2011: The year that evil became stupid?

It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of fandom, the knowledge that teams use your interest to rip you off.

Five years ago, this was brought to my attention dramatically when an attempt to buy a $17 ticket to Wrigley Field cost me $25. No, I didn’t go through Stub-Hub or any ticket broker. I bought directly from the Cubs—it’s just that they’re “convenience charges” and “processing fees” mean it cost $8 for the right to pay for a $17 ticket. And the Cubs are hardly alone in this matter. Every team has them, some more than others.

That inspired me to do a column on these surcharges around MLB to see how they stack up, and it went over so well with those of you out in reader-land that I’ve updated it every year.

Is evil becoming stupid?

So let’s get it. I checked all 30 teams, looking at what the add-on fees are for a ticket to a September game in the cheap seats. I look at cheap seats first of all because these are, by definition, the places where the most budget-minded fans buy their tickets and thus would be the most rankled by the add-on fees. (Alternately, if you’re buying the most expensive tickets in the park, you’re clearly willing to spend a few extra bucks, so the add-ons matter less).

Here’s how it shapes out, from largest to smallest overall add-on fees:

Team	Con Fee	Process Other	All
BOS	$4.25 	$7.00 		$11.25 
NYM	$3.00 	$5.00 	$2.50 	$10.50 
CHC	$6.35 	$4.00 		$10.35 
LAA	$5.25 	$4.25 		$9.50 
TOR	$5.37 	$4.09 		$9.46 
CWS	$5.18 	$3.50 		$8.68 
HOU	$4.33 	$4.22 		$8.55 
LAD	$3.50 	$4.60 		$8.10 
SEA	$3.84 	$3.90 		$7.74 
NYY	$4.20 	$3.30 		$7.50 
STL	$2.50 	$4.50 		$7.00 
MIN	$3.25 	$3.50 		$6.75 
PIT	$2.50 	$4.00 		$6.50 
PHI	$2.50 	$4.00 		$6.50 
DET	$2.00 	$4.10 		$6.10 
KCR	$2.50 	$3.50 		$6.00 
OAK	$1.50 	$4.25 		$5.75 
CIN	$1.00 	$4.50 		$5.50 
SFG	$2.00 	$3.50 		$5.50 
SDP	$2.00 	$3.50 		$5.50 
BAL	$1.50 	$4.00 		$5.50 
FLA	$2.50 	$2.65 		$5.15 
CLE	$1.75 	$3.35 		$5.10 
DCN	$1.50 	$3.50 		$5.00 
ARI	$2.00 	$3.00 		$5.00 
TBR	$1.50 	$3.30 		$4.80 
TEX	$2.75 	$1.75 		$4.50 
COL	$0.75 	$3.50 		$4.25 
ATL	$1.75 	$2.10 		$3.85 
MIL	$2.50 	(none)		$2.50 

What’s the extra $2.50 charge for the Mets? While all other teams will mail you the tickets free of charge, the Mets bill you $4.00. The cheapest option they offer when buying tickets online is to print them at home for $2.50. (All teams have a home print offer, and they all charge you, normally between $2.00 and $2.50. The cheapest options are the Pirates and Cardinals, with a $1.75 home print fee).

Here’s the most interesting part about the list: Several of the teams up near the top are having attendance problems this year. The Mets’ attendance is down by over 10 percent this year. Well, that could just be Bernie Madoff-backlash against the scandalized ownership group.

More interestingly is what’s going on with the Cubs this year. From one angle, Cub attendance is fine this year. They’re currently ranked fifth in the NL, averaging over 34,000 people per game. A lot of teams would kill for that. But per-game attendance is down 15% from three years ago. They’re per-game average is the lowest since 2002. And back in 2002, Wrigley Field held several thousand fewer seats than it does now. Factor stadium size in, and the Cubs are having their worst year since the late 1990s.

And all the above actually understates the issue for the 2011 Cubs because it assumes all tickets sold really means people showing up. By all accounts, the Cubs are experiencing more no-shows than any time in memory. Also, there’s supposedly far less demand for their tickets on Stub-Hub and various ticket brokers.

One last factor about the Cubs I’ll point out before moving on. In many ways, their third-highest ranking on the list above is too kind. It’s based on clumping all fees together as one, but in reality there is a key difference. The convenience fee is applied on each individual ticket, while the ordering charge comes on each order. Buy one order of four tickets and you get four con fees and one processing (and I assume one mail fee from the Mets).

