Price gouging in 2012by Chris Jaffe
June 25, 2012
It’s no fun being frustrated. By definition, people don’t like being frustrating.
Few things are more frustrating that the feeling like you’re getting scammed and can’t get around it. You can experience this many ways in life, and one of those ways comes when buying tickets.
Ever since I’ve been here at THT, I’ve done an annual examination of the most frustrating and galling practice in buying tickets: those damn add-on costs that are almost impossible to avoid. You buy a ticket that supposedly costs $10 only to find out that it costs over $15 when all the fun charges are added on.
There are two main sorts of add-on costs, order processing charges and the ironically named convenience fees. It’s hard to find much justification in either. Order processing? Folks, most tickets these days are purchased electronically. There really shouldn’t be much cost in terms of processing charges. And no one in the world has ever found a convenience fee to be in any way convenient.
There is one key difference between the two add-on costs. You pay a convenience fee for each individual ticket, but there’s just one single blanket order processing fee for the entire order.
Despite complaints, teams keep giving them to us, and they are almost impossible to avoid. The only way to miss them is to go up to the ballpark and buy your tickets right there, but that isn’t always feasible, especially if it’s a popular team, and doubly so if you are going with a group.
Getting gouged, 2012 style
I’ll focus primarily on add-on costs when buying in the cheapest available seats. After all, people paying for those seats are the most cost-conscious ticket purchasers.
I’ve checked the fees for all 30 teams. The table below lists the processing charges, convenience fees, and total cost for someone buying just one ticket or the classic family size of four tickets. Please remember that means, in the latter case, a person would have to pay one order processing charge but four convenience fees.
Based on my research, here are the various rates for how teams gouge you when buying the cheapest available seats:
Team Con.Fee OrderP. Other 1pack 4pack CHC $6.14 $4.00 $10.14 $28.56 CWS $5.45 $3.50 $8.95 $25.30 BOX $4.50 $7.00 $11.50 $25.00 ANA $4.50 $5.50 $10.00 $23.50 DET $4.75 $4.10 $8.85 $23.10 LAD $4.00 $4.85 $8.85 $20.85 NYY $4.20 $3.30 $7.50 $20.10 MIN $3.50 $3.50 $7.00 $17.50 TOR $3.25 $4.00 $7.25 $17.00 SEA $3.02 $3.83 $6.85 $15.91 TEX $3.00 $3.50 $6.50 $15.50 PIT $2.70 $4.00 $6.70 $14.80 PHI $2.50 $4.50 $7.00 $14.50 MIA $2.75 $3.50 $6.25 $14.50 KCR $2.75 $3.50 $6.25 $14.50 MYM $2.00 $6.00 $8.00 $14.00 COL $2.50 $3.50 $6.00 $13.50 SDP $2.25 $3.50 $5.75 $12.50 SFG $2.25 $3.50 $5.75 $12.50 HOU $1.90 $4.22 $6.12 $11.82 CLE $2.00 $3.35 $5.35 $11.35 OAK $1.75 $4.25 $6.00 $11.25 MIL $2.25 (none) $2.00 $4.25 $11.00 DCN $1.75 $4.00 $5.75 $11.00 BAL $1.75 $4.00 $5.75 $11.00 ARI $2.00 $3.00 $5.00 $11.00 STL $1.50 $4.50 $6.00 $10.50 TBR $1.75 $3.30 $5.05 $10.30 ATL $2.00 $2.10 $4.10 $10.10 CIN $1.03 $4.00 $5.03 $8.12
If you’re buying just one ticket, the Red Sox are the worst thanks to their super-sized order processing fee. But at least you don’t get hammered with that fee for every ticket sold.
Buying a second ticket? Suddenly the Cubs are the worst robbers of your wallet. And when you make it a pack of four tickets, the White Sox also job you even worse than the Boston squad. Angling to get that last dollar out of your wallet? With apologies to Sean Connery, dat’s really the Chicago way. The Chicago duo has the two highest convenience fees of all MLB teams.
At the other end, you have the Reds, thanks to their barely there convenience fee. (Of course, barely there can still be too much, but the rather cheap rate the Reds rob you at really highlights how badly teams like the Cubs or either Sox rip off their fans). If you’re just getting one ticket, the Braves are the best bet.
As for Milwaukee, they have two oddities. First, this year, and for many years past, they are the only team out there that doesn’t charge the processing fee. That’s nice of them.
However, the Brewers lose some of that goodwill this year with a new policy. They are the only team in baseball for whom it is completely impossible to buy your ticket in advance and actually get your ticket for free. Between home printing, will call, or regular mail, all other clubs give you one option to get your tickets without any additional costs. But the Brewers charge you for all methods. Essentially, they have an order processing fee without calling it that.
