April 16, 2014

Times, they are a-changing: Tribe ticket prices become a hot topic

progressive-field-sellout

School is out, the summer months have officially arrived and the Cleveland Indians continue to produce a quality winning percentage within the confines of Progressive Field. As interest in the Tribe continues to improve, demand for tickets has increased dramatically from the basement levels of April and early May. But as this demand has increased, a select group of Cleveland fans has expressed angst regarding the team’s pricing structure, specifically in regard to the pricing and availability of upper reserve seating which had typically allowed fans access to the stadium for under $15, oftentimes as low as $8.

With a quick scan of available seats in Progressive Field’s upper reserve section, fans will find that these seats will cost them $211, with a large section of seats along the first-base line and the right field corner being unavailable. This has lead some fans to believe that the team is holding back the lower-cost seats of yesteryear. Fuzzy math leads to statements surrounding price hikes which can be extrapolated by the old “family of four” metrics. What was, however, is no longer the case.

“There are a lot of misconceptions out there,” said Curtis Danburg, Indians’ Senior Director of Communications, in a phone interview with WFNY. “The fact is, there is no longer a lower-priced, or $8 ticket.”

Like the majority of their peers, the Indians moved to a value-based, dynamic ticket pricing system roughly five years ago under the premise that not all 81 home games are created equal. Supply and demand dictate that games earlier or later in the season should cost less than those in the middle of the summer. Games against the Kansas City Royals or Oakland Athletics should cost less than those against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Mid-week games should cost less than those on weekends. But it is not just the specific opponent or setting which determine pricing—the team has also employed several other value-based mechanisms which allow fans to lower the cost of their experience.

Like the Cavaliers and “Flash Seats,” the Cleveland Indians have rolled out what is called Fan Pass, a paperless ticketing system that allows for the electronic transfer of tickets from fan to fan as well as to fans from the team. Tickets can be electronically stored on credit cards which can be swiped at the gate, allowing fans to not only skip time spent waiting in line at the box office, but allows them to pay less for tickets then they would have to via the more antiquated paper method. In addition to the evolution of the electronic ticket process and the inherent behavioral changes required, the Indians have also employed a mantra called “Buy early and save.” If fans buy tickets to any Indians game in February, they not only pay the cheapest price, but they get the best value.

Where is this best value? The Indians say that it can be had in the lower reserve and mezzanine sections. There are obvious reasons why the team would prefer to have fans sitting lower: It is not only more aesthetically pleasing on television, but it also allows for higher levels of service due to the concentrated staffing of concessions and cleaning crews. All upper reserve seats carry the identical price of $21. As seats in the upper reserve section sell, subsequent sections do open—as evidenced by higher attended games like Opening Day. But as these sections open, the price does not decline as one moves down the first base line.

“We understand that fans are value-conscious,” said Danburg. “For that fan, there is value there. If fans prefer to wait, we understand that as well, but on the other side of that is the value equation. The misinterpretation is that the Indians are holding back their lower-cost tickets and that just is not the case.”

A quick scan of the Indians’ peer group and it becomes evident that the $21 upper reserve tickets are not abnormal. Upper reserve in Kansas City’s Kaufmann stadium will cost Royals fans $26. Milwaukee’s Miller Park is priced at $24. San Diego’s Petco Park has their upper reserve tier priced at $27. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks are lower, priced at $17. When one looks at the average ticket price in Major League Baseball, only the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Diamondbacks and Padres have a less-expensive average cost. Only the Tampa Bay Rays, Padres and Diamondbacks have a lower average “fan cost” as estimated by Team Marketing Report. For 2013, the Indians have the largest drop of any team year-over-year at a -9.4 percent2.

For those fans looking to pay less than the requisite $21, their salvation can be found in the upper level of Progressive Field’s left field bleachers. Where the lower bleachers are dynamically priced, upper bleachers are $10 through Fan Pass and $12 through a printed ticket. For the misconception that there are a severely limited number of upper reserve bleacher seats available for each Indians home contest, Friday, June 21 against the Minnesota Twins—a night that featured the infamous Sugardale dollar dogs and a locally renowned Fireworks display—there were 1,211 $10 tickets in the upper bleachers. The rub is that these seats were sold out by June 10, eleven days before the actual game. The lack of low-priced seats available in these instances is a function of fans scooping them up in advance. Fans who bought early saved.

Taking a macro look, prior to the Indians’ recent home-stand, there were approximately 500,000 seats available at a price point of $20 or less, equating to roughly 10,000 per game. Of the 44 games remaining, 38 had upper bleacher seats available.

The Indians will be the first to admit that one of their goals, as with any business, is to maximize revenue. The dynamic pricing strategies, and various mediums of obtaining tickets, however, are done so to also ensure that the fan experience is maximized. While fans who opposed the team’s current strategies will tout walk-up numbers which could be impacted by the lack of lower-priced tickets, the team takes a bigger picture approach and prefers to look at overall attendance. Fans who buy in advance can seemingly ensure that they can be cared for in a more appropriate fashion.

