2011: The year that evil became stupid?by Chris Jaffe
June 06, 2011
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.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.