Well, the Cubs have the highest convenience fee in MLB. The Cubs are the third-worst only if you buy a solitary seat. With a two-ticket order, they have the worst add-on fees in MLB.

Sure, both the Mets and Cubs are having down years, and the weather has sucked across most of the nation this spring, but I find these teams interesting. Even before doing this investigation I’d heard both the Mets and Cubs had their ticket sale problems—and then I see them both chart near the top here.

So, is it finally happening then? Is 2011 the year evil becomes stupid? Teams have added these extra fees to make an extra profit for themselves. (I know Ticketmaster plays a role, too, but when you look at the list above it’s clearly not just Ticketmaster. Making it more obvious the teams benefit from this, almost all clubs offer varying surcharges based on the price of the ticket. I gave a list of cheap seats vs. pricey seats add-on charges last year if you want to look. Things haven’t changed much since then in that regard).

Between increasing costs on one hand and a lingering recession on the other, is this finally the point where it doesn’t pay to escalate these costs?

Beyond the Mets and Cubs, a similar theme plays out. The Jays? I don’t know why they rank so high. They didn’t draw that well last year, and they’re not drawing that well this year.

I don’t get the White Sox. Every year they always rank near the top, just a tad below the Cubs. The Cubs have been able to get away with it in the past because they have a seemingly inflexible fan base that shows up no matter what and consistently fills the park to near capacity. Meanwhile, the Sox have been the No. 2 team in town for over a quarter-century.

This has always struck me as an excellent chance to grow their fan base by being the nicer team. Yeah, they kind of are with their slightly less onerous add-on fees, but there are teams that draw like the Sox do with add-on fees two or three dollars cheaper. Why not try to do that? It’s less money per ticket, but gives you a chance to better play the team against the Cubs, sell more tickets and grow the fan base in the long run.

It’s not just the add-on fees, either. As a result of doing this exercise, I’ve noted one other oddity of Chicago teams: They each have among the most expensive cheap seats in MLB.

When I did this study for the Sox, I looked at a day game on a weekday in late September against the Blue Jays —figuring that’s a game when the most tickets will be available—and it cost $17. Most teams had a cheap seat available for around $10. I could find a $5 ticket in Cincinnati, $8 in Atlanta, $10.75 in San Francisco—and those are good teams.

A few teams are higher than $17 for the cheapest seats I found, but they’re usually from teams with famously supportive fanbases like the Cardinals and Red Sox. Forget add-on costs for a second, the Sox might be shooting themselves in the foot in general.

Fees over time

Still, the main theme remains a possible rebellion against add-on fees. To get a better grip on any possible backlash against the add-on fees, let’s see how it plays out over time. I’ve been tracking these fees for five years now, and here’s how they’ve changed over the years for all the teams, ranked by the biggest difference from 2007 to now:

Team	2007	2008	2009	2010	2011	DIF	
TOR	$3.75 	$7.75 	$10.25 	$6.25 	$9.46 	$5.71 	
NYM	$6.50 	$6.50 	$11.00 	$10.00 	$10.50 	$4.00 	
LAA	$6.55 	$8.05 	$7.60 	$9.25 	$9.50 	$2.95 	
CHC	$8.09 	$8.09 	$8.65 	$9.86 	$10.35 	$2.26 	
HOU	$7.31 	$7.90 	$7.67 	$8.01 	$8.55 	$1.24 	
LAD	$7.05 	$7.60 	$8.10 	$8.85 	$8.10 	$1.05 	
PIT	$5.50 	$5.50 	$6.50 	$8.00 	$6.50 	$1.00 	
KCR	$5.00 	$5.25 	$5.50 	$6.00 	$6.00 	$1.00 	
SEA	$6.86 	$8.45 	$7.93 	$8.21 	$7.74 	$0.88 	
NYY	$6.95 		$7.25 	$7.40 	$7.50 	$0.55 	
STL	$6.50 	$7.50 	$8.00 	$8.75 	$7.00 	$0.50 	
MIN	$6.25 	$6.50 	$6.50 	$6.75 	$6.75 	$0.50 	
CWS	$8.36 	$8.63 	$8.68 	$8.68 	$8.68 	$0.32 	
BOX	$11.00 	$11.25 	$11.25 	$11.25 	$11.25 	$0.25 	
SFG	$5.25 	$6.50 	$5.25 	$5.25 	$5.50 	$0.25 	
TBR	$4.75 	$4.75 	$6.25 	$6.30 	$4.80 	$0.05 	
SDP	$5.50 	$7.00 	$5.75 	$7.00 	$5.50 	$0.00 	
TEX	$4.50 	$4.50 	$4.50 	$4.50 	$4.50 	$0.00 	
ARI	$5.50 	$5.50 	$5.50 	$5.00 	$5.00 	($0.50)	
MIL	$3.25 	$2.00 	$2.00 	$2.50 	$2.50 	($0.75)	
ATL	$4.80 	$5.05 	$5.30 	$5.35 	$3.85 	($0.95)	
PHI	$7.50 	$7.50 	$7.50 	$7.50 	$6.50 	($1.00)	
CLE	$6.10 	$7.60 	$6.60 	$6.60 	$5.10 	($1.00)	
FLA	$6.35 	$6.35 	$6.60 	$6.65 	$5.15 	($1.20)	
COL	$5.50 	$5.50 	$5.50 	$5.50 	$4.25 	($1.25)	
CIN	$6.84 	$7.34 	$4.76 	$4.76 	$5.50 	($1.34)	
DET	$7.60 	$7.85 	$5.10 	$5.10 	$6.10 	($1.50)	
OAK	$7.25 	$7.25 	$5.50 	$5.75 	$5.75 	($1.50)	
BAL	$7.00 	$7.75 	$8.00 	$7.50 	$5.50 	($1.50)	
DCN	$7.00 	$7.00 	$7.00 	$7.00 	$5.00 	($2.00)

