Ticket cost by demand is drawing wider look

O's unlikely to introduce `variable' prices next year

October 30, 2002|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Cleveland fans will pay $5 more per ticket to attend the most sought-after games at Jacobs Field next season as the Indians become the latest sports team to adopt a "variable pricing" plan.

The strategy, which has been employed in college sports for years, is based on the idea that some games command more interest and should cost more to attend. Accordingly, a handful of baseball and hockey teams are charging more for games on weekends or against desirable opponents, and experts say they think the concept will spread.

Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said the team has studied the idea but is unlikely to introduce variable pricing next season. "It's under study," he said.

In Cleveland, 10 games will carry a $5 surcharge for single-game sales. The "showcase" games are Opening Day and series against the Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

"We thought 10 games was a good way of introducing the idea of variable pricing," said Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio.

Attendance at Jacobs Field fell last season to 2.6 million, making a general ticket-price increase impractical. But the selective increase - which will not apply to season-ticket or partial season-ticket plans - is expected to raise up to $1.5 million in added revenue.

The Colorado Rockies were the first baseball team to adopt variable pricing, starting with the 1998 season.

"We tried to take the burden of increasing revenue off of our season-ticket holders," said Jay Alves, a team spokesman.

For the just-completed season, the price of a seat to a Rockies game varied by as much as $9 depending on whether it was part of a season-ticket plan, featured a divisional rival or was played in the poor-weather early season or warmer summer months.

For next year, the team is considering paring the number of categories to reduce confusion. Each single-game ticket was assigned one of four categories last season: value, division, premium and classic.

San Francisco charged anywhere from $2 to $5 more per ticket, depending on location, for weekend games. St. Louis added $1 to the adult price for tickets to games in June, July and August.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays announced this month that they will drop the price of some games and charge more for the Yankees and Atlanta Braves next year.

"I think it's a great idea. How can you compare a Friday night Yankees game at Tropicana Field with a Wednesday night game against Kansas City? It's not the same value, so why should you pay the same?" said Bob Leffler, head of the Leffler Agency, a Baltimore-based marketing firm that represents a number of sports teams.

He said more teams will adopt the strategy.

In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins are charging an extra $5 per ticket this season for weekend home games. Teams in Vancouver, Ottawa and Tampa Bay also have instituted some form of variable pricing.

No NBA team has adopted variable pricing, and none is seriously considering it, according to a statement by Bernie Mullin, an NBA senior vice president.

NFL teams play only eight regular-season games a year, mostly on Sundays, and sell most of their seats to season-ticket holders, which makes the league a poor candidate for alternative pricing, said Dan Migala, executive editor of Team Marketing Report. The newsletter follows sports ticketing.

The idea of linking price and demand is hardly new. Movie theaters and Broadway shows have offered discounts for sparsely attended matinees for years. Bridge and tunnel tolls, airline seats and even electricity rates are often priced to reflect time of use. But until recently, professional sports teams were reluctant to break with the one-seat, one-price rule.

"Ticket pricing has been kind of old-fashioned in all sports," said Paul Staudohar, a business professor at California State University and author of Diamond Mines: Baseball and Labor.

Fans shouldn't be fooled, though. With rare exception, reductions on some tickets won't offset the increase in premium seats, he said. "I think the consumer gets the shaft here because the total cost of tickets is going up," he said.

And, despite what teams often say, they aren't forced to increase ticket costs because players are getting fatter paychecks. Economists say ticket cost is set by demand and player pay by negotiations. Studies show no correlation between the two, he said.

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