Friday, September 14, 2007

Will tiered pricing price you out?

What happens when Greg Oden isn't there to justify the Portland price hike? (Credit: RM)

I don’t have an economics degree (that’s Travis), but anybody would agree that tickets to certain games are in higher demand than others. Obviously, you have your Super Bowl or Final Four tickets, but what about individual games during the season for your favorite franchise?

It’s arguable that NBA fans would pay more to see LeBron James rather than Antoine Walker, but this week has brought a new test to the theory.

For season ticket holders of the San Antonio Spurs, individual game tickets went on sale this week and there was a noticeable bump on the prices of some games. Fans with the option to buy now are reporting the season-opener against Portland, as well as games against conference rival Phoenix and intra-state rivals Dallas and Houston are higher than most other games.

A supposed Spurs season-ticket holder said prices were increasing about 50-100 percent for the aforementioned games. That’s interesting.

A look at the seating chart and pricing (warning: PDF) for the AT&T Center reads "Tiered pricing will be in effect for select games."

I believe people will pay more for better games with arguably better players. The initial reaction around the Spurs message boards when Thursday’s news of the injury to Greg Oden and the ticket pricing was discovered was that the price for the Trail Blazers game might drop. That’s not going to happen considering it’s also expected to be the night when the Spurs receive their championship rings.

But think for a second if the game were scheduled a week later – would the pricing have to drop some with Oden missing the game? The casual NBA fan might not be so apt to shell out a little more money for the game while a deeper fan would recognize the Blazers have a solid, young core of players in Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Sergio Rodriguez and Raef LaFrentz (okay, you can stop laughing at the last one) that should be very entertaining to watch develop into a championship contender once their man in the middle returns.

What happens if Dirk Nowitzki goes down with an injury a month before Spurs vs. Mavs? Do the Spurs drop prices on tickets and risk an iPhone-like backlash or do they run the risk of not selling out the arena for what would still likely be a nationally-televised game?

The Spurs dealt with an embarrassing ticket situation following the Western Conference Semifinals against Phoenix last season. Following the emotional exhaustion of the victory over the Suns, there was such a quick turnaround – late Friday to midday Sunday/Father’s Day – to the matchup against the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, that the game didn’t come relatively close to a sellout (officially more than 450, but eyewitness accounts bump that number a little higher).

On the flip side, would teams reduce prices for games that might not sell? Doubtful. First, if your team is successful at bringing in fans at your pre-determined price, why drop the price and lose profits? People are already paying the set price and I don’t see a backlash coming unless your team flat out sucks and ownership fails to try and pour money back into the franchise to rebuild (see: Pirates, Pittsburgh; Lions, Detroit).

But as the NBA has seen its marketing go time and again (and as Scooter has pointed out) with the focus on individuals versus teams, the time when ticket prices rise for a game against a great team with less marketable (for whatever reason) stars will not come soon enough.

Granted, this is nothing new and MLB is approaching record attendance numbers (most on the high side and a few on the low side). The other factors will come into play, too, such as overall ticket pricing, local market economy, total costs of attendance, etc.

So the question finally arises: At what price point will you pay to see your favorite team play against a stellar rival versus one against an also-ran? Would you also demand to pay less for the lesser teams?


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Joe is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.

Not a lot of fish in the sea

So lonely...

Have you ever gone to a baseball game and tried to sneak into better seating than you purchased? If so, then Wednesday’s Nationals-Marlins game appears as if it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge.

According to published reports, there were around 400 people in the stands at Dolphins Stadium at the start of the game even though the paid attendance number floating around is 10,121.

Any team official worth their embroidered team shirt will tell you it’s the gate that counts, but this is simply embarrassing for the Marlins and the people of Miami. But they’ve pretty much shown they couldn’t care less about the pinstriped fish until they make the postseason.

In fact, the crowd was so sparse; a fan was ejected for heckling home plate umpire Paul Schreiber so loud his jeers were apparently heard on the telecast. The Washington Post (with such a delicious word play on its headline) describes the scene:

The man was so loud, and the atmosphere so quiet, the fan could be heard saying "you don't make more than me" on the television broadcast as he was forced to leave.

I haven’t overheard anything yet, but I’m just picking random spots before the fifth and listening for an at-bat or so. I do hear an echoing chant of “Let’s go, Marlins,” though. After continuing to watch and listen to the broadcast, I can hear distinct heckles, but not enough to hear exactly what’s being yelled.

Speaking of paychecks, Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo (1 for 6 with a 2-run homer) could have taken his game check and purchased an authentic Marlins cap for each fan through the gate at Dolphins Stadium. Olivo reportedly is making $2 million this year / 162 games = just over $30.

He might want to do that. I don’t think the Marlins can afford to lose any more fans.

Enough of that, though. Let’s look at the major money factor. Ten thousand paid seats sold and a crowd of about 400 can’t be profitable unless the concessions operator closed all but two beer stands and jacked up the price of a brew to about $450/cup.

Talk around the Miami area says people don’t want to sit during midday heat and humidity to watch a battle for the first amateur draft pick and that’s totally understandable. It’s just I just can’t imagine the profits of a team like this and sadly, I also can’t picture how an indoor stadium or one with a retractable roof will suddenly bring the gate attendance to the fifth digit.

The city of Miami does not deserve a team they can’t – or choose not to – support.

On the same evening, the San Antonio Missions (the Double-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres) drew around 3,200 for the second game of the Texas League’s championship series. Knowing the attendance numbers at that ballpark, it was probably a solid 2,800. Lately, the weather has been just as unbearable in SA as it reads in Miami – and granted the TLCS was a night game – but even this city that rarely supports any franchise not named the Spurs showed some support for the home team.

Well, enough support to make sure the concessions employees were paid.


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Joe is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.