In 2008, I waited too long to research the article and couldn’t find any tickets from Yankee games, which is why there’s a gap there.

Again, the same teams appear near the top as before, which makes sense. Only two or three teams have increased their surcharges every year, the Angels, Cubs, and maybe the Yankees. The Cubs I already spoke about. Anaheim’s attendance is holding steady, so if there is any rebellion against add-on costs, it hasn’t hit that franchise yet.

But here’s the real story with the above chart: For 2010-11, MLB broke with all recent precedent and reduced their overall add-on fees. In 2010, the cumulative add-on fees for all the clubs was $209.52, just under $7.00/team. That was more than the cumulative total in 2009, which was more than in 2008, which was more than in 2007. There was an overall upward trend.

In 2011, the total add-ons equaled $198.38. That’s a decrease. It’s gone from about $7.00/team to $6.60/team—nothing dramatic, but still cutting against the overall trend. In fact, it’s lower than the total from 2008 ($198.41, which is only three cents higher, but then again, that doesn’t include the Yankees).

So what does that tell us? Well, I suppose this could mean that teams have decided out of the goodness of their hearts to be nicer to their fans. HA! Obviously that ain’t it. In that case, it looks like teams responded to the sluggish economy by cutting back a bit on add-on fees. And some teams that have ignored this trend, like the Cubs and Mets, are paying a price. Yeah, being evil just might be stupid in 2011.

An incomplete guide to parking

Here’s something I’ve considered doing the last few years: A comparison of parking costs. I haven’t done it because with some teams it’s damn near impossible to get to the park without your car. Dodger Stadium was one of the first great car-only places. Alternately, it’s very easy to avoid parking costs with other stadiums. (Chicago’s Red Line runs 24/7 and goes past both Wrigley Field and The Cell).

Teams also have differing levels of parking available. Just looking at Chicago, the Cubs rather (in)famously have very limited official parking available around the stadium. If you’re paying for parking, you’re far more likely to pay someone with a private lot. Meanwhile, the Sox have plenty of parking on the South Side.

Still, team parking rates are worth looking into. However, with some teams I couldn’t find a parking fee when I looked online. I’m sure I missed it with some cases, but there were times I did everything but submit payment for a ticket and didn’t see a parking pass pre-order. (That said, once I missed some, I got sloppier with checking others). Ultimately, I found parking rates for 17 clubs. The 13 I missed were: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Cincinnati, Florida, Houston, Minnesota, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.

For the other 17, here’s the cheapest parking fee the team offered online that I saw (which is why the column is called “Low Park”—lowest available team parking rate):

Team	Low Park
SFG	$30 
DET	$25 
CWS	$23 
SEA	$20 
TBR	$20 
CHC	$15 
STL	$15 
LAD	$15 
COL	$12 
CLE	$12 
ATL	$10 
TEX	$10 
KCR	$10 
MIL	$8 
SDP	$8 
BAL	$8 
DCN	$5 

I don’t know how easy it is to avoid official parking for most of these teams, but that’s how rates vary. A lot of these clubs have parking available at different rates. For example, if you want a really good parking space, the Nationals will let you have one for $50. But since the article is about anger at extra fees, I went to the cheap end of the spectrum.