“If we know how many fans are coming down to the ballpark, we can better serve the fans,” said Danburg. “It helps us provide better service.”

This may be one of the unfortunate byproducts of the evolution in the entertainment-based service industry. Prices being higher during the day of the game are truthfully no different than other facets of the entertainment industry like airlines or hotels. Sure, this causes angst and pain. Change is difficult. But as the industry evolves and the use of technology grows, the Indians will continue to rhetorically ask: “How can we best service our fans while maximizing revenue?”

The team will readily admit that they are in the minority when it comes to closing off levels of the upper deck. This is the obvious byproduct of attendance totals which simply do not meet those that were tallied when the stadium was opened back in 1994. But, again, the team says that this to better the service level—when fans are in a more confined area, concessions can be staffed better, restrooms can be cleaner. Potentially most important to the fans, there is no $8 ticket which is dangling in front of them like a carrot on a string. Sure, this means that fans are forced to pay a higher price, but this is only in the instances of those who wait until the day of an impending game. Progressive Field, by every metric used when compared to peers, continues to be one of the cheapest average tickets in baseball.

Think prices are hindering “walk-up” sales? The top three teams in single-game tickets sold thus far in 2013 are the Colorado Rockies, Diamondbacks and Brewers. For their upcoming weekend series, their upper reserve tickets are priced at $28, $25 and $24, respectively.

Within Progressive Field, bleacher seats can be had for less than $10. Lower reserve seats can be had for prices well below the rest of the league. And if it’s and upper reserve seat that is yearned for, they too can be purchased for a price that is in lockstep with the rest of the league. The advent of third-party sites3 is merely an additional medium for fan disposal, assuming that “value” is the ultimate goal. The Indians insist that said value is there; it simply takes a little bit of advance commitment and the willingness to embrace the technologies employed.

“We want our fans to be educated consumers,” said Danburg. “With the Fan Pass, the value is there and its easier to get into the game as you skip waiting in ticket lines. We realize it’s a behavioral change that everyone, including the team, has to get used to.  We understand that takes time.”

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Footnotes:

  1. Via Fan Pass; $24 at a ticket window []
  2. The Fan Cost Index comprises the prices of four (4) adult average-price tickets, two (2) small draft beers, four (4) small soft drinks, four (4) regular-size hot dogs, parking for one (1) car, two (2) game programs and two (2) least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps. []
  3. Like WFNY Tickets, which can get you into Omar Vizquel bobblehead day for less than $20, for instance []

  • Ammo

    What the Indians are doing is a classic case of relying on MBA arithmetic instead of common sense. The Indians will argue the supply/demand/profit curve for managing crowds the way they do, but at the same time they will enlist the local media to shame the fans (which you KNOW the local media does) for not showing up to the ballpark. Every time the attendance topic has been discussed, what the Indians have done with their ticket prices NEVER comes up for whatever reason. I’m assuming it’s because, until now, most fans (and media alike) were uninformed about the policy (or, even worse, were asked by the Indians to look the other way and continue the PR campaign to come to The Jake)

    Look up the ticket prices of the rest of the AL Central. Aside from those few aforementioned bleacher seats (which are gobbled up well in advance most nights), the Indians have the highest entry-level ticket price in the Central. Those ballparks are either newer or have more recently received serious renovations, too.

    I understand and am ok with dynamic ticket pricing. I am not ok with the entire upper deck being the same price while 2/3rds of the upper deck is not for sale because “it’s the same price.” Anyone who knows typical pricing in other ballparks knows that under NORMAL pricing circumstances, the tickets down the baselines in the upper deck would be cheaper than the prices in the upper deck behind home plate.

    The Indians can argue supply/demand/profit curve, dollar dogs, giveaways (what’s with this first 10,000 nonsense anyway?) and fireworks all they want. They have no reason to passive-aggressively complain about lack of attendance if they themselves are not actively trying to fill as many butts in the seat as possible. It looks bad on TV, probably demoralizes the players (who I doubt know about the ticket policy), and dissuades people who buy tickets same-day.

    In general, the Indians claim to be a fan-friendly organization, while on the flip side, pull stunts like this. It stinks.

  • Harv 21

    When people I know and those commenting here say they can’t afford it, I have no reason to believe they aren’t aware or can’t admit their own reasons. Suggesting otherwise is a little condescending.

    The biggest impact on attendance is the plunge in season tix sales, thousands of seats that 15-18 years ago were owned by companies big and small. I once had steady offers of free tix in April and May when it was cold, and last minute offers to take them periodically the rest of the season. The few companies that still have their seats have fewer. Most of the individuals I knew who had two or four seats they pooled with friends thought of their seat seniority location as investments back then but gave them up in disgust shortly after the big names left.

  • Ammo

    Furthermore, I looked at the Royals’, and tickets in the outfield along the baselines are $14. The Indians? $23.60-$27.60. Furthermore: The Twins? $13-16. Tigers? $15-20. White Sox? $7-20.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    These may be wholly accurate fugures; I haven’t looked. What I do know is that for a mid-week game, the Tigers’ lower box price is $61 while the Indians’ identically located section (firstbor third baseline beyond the tarps) is priced at $40. This, for better or worse, is the value proposition.