2011 vs. 2012
OK, so how does that compare to last year? Let’s look. To make thing simpler, I’ll just look at the cost of buying one ticket in the cheap seats then versus now:
Team 2011 2012 Dif. DET $6.10 $8.85 $2.75 TEX $4.50 $6.50 $2.00 COL $4.25 $6.00 $1.75 MIL $2.50 $4.25 $1.75 FLA $5.15 $6.25 $1.10 DCN $5.00 $5.75 $0.75 LAD $8.10 $8.85 $0.75 ANA $9.50 $10.00 $0.50 PHI $6.50 $7.00 $0.50 CWS $8.68 $8.95 $0.27 BAL $5.50 $5.75 $0.25 BOS $11.25 $11.50 $0.25 CLE $5.10 $5.35 $0.25 KCR $6.00 $6.25 $0.25 MIN $6.75 $7.00 $0.25 OAK $5.75 $6.00 $0.25 SDP $5.50 $5.75 $0.25 SFG $5.50 $5.75 $0.25 TBR $4.80 $5.05 $0.25 ATL $3.85 $4.10 $0.25 PIT $6.50 $6.70 $0.20 ARI $5.00 $5.00 $0.00 NYY $7.50 $7.50 $0.00 CHC $10.35 $10.14 ($0.21) CIN $5.50 $5.03 ($0.47) SEA $7.74 $6.85 ($0.89) STL $7.00 $6.00 ($1.00) TOR $9.46 $7.25 ($2.21) HOU $8.55 $6.12 ($2.43) MYM $10.50 $8.00 ($2.50)
I think we’ve discovered how the Tigers intend to pay for Prince Fielder. Their increase from last year is entirely caused by the rise in convenience fees, so their lead gets even higher if you buy more than one ticket at a time.
It makes sense that the Tigers and Rangers rank so high. Detroit just won their division, and Texas can claim consecutive pennants. They have enough fan goodwill and demand for their tickets to get away with these prices. Colorado is a weird one. Milwaukee has gone up, but that’s because of their new backdoor order processing fee.
Only seven teams dropped their fan gouging costs, and, predictably, those are clubs coming off rotten seasons that need to win over some fan support. Think, as high as the Cub prices are, they were even worse before. Scary.
Cheap seats versus pricey places
There’s another element of this analysis, and it’s one that really highlights how these add-on costs have nothing to do with the service you’re supposedly being charged for. Most teams vary the price of these extra surcharges based on the price of the seat.
Think about that. On the surface, that makes no sense. The service they’re (supposedly) charging you for is the same regardless if they’re seating you in the nosebleed seats or the hoity-toity places. But clubs do like the vary the price of their convenience fee, and it’s always the convenience fee that changes, never the order processing charge. Therefore, this sliding fee is tacked onto each additional seat.
I checked the price of convenience fees for each team not only in the cheap seats but also in the best available. Here’s what happened to the convenience fees when you grabbed the super seats:
Team Cheap Pricey Dif SFG $2.25 $25.25 $23.00 NYY $4.20 $19.70 $15.50 LAD $4.00 $18.10 $14.10 NYM $2.00 $13.00 $11.00 OAK $1.75 $10.25 $8.50 DCN $1.75 $8.75 $7.00 ANA $4.50 $10.75 $6.25 BAL $1.75 $7.75 $6.00 STL $1.50 $7.50 $6.00 CHC $6.14 $12.02 $5.88 CIN $1.03 $6.18 $5.15 MIA $2.75 $7.75 $5.00 HOU $1.90 $6.88 $4.98 SEA $3.02 $7.94 $4.92 ATL $2.00 $6.75 $4.75 TBR $1.75 $6.25 $4.50 COL $2.50 $7.00 $4.50 CLE $2.00 $6.25 $4.25 ARI $2.00 $6.25 $4.25 MIL $2.25 $6.25 $4.00 SDP $2.25 $5.25 $3.00 PHI $2.50 $5.00 $2.50 TEX $3.00 $5.25 $2.25 PIT $2.70 $4.70 $2.00 DET $4.75 $5.50 $0.75 MIN $3.50 $4.25 $0.75 BOX $4.50 $4.50 $0.00 TOR $3.25 $3.25 $0.00 CWS $5.45 $5.45 $0.00 KCR $2.75 $0.00 ($2.75)
This can be pretty extreme, but it’s also a drop in the bucket. That enormous $19.70 fee you get for a Yankee ticket? That happens when you buy a $700 ticket. If you’re buying a $700 ticket, you probably can afford a bit more. The convenience fee is less than three percent of the seat price. Alternately, the $4.20 convenience fee comes on a $16.50 ticket, which increases your price by a fourth.