On a personal note, the most striking result for me was again the White Sox. Yeah, it’s easy to avoid their parking fees thanks to the Red Line (or Green Line, which is just a little further down), but it’s amazing: The Sox score among the highest again.

They have trouble filling the stadium, and they respond by combining some of the most expensive cheap seats in MLB with higher-than-normal add-on costs and high parking costs. It seems to me they are short-sighted in their approach and are blowing a golden opportunity to siphon off fans from the Cubs.

But the real story is that teams have pushed the add-on fees as far as they can go in the present economic climate. Either they’ve had to pull back a bit or pay the price.

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Comments

  1. Scott R said...

    Nice post. I think the one thing you might miss with parking is that the impact of privately owned parking changes the costs. Sure, the Cardinals have $15 parking in the facility attached to Busch Stadium, but across the street is $5 parking. I know that’s not the Cardinals taking that profit, but someone is. I’d be interested to see how that changes the numbers.

  2. lexomatic said...

    The key to seeing the Jays is to get the 100$ cheap seats season pass (limited in number). That’s 81 games for 1.25$ each. Otherwise it’s not worth going.

  3. Jacob Rothberg said...

    @ lexomatic – I had that a few years ago and it was great. Since then I can’t seem to find them, how do you do it?

  4. Mike said...

    Last year I went to a game in Pittsburgh and purchased my ticket just before the game at a kiosk outside the stadium.  I still had to pay a fee of $1.00.

  5. White Sox Fan Brother said...

    Honestly, I always assumed that the Sox were taking advantage of the poor reputation of the neighborhood around the park. 

    “You don’t want to street park by the Robert Taylor Homes?  Well, you can park in our secure lot!  $23, please.  What?  That’s too much?  Well, if you want to risk parking on the street, go right ahead!”

    But, yeah, the CTA is by far the better way to go.  $4 to park at Cumberland (no parking charge if you can actually walk to a stop), and $4.50 round trip on the Blue Line.  That being said, it can wind up being cheaper to drive and park if you have a carload of people.

  6. Eddie said...

    The Cubs recently unveiled another way to sucker morons (myself included) into paying more for their awful product. Until 2010, the face value of a ticket included all state taxes, including a 12% amusement tax. The Cubs, in a cynical effort to raise ticket prices while lying to their fans about not raising ticket prices, separated the tax from the ‘face value’ before the 2010 season. Their creative accounting has led to an across the board 12% hike in ticket prices. I hate this team.

  7. Alan said...

    The worse scam the blood sucking leeches known as Rogers Communications owners of the Jays is to charge a “convenience fee” when you make a purchase at the box office!!  A $12 seat in the 500 level has a $2 surcharge when I wait in line to buy it at the box office & who knows how much more if I buy on line.  Toronto has some of the worse cash grab fees on tickets anywhere.  And that $100 pass (was $80 4 years ago – 25% increase) to purchase has a $35 processing fee, plus lots of other conditions – no guarantee of a seat; only get ticket on day of game at 1 ticket window, etc.  Sounds good, but the devil is in the details.

  8. MikeS said...

    I agree with you about the White Sox.  As a season ticket holder I avoid a lot of these fees but I still wonder why they are so high.  I thimk from their standpoint they don’t feel they have to compete with the Brewers or Cardinals, just the Cubs and they compare favorably.  It’s the old “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you” thinking.  They don’t seem to realize that nobody has to go to a baseball game.  Then they get you for $23/car and a single hot dog and beer is about $12.

    Any team with a “print at home” fee (all of them?)is just stealing.  You save the team money on mailing and printing costs and they charge you for that?  How does that cost them anything?  There out to be a law.  Pretty soon some team is going to come out with a new fee and in a fit of honesty is going to call it a “because we can” fee.

  9. Crumdawg97 said...

    I’m annoyed by fees as much as the next guy, but your list is a little goofy because it’s only showing totals for single ticket, not multiple ticket, purchases. The convenience fee is per ticket, but the processing fee is PER ORDER.

    For example, the Twins are listed at $6.75 per ticket and the Cardinals at $7.00; however, I just bought 4 Twins tickets that carried total fees of $16.50 (3.25×4 + 3.50) – or $4.12 per ticket. It looks like 4 Cardinals tickets would have total fees of $14.50 (2.50×4 + 4.50) – or $3.62 per ticket.