    I have no skin in the game either way; just sharing my findings. The proverbial other side of the coin, if you will.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    “Great job on educating us all Scott.”

    You’re very welcome.

  • mgbode

    fantastic. this response is what i was hoping to see.

    what are those ways? we have alot of fans on here, let’s make sure they know all the cheap ways to find tickets and get to games.

  • mgbode

    thanks. just extending the reasoning you laid out well in the article.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Appreciated, sir.

  • Ammo

    I totally understand, and I know more than anything you’re giving the Indians a fair forum to share their side of the story. I’m mostly disappointed because the Indians announced their changes in concessions in order to be more fan-friendly while on the flip side making moves like this. Also, while I understand the business reasons behind it, because Tribe attendance is such a big discussion topic in this city, I find any move that artificially limits ballpark attendance is anti-fan and horrible PR for the Indians.

  • Steve

    No doubt the number of bigger companies moving out of town has a big effect on the season ticket sales, I’ve said so myself before. I’ve seen many examples of the exact same thing, a company moves, or cuts the tickets as a expense-saving tactic.

    But in response to the first paragraph, I’m reminded of a story I’ve heard about Walmart. Customers complained that the little stands and kiosks that stick out of the end of every aisle were bothersome, cluttering up the store, making things more difficult to find. Walmart listened and removed them, and immediately saw that people were spending less at the store and not buying those items that were previously in those stands. What customers were thinking was not compatible with what they were actually doing with their dollars.

    That’s all I’m suggesting, and it’s not condescending. They can get 30k, almost regardless of cost, when fans don’t have to worry about getting up the next day for work or getting the kids to school, and there’s some sort of extra attached to the game. They get half to a third of that when offer the cheapest seats. If people were actually as budget-conscious as they claim to be, they would go to the Wednesday in April game against the White Sox instead of the Friday Fireworks night, but that’s just not happening.

  • Steve

    Facebook and twitter, same as everyone else. They’re working with BP for the third straight year to give out tickets.

  • Steve

    You’re not comparing apples to apples. Those Indians seats are upper deck box, tickets that cost $35 in Detroit, $25 in Chicago, $24 in KC, and $28 in Minnesota.

  • Steve

    Parts of the upper deck are not for sale because people didn’t buy those seats when they were available. It’s as simple as that. Anyone who actually has attended a few games over the last few years will have noticed this. This is grade school level economics, and I don’t know why you’re hating on MBAs, and the Indians, unless it’s some other vendetta spilling over.

    This isn’t a “stunt”. This is the Indians responding to what the dollars are actually doing. People didn’t buy the sub $10 tickets, so they scrapped trying to sell them, and instead focused on selling what people did want to buy.

  • mgbode

    ok, I guess I’ll look it up then :)

    Twitter:
    https://twitter.com/Indians

    note: I went through timelines and I see no special Twitter promotions. This lack of special offerings is what I was referring to. They do a good job of updating on games and going through the upcoming things you can buy through indians.com normally, but no special codes, promotions, giveaways that I see. My point is that they should have it.

  • mgbode

    that isn’t what I understood. it was that fans were buying seats all over the upper deck and that was making it harder for them to staff the concessions properly instead of relegating them all to one region, which makes sense.

    Ammo’s point was that there should still be a section sold at a cheaper price point. I agree with him here. I think they can accomplish both by just putting one cheap section for sale in the corner and staffing that area. Build from HP out towards 1B and then from RF into HP depending on how many tickets are sold.

  • Steve

    As I’m sure you are aware, the Indians official twitter is not the only one in the organization

  • Steve

    Bleacher seats are $10, is that not cheap enough?

    And it was a combination of things, primarily not selling enough tickets to begin with, but yes, the spread of the seats, and of course that most people who bought those cheap seats moved down, leaving no reason for staff to be up there anyway.

  • Ammo

    Not all bleacher seats are $10. On many nights they’re $26-34.

  • Steve

    Correct that not all bleacher seats are $10, they’ve split them into upper (always $10) and lower (variable pricing). If you try to buy a prime (weekend, big opponent, etc) game at the last minute, you’ll likely find the $10 seats sold out, that doesn’t mean they weren’t available.

  • dotwav

    You’re going to make far more money selling 1,000 $24 seats than 2,000 $8 seats.

    You don’t understand how supply and demand works.

  • dotwav

    The ticket prices are fine. Y’all can complain all you want but this is just the norm in MLB.

    The reason the attendance is so low is because of season ticket sales. Which won’t improve until the team can prove that they will be at least in the playoff hunt for multiple years. If we make the playoffs this year you’ll see an uptick in season ticket sales in 2014. But it won’t be till 2015 that you’ll really get an increase.

    The Indians are the third team in a town that is depressed economically. It really can’t support it, though we are trying. Having a good team that will help, but this is really the last chance for the team to stay in Cleveland. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tribe leaves town once the lease is up if season ticket sales don’t improve.