PORLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The price of beer at the ballpark is a baseball team's most basic compact with its fans. If a team will gouge you on beer pricing, it will do so on just about any other portion of its business.
This is why steroids, gambling, instant replay, collisions at the plate and just about any other point of contention in Major League Baseball short of a season-ending strike or lockout will still generate less fan rage than the escalating price of beer. There'll be accusations of price inflation. There'll be cries for discounts and reparations. There'll be an overarching argument that the whole thing is unfair ... and that's just the stadium vendors talking.
We learned a few things about beer pricing in baseball while writing about it over the years, but the biggest lesson is that fans, teams and stadium concessions providers have vastly different views of beer pricing at baseball games. From the vendors' perspective, it's not their fault you can't find the handful of places they're serving "discount" beer at the lowest price they quote to sports research firm Team Marketing Report.
To fans, it's just a league that's increased revenue from $1.4 billion in 1995 to more than $8 billion last season squeezing its customers for every dollar it can and providing little in return. The Houston Astros set a Major League Baseball record for revenue last year by slashing salaries to the bone during its first year in the American League and taking in more than $100 million. What did fans get out of the deal? A team that put up 51 wins and 111 losses and trailed the next-worst team, the locally reviled Miami Marlins, in their ballpark that extortion built -- by 11 games.
Fans have good reason for their skepticism. Take the Washington Nationals, for example. Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index puts the price of the cheapest beer at Nationals Park this year at $6.50 for 16 ounces. But Nats fans were quick to point out to The Washington Post last season that the lowest beer price they were seeing was $9 -- or about $4 more than you'd pay for it at the taproom across town.
While the concessions folks have a case if there's even one stand in the building selling beers at the lowest quoted price, it's tough to jump all over the fan's case if vendors aren't basically hiding that low-priced beer. In a climate in which fans aren't afraid to sue when they're being misled about beer sizing and pricing, it isn't in a team or concessionaire's best interest to play hide-and-seek.
Especially when Major League Baseball's average price for a small beer has risen from $5.81 in 2011 to $6.09 this year. That's down from $6.12 last year, but still isn't all that encouraging. At this time in 2011, the highest price for a small beer was the $7.25 the Boston Red Sox were charging at Fenway Park. These six teams have met or exceeded that price, with two teams breaking the $8 barrier.
Even that doesn't quite tell the entire story. The real pain is felt by the ounce, and a team charging $7.50 for a 20-ounce beer is providing far more value than a franchise with the audacity to demand $7.75 for just 12 ounces.
That's the measure we're going to use this year. With help from Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index, we took a look at the Top 10 beer prices in the league by ounce -- but know that even that may be a gross underestimate compared with what fans are seeing. If any of these prices look like outright lies to you, snap a photo of the prices you're seeing and send them my way on Twitter @Notteham: