Much of the media coverage of this past weekend’s Major League Baseball exposition games (Dodgers/Padres) in Beijing has focused on how far the game has to come in China (yes thank you, NYTimes, Chinese people were befuddled by the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”). But after the experience, what I’ve taken away is that it’s China that has a long way to go if it wants to be ready for the games, and I’m not talking about baseball, I’m talking about the Olympics.
Upon arriving (half an hour early I might add) at the Wukesong Olympic baseball field my companions and I were sent to the end of a line that stretched from the “stadium” gate (it’s a temporary structure) to the road. Eventually we got to the head of the queue where we watched gate staff fiddle with temperamental Ticketmaster scanners before ushering us to a metal detector. Certainly annoying, given that we missed the US Ambassador’s opening pitch – which I heard didn’t even cross home plate. Then again, long lines are no rarity in China, security is essential, and I told myself it was our own fault for failing to show up earlier.
But there was no room for “self-criticisms” in the food and beverage situation. Other than two stands provided by Tim’s Texas BBQ, there was absolutely nothing to eat or drink (if there were vendors walking the stands, I didn’t see a single one). And as early as the fourth inning people were returning to their seats with reports that all food had been sold out. No ‘dogs. No chips. Not even a bag of sunflower seeds.
What a wasted opportunity to make some cash. After all, the money to be made at these events isn’t just in the ticket, but in the concessions, not to mention the advertisements on the cups and plates holding said concessions. Last year’s Midi festival got it right with ample eats: lamb chuan’rs, corn on the cob, shawarma, 5 kuai draft beers, a panoply of foreign and domestic delights, all properly abundant and overpriced. These MLB exhibition games, by contrast, were a demonstration that the Chinese have a lot to learn about how to profit off the spectacle (and spectators) of professional sports.
I’m not sure who is to blame for all of this. Blaming “China” doesn’t seem fair. Perhaps it was the people who operate the venue, perhaps it was Major League Baseball itself. But it does make you wonder, if an exposition game of an unknown sport with a non-sell-out crowd can’t go off without a hitch, what are things going to be like during the Olympics? The Olympic Games are a special event, and surely most people will recognize that long lines and other frustrations are a part of the experience. Hunger and thirst, however, shouldn’t be.
If this was a taste of what’s to come, I’ll probably just watch the Olympics from the comfort of my apartment.