    A one-ticket analysis bumps up the appearance of the per-ticket fees pretty significantly. And given that a lot of baseball fans are probably going to games in pairs, threesomes or foursomes, some additional calculations might help paint a clearer picture.

  10. branden said...

    the 2 parking ramps (private owned) at target field are $15 for the one right next to the field, and $13 for the one across the street. or you can take the bus which i think costs about $5 round trip per person (at least from where i live) at metrodome, private lots cost anywhere between $5-20 on any given gameday. but i dont recall how much the metrodome parking lot was.

  11. Yinka Double Dare said...

    “That being said, it can wind up being cheaper to drive and park if you have a carload of people. “

    Also, that car allows you to tailgate, thereby avoiding having to buy much of any food or beer in the park.  I don’t own a car, so I’m always a CTA person, but my parents typically drive in from the burbs (they’d be on Metra and CTA, so $23 isn’t that much more than the $18-20 it would cost for CTA round trip + Metra round trip for two) and bring a cooler-load of good food to grill and craft brews when we join them for a game. 

    But yeah, the Ticketbastard fees stink, and I’m sure you’re right that the team is getting some of that given the spread between teams.  And there is no reason for the Sox to not get more flexible with their cheap seat pricing.  Those last few sections in the upper deck down the lines are pretty lousy seats and really ought to be cheaper for the crappier matchups.

  12. Chris J. said...

    Crumdawg,

    Fair point.  I do it this way because it’s easier to buy one ticket from all 30 teams than it is to buy multi-packs. (There’s always one or two teams it can be tricky for).

    I could extrapolate the numbers out though and give a chart for a 4-pack based on what I know of a 1-pack.  I do note in this article that the Cubs are the worst if you’re buying multiple tickets.

  13. Jays Fan said...

    Chris: The Tigers page I went to had parking for $5 (http://detroit.tigers.mlb.com/det/images/ballpark/parking_lg.gif)  I’ve parked there before, it’s not bad. 

    I’ve had a Jays Starpass for somewhere around 6 years.  It’s not as cheap as it used to be (one year, they were selling them buy one, get one free), but for $135 or whatever you get season’s tickets, and the details aren’t as bad as Alan makes it sound.  You are guaranteed seats as long as you show up before gametime, I almost always sit in 524 (directly behind home plate), there’s at least 2 and (IIRC) probably 4 windows devoted to it.  The only downside is the ticket staff are mediocre and occasionally rude, but that’s not much of a problem.  It’s a fantastic deal, worth every penny.

    Last year, because the Phillies series was canceled, they gave passholders coupons for 3 free tickets to any game, best available seats.  Those tickets along cost more than the passes.

  14. bucdaddy said...

    This probably doesn’t show up on your charts, but the Pirates this year decided to tack on fees for walk-up tickets, a couple dollars extra over the face price/advance price. Pretty galling if you’ve supported them through 18 losing seasons and usually decide day-of whether you want to go or not. I’m trying to understand the logic of that, socking it to people who get up in the morning and think, “What a nice day to go to a ballgame!” Trying to force fans to buy season tickets or advance tickets, for whatever reason. Guess they get your money a little earlier and bank the interest that way.

    I went to two of the three games against the Phillies over the weekend and IIRC the parking fees are between $10 and $15 around the stadium.

  15. bucdaddy said...

    Just checked the Pirates’ site and the game-day purchase add-ons range from $2 for the cheapest seats to $5 for some of the priciest.

    Can you imagine? This team lost 107 games last year.

  16. minionwrangler said...

    I went to games at SF and OAK in Sept ‘09.  It was $30 to park at AT&T Park then, but I was already aware of cheaper options a few hundred yards up the road. At Oakland it was $17 for Coliseum parking and I would not be keen to park elsewhere there.  At that time I remember being a bit irked at the ticket fees for both teams but but didn’t feel especially ripped off, whereas in October last year I was furious at how much extra I got screwed for by Ticketmaster on a pair of Golden State Warriors tickets.

    Rapacious bastards extorted $19.90 on two $45 Warriors tickets + a $4.10 processing inc. $2.50 for Will Call because I’m not a US resident. So $45 tickets effectively cost $57 each. That’s not convenience, that’s usury. In contrast whilst collecting the tickets I bought two $46 Raiders tickets and paid the $92 face value and not a cent more.

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