By: Allan Wolper
WHILE POLICE BROKE up protests by Yankees baseball fans who were unable to buy tickets to the division playoffs, the team’s owner was faxing invitations to selected New York City newspaper reporters, editors and executives to attend the games for free.
The invitations were sent out, ironically, at the same time that area newspapers were publishing pictures and stories about irate fans who had camped out all night at Yankee Stadium, but were shut out by a shortage of tickets.
The special R.S.V.P. media list was sent from the office of David W. Sussman, general counsel of the Yankees.
The invitations were faxed to newsrooms and addressed to journalists by their first names. They all were signed by George M. Steinbrenner, president of the Yankees.
The list of journalists was compiled by Steinbrenner and Howard Rubenstein, a politically connected public relations consultant who represents the Yankees.
Rubenstein has been orchestrating a campaign to get public support for the Yankees to move to Manhattan or New Jersey from its 73-year-old landmark home in the Bronx.
In an interview, he insisted the invitations had nothing to do with the Yankees’ attempts to get coverage of its bid for public financing of a new stadium.
“It’s a harmless episode that has gained nothing for the Yankees,” Rubenstein said. “None of the people who were invited were from the sports sections. They all were newspeople. Some were management, and all were known by the Yankees organization to be longtime baseball fans.”
Rubenstein said that Steinbrenner has received some of his severest criticism from the news organizations that the invited journalists work for.
“Some of the worst stories ever published about George Steinbrenner were in their newspapers,” he said. “We certainly didn’t invite them to say ‘thank you’ for their coverage.”
Rubenstein declined to name the newspaper people who accepted the invitation to attend the divisional playoff games against the Texas Rangers. He said the same people were invited to the American League Championship Series with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees also sold an unknown number of tickets to metro area newspapers and television and radio stations, which then resold or gave them to their employees.
In another irony, while local media outlets were getting tickets from the Yankees behind the scenes, many were publishing articles on Peter Vallone, president of the New York City Council, as word leaked that he had purchased tickets from Yankees management for resale to local legislators.
The Steinbrenner letter to reporters ? signed “Sincerely, George” ? was faxed directly to some newsrooms.
It was unclear how many reporters accepted the Yankees ticket invitation. The cover sheet accompanying the Steinbrenner fax noted that the reporters would not be permitted to transfer the tickets to anyone else.
The fax was dated (Thursday) Sept. 26, the day before division game tickets with the Texas Rangers were scheduled to go on sale. However, some reporters received their faxed invitations the next day, four to six hours before the 4:30 p.m. opening of Yankee Stadium and Ticketmaster outlets.
It noted that those invited to the game had until the following Monday at 11 a.m. to R.S.V.P., which was 72 hours after Yankees fans were told there were no tickets available.
The letter from Steinbrenner said:
“I am pleased to invite you to the Division Playoff Series at Yankee Stadium on October 1st and 2nd.
“Due to the new ‘Wild Card’ format of the Divisional Playoffs, we had little advance notice of the playoffs schedule, which explains why I am faxing this invitation in place of a printed one.
“I hope you will join me as we do battle with the Western Division Champion.
“Please contact Lisa Valerioti at (718) 579-4585 or Brian Smith at (718) 579-4504 by 11:00 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 30, 1996 to let us know if you are coming.
“The games are scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. Please enter the Yankees Office entrance (next to the press gate) where you can pick up your game seats at the table in the lobby.”
Valerioti said that she and Smith did not know how the invitations were put together.
“Brian and I are simply the R.S.V.P. persons,” she said in a brief telephone interview, declining to identify any of the reporters who may have been on the list. “Mr. Rubenstein handles all the questions relating to that.”
Threat to move
Steinbrenner has threatened to move the Yankees to the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey, home to the New York Jets and Giants (football), if the city refuses to build a stadium in Manhattan or the Bronx. The Yankees’ lease on the Bronx stadium expires in 2002.
The Yankees owner’s plans have run into political problems because New York is still paying off the 1973-74 renovation of the Bronx ballpark, which cost approximately $125 million.
Steinbrenner has repeatedly said Yankee Stadium, a city landmark, is too dangerous for people to attend, even though the team has consistently drawn over 2 million fans a year.
Attendance for the first two games of the division playoffs ? an average of 57,000 ? was the highest since the renovated stadium opened.
?(JOHN HILLERY/REUTERS) [Caption]
?(Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (right) confers with Yankees executive Arthur Richman during a game earlier this year. Steinbrenner and his PR man, Howard Rubenstein, recently put together a list of newspaper people who were offered free tickets to the divisional and current league playoff games at Yankee Stadium.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Wolper, professor of journalism at Rutgers University, Newark, N.J., covers campus journalism for E&P.) [Photo & Caption]