The surcharge is heavier on the expensive seat but leaves the bigger mark on the cheap seat price. That is literally always the case.
This is one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in the years I’ve examined these costs. When I first looked at pricey seats, only half the teams did this. Now they virtually all do. Only the Red Sox, White Sox, and Blue Jays don’t.
I don’t know what’s going on with the Royals. Maybe I messed up, but whenever I tried to buy an expensive seat, they didn’t give me any extra cost for order processing. That’s never happened before with any team. Are they actually under-charging their expensive seats? That doesn’t make any sense, but it’s what the data are telling me.
New features in 2012
While news on ticket surcharges is generally bleak and bad, there is at least one bit of positive news. For the first time ever, some teams will let you print your tickets at home for free.
Home printing has been an option for years, but it’s always cost extra money, a fact many of my readers have angrily commented on over the years. Personally, I’ve never considered it a big deal because clubs give you the option to have the tickets mailed to you for free. Home printing charges struck me as a convenience fee in the most literally way: they’ll charge you a fee for making things a bit more convenient (but still give you a free option).
This year, a complete switch as occurred. Almost every team let’s you print at home for free. Two that still charge you are the Yankees ($2.50), and Brewers ($2.00). So the actual process of getting tickets has improved.
There’s a corresponding trend the other way, though. Now some teams are starting to charge you for mailing tickets, which wasn’t previously the case. Frankly, this makes a little bit of sense as they have to pay postage themselves. (Then again, their mailing cost is well over the actual postage payment, so they’re still angling to make a buck here.)
Almost all teams still give you freely mailed tickets, but not the Mets ($5 to mail!), Royals ($3), Cubs ($2.50), Brewers ($4), Braves ($2.50), and Padres ($5). Last but not least, in an unprecedented maneuver, the Miami Marlins flatly do not even give you the option of postal service mailing. I’ve never seen that before, but there you go.
Fearless prediction: in the coming years, more teams will charge for mailings, but free home prints are likely here to stay.
There’s another trend that I generally approve of. Some teams are openly including the cost of their convenience fee right in the ticket price itself. What I mean is this. Go to, oh, let’s say the White Sox webpage to buy a ticket for the Sept. 27 game against the Devil Rays. It’ll tell you the cheapest seat is $16.45. When you click on it, though, you’ll find the seat itself costs $11 and the remaining price is the convenience fee.
I’m sure as hell no fan of the convenience fee, but I’d rather teams put it in the ticket price up front. It’s more honest that way. And until recently, no teams did that. Now about half of them do: the White Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Indians, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Reds, Braves, D-backs, Dodgers, and Rockies.
For others, you’re told the ticket price is X, and then when you purchase it, the price for that ticket has suddenly gone up by a few dollars, plus the processing fee for the entire order. So there’s a bit more transparency going on.
Putting it all together
Let’s look at it this way, which teams cost you the most money when you want to catch a game in the cheap seats?
For this we’ll add in several features: 1) ticket price of the cheap seat, 2) add-on costs, and 3) parking. The last one I include with some reservations because I couldn’t find official team parking prices for all squads. Also, in many cases you can park on side streets for a fraction of the cost or take public transportation. For consistency’s sake, I’m using parking prices given by team lots that I found on the team’s websites. In most cases, they offer you a parking pass when you buy your ticket.
