.

So what does this experience teach us about class?

By examining, some of the features of the tickets the author had, one can learn a great deal about the habitus of different social classes. Sociologists use the term habitus to refer to the way people’s lives tend to be patterned by social class.

We paid $66.88 per ticket with our 50% off coupon. The tickets were originally $133.76. Had we gone to a July Cubs v. Cardinals game on a Saturday night see the tickets would increase to $200 a piece. In other words, these are not cheap seats, but there is some variability in price.

I didn’t think a whole lot about social class until I was at the buffet getting food and I overheard another fan say, “I feel like a rich person.” Immediately, I thought that these are not exactly cheap seats, so this does in fact make you kind of rich. As a sociologist, I then thought about how I might dig deeper into this comment.

First, you are eating off a buffet, you’re not rich. Of course, the buffet, included a carving station, shaved Parmesan cheese on the Caesar salad, and gourmet macaroni and cheese (i.e., it included bacon and blue cheese crumbles). So, maybe eating off of a buffet is only somewhat indicative of social class. The point is that the foods we eat and how we eat them can be indicative of our social class.

Second, you are rich to some extent regardless of how you obtained your tickets. Even if you did not pay for your tickets, odds are that you got the tickets due to your social network. You work for a company that holds season tickets or were given tickets by someone wooing you as a client. You might not be rich or consider yourself rich, but there are people in your social network that are rich. At the same time, there are still private box seat tickets available. In other words, there are more expensive and exclusive seats still available.

Third, you could attend the game and simultaneously watch the game on television on one of the 30 odd TVs in the luxury box. The temperatures in St. Louis reached 99° Fahrenheit that day. The crowd in the inside-seating area was huge. Finding an empty seat was a challenge for much of the game. The crowd outside was much smaller. Many people never went outside to watch the game. There were people who stayed inside and watched the game on TV. They spent at least $66.88 per ticket to watch the game on TV. This could be done at home for free (assuming your TV is already paid for).

So, what does it mean to be rich? Social class influences what and how you eat and how you watch a baseball game, or our habitus.

Dig Deeper:

  1. How is food related to social class? What foods do you associate with the lower class, middle class, and upper class?
  2. You can go even deeper on how food choices indicate class by reading Divided We Eat. Think back on your food choices over the last week, how does what you eat reflect you social class location?
  3. What does social class have to do with watching a baseball game? Are there other differences that you can think of besides those noted by the author?
  4. Visit the games page for the film, People Like Us, here. Do at least one of the games. Did the game(s) accurately measure your social class? Why or why not?