With that qualifier in place, here is ranking of the most expensive places to see a game cheaply—even if you don’t buy any food or memorabilia—organized by someone buying four tickets (though I’ll give you the price for someone buying one ticket as well):
Team Ticket Con.Fee Other Process Park 1Ticket 4Tickets NYY $16.50 $4.20 $3.30 $35.00 $59.00 $121.10 PHI $17.00 $2.50 $4.50 $15.00 $39.00 $97.50 LAD $16.00 $4.00 $4.85 $10.00 $34.85 $94.85 CWS $11.00 $5.45 $3.50 $25.00 $44.95 $94.30 DET $14.00 $4.75 $4.10 $15.00 $37.85 $94.10 BOX $12.00 $4.50 $7.00 $20.00 $43.50 $93.00 MYM $12.00 $2.00 $6.00 $20.00 $40.00 $82.00 ANA $12.00 $4.50 $5.50 $10.00 $32.00 $81.50 MIA $13.00 $2.75 $3.50 $15.00 $34.25 $81.50 COL $14.00 $2.50 $3.50 $12.00 $32.00 $81.50 SEA $12.00 $3.02 $3.83 $15.00 $33.85 $78.91 CHC $8.00 $6.14 $4.00 $18.00 $36.14 $78.56 MIN $11.00 $3.50 $3.50 $7.00 $25.00 $68.50 SDP $10.00 $2.25 $3.50 $15.00 $30.75 $67.50 TBR $9.00 $1.75 $3.30 $20.00 $34.05 $66.30 KCR $10.00 $2.75 $3.50 $10.00 $26.25 $64.50 OAK $9.00 $1.75 $4.25 $17.00 $32.00 $64.25 CLE $10.00 $2.00 $3.35 $12.00 $27.35 $63.25 TOR $11.00 $3.25 $4.00 $18.25 $61.00 MIL $9.00 $2.25 $2.00 None $14.00 $27.25 $61.00 DCN $10.00 $1.75 $4.00 $10.00 $25.75 $61.00 ATL $10.00 $2.00 $2.10 $10.00 $24.10 $60.10 PIT $10.00 $2.70 $4.00 $5.00 $21.70 $59.85 SFG $11.25 $2.25 $3.50 $17.00 $57.50 TEX $7.00 $3.00 $3.50 $12.00 $25.50 $55.50 BAL $9.00 $1.75 $4.00 $8.00 $22.75 $55.00 HOU $5.00 $1.90 $4.22 $15.00 $26.12 $46.82 STL $5.00 $1.50 $4.50 $15.00 $26.00 $45.50 ARI $8.00 $2.00 $3.00 $13.00 $43.00 CIN $5.00 $1.03 $4.00 $10.03 $28.12
The Yankees? Yeah, that’s not too surprising. They’ve gunned up their parking price through the roof this year.
The White Sox? Yeah, that is a bit more surprising, namely in that they have trouble filling their cheap seats. Gee, I think I just found out why. Aside from the second-highest convenience fee in baseball, they also have the second-highest parking fee. Now, you can get around that easily with the Red Line, but if you’re taking four people, you still have to pay some money going back and forth on the Red Line (especially if you have to pay to park at your stop on Chicago’s 'L' system).
The Reds are the best. Sure they’re low in part because I couldn’t find parking for them, but if they have a typical parking cost, they’d still be the lowest.
The best value out there has to be the cheap seats in St. Louis. Just $45.50 and a family of four can see the defending world champs play a game? Yeah, I’ll take that thank you.
Maybe that’s only a rare thing for St. Louis. Many teams have variable pricing based on the opponents, and the Cards might be one of those teams. Still, I doubt many teams will give you an offer that good at any point in time this season. If the Cardinals don’t have variable pricing, then they really do have a special offer going.
The worst deal in baseball: Wrigley Field
There is one team whose totals above I know for a fact are warped by variable pricing: the Chicago Cubs.
When researching this article, I looked up a September weekday night game for each team, making sure it wasn’t against a particularly important rival. The Cubs only have three home night games in September, and all are against weak opponents. As a result, the Cubs, one of the pioneers in variable ticket pricing, have those among their cheapest games of the year.
Let’s look at a night game in August. If you go to the Cubs-Astros game on August 14, here’s what you have to contend with. First, the cheapest seats are nowhere near $8. Despite Houston being a sad sack team, the cheapest seats will cost you $19 per person.
And that’s just the official price. There’s still that damn convenience fee. The Cubs’ major league-leading $5.40 convenience fee skyrockets up to $7.10 per ticket. (Random side note: I’ve never checked to see if teams raise their convenience fees from game to game. I wonder how common this is?)
The rest stays the same, but if you’re buying a four pack, it’s $126.40 including parking. That’s second only to the Yankees. Now, you can avoid parking on any team-owned lots (hell, I’ve never even seen any team-owned lots in my trips there), but you might end up paying a similar total for parking on a side street.
If you’re buying just for yourself, it’s also second-highest in the majors.
And what do you get for their world-class gouging? Not only can you see a team that hasn’t won a world title in 100-plus years, but you get to see a club that has the worst record in baseball this season. Lucky you!
Oh, there’s one other fun features with the Cubs. Like many teams, they offer you a parking price when you buy your seat, but they go about it unlike any other club. Other clubs either have one set rate for their parking places or the default option is the cheapest parking space they’ll charge you. Not the Cubs. Their defaults rate is the highest price available—$37 for the games I saw—even higher than the Yankees fee.
So if you’re not careful or unsure about parking by the stadium, you can easily end up spending more for your cheap seat(s) than even Yankee fans would in their stadium.
References and Resources
I checked team websites for add-on costs for all 30 teams. To keep things consistent, I picked a night game on a September weekday against a non-rival for all 30 teams. There's a chance some of these costs were a bit off due to variable pricing, as is certainly the case with the Cubs.
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.