When a $9 ticket costs $20by Chris Jaffe
June 10, 2013
You have to admit, it’s pretty damn annoying. You buy a ticket to the game and once again learn the wrong way that the face value of the ticket is only part of what you have to pay.
They call them “convenience fees” and “order processing charges,” and if you buy a ticket in advance, you get to pay them. Oh, the joy, oh the complete lack of joy. Depending on how steep the surcharges are (and how cheap the ticket is), you can see the overall price of the ticket double.
This can really be annoying because the team tells you that a ticket costs X-amount, but you end up paying way more. That’s what makes it so frustrating. It’s easy to feel gouged if the add-on costs add significantly more to the ticket’s total price.
All teams have these little add-on costs, but they vary wildly from team to team. Thus, every year here at THT I do my own personal investigation and compare the various surcharges across major league baseball, so you the fan get a sense where your favorite team stands in all this.
So let’s get to it: how do teams compare in terms of these pesky price add-ons?
First, some ground rules. When I look these numbers up, I try to get the cheapest seat available. After all, cheap-seat sitters are the ones most likely to watch their budget, and thus the ones most likely to feel the pinch of the price push-up. For each club, I try to get a ticket to the least in-demand game in September. Some teams sell out their cheap seats quicker than others, so it makes sense to look at the least-in-demand game, and then for consistency’s sake, I check a game like that for all teams.
Key note: while teams nail you with convenience fees and order processing charges, they are not the same. A convenience fee is per ticket, while the processing charge is per order, and it doesn’t change regardless of how many tickets in that order. As a result, I’ll provide add-on costs for teams based on buying both one ticket or four, and I’ll rank them by the four-pack family purchase pricing.
Here are the teams with the heaviest price increase above the official ticket price (O.P. is order processing, Con Fee is convenience fee):
Team Con.Fee O.P. Other 1 Ticket 4 Tickets CHC $4.75 $4.00 $1.51 $10.26 $29.04 NYY $5.80 $3.30 $9.10 $26.50 BOS $4.50 $7.00 $11.50 $25.00 KCR $4.25 $3.50 $7.75 $20.50 PIT $4.20 $2.75 $6.95 $19.55 TEX $4.00 $3.50 $7.50 $19.50 LAD $3.25 $5.10 $8.35 $18.10 MIN $3.50 $3.50 $7.00 $17.50 NYM $2.75 $6.00 $8.75 $17.00 TOR $3.14 $4.00 $7.14 $16.56 SDP $3.00 $3.50 $6.50 $15.50 DET $2.75 $4.10 $6.85 $15.10 PHI $2.00 $4.50 $6.50 $12.50 SFG $2.25 $3.50 $5.75 $12.50 HOU $2.00 $4.33 $6.33 $12.33 CWS $2.18 $3.50 $5.68 $12.22 CLE $2.00 $3.35 $5.35 $11.35 TBD $2.00 $3.30 $5.30 $11.30 WSH $1.75 $4.00 $5.75 $11.00 MIL $2.25 None $2.00 $4.25 $11.00 ARI $2.00 $3.00 $5.00 $11.00 BAL $1.75 $4.00 $5.75 $11.00 LAA $1.50 $4.95 $6.45 $10.95 MIA $1.75 $3.50 $5.25 $10.50 STL $1.50 $4.50 $6.00 $10.50 OAK $1.00 $4.25 $5.25 $8.25 SEA $1.10 $3.83 $4.93 $8.23 CIN $1.03 $4.00 $5.03 $8.12 ATL $1.50 $2.10 $3.60 $8.10 COL $1.00 $3.50 $4.50 $7.50
(Quick note: Toronto figures here and elsewhere in the column have been converted from Canadian to U.S. currency, which is why they never round off nicely).
If you’re just buying one ticket, the Red Sox are the worst, thanks to their massive processing fee. (If you want to torture yourself, try to imagine a bookkeeping system in this electronic age of ours so backwards that it actually costs $7 to process a ticket order).
Oh, those Cubs. They haven’t won in 100-plus years, but they do really well at the turnstiles, so they ramp up the ticket add-on costs like no one else. Actually, you can make a minimal defense for them. While they have some of the steepest price add-ons out there, they wouldn’t be No. 1 if it weren’t for some taxes puts on their tickets.
(The White Sox include their tax price with the convenience fee, which is why they don’t have the “other" column. A few other teams also pay taxes but, like the White Sox, include it with the convenience fee.)
The teams near the top are the ones you’d expect to be there: the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox all have big fan bases, after all.
However, it makes more sense for the Red Sox and Yankees than the Cubs. Not only are the Cubs coming off a 101-loss season and having a dismal start to 2013, but their attendance is down. Two years ago they averaged over 37,000 fans a game. Last year it fell to 35,000, and this year it’s at 32,600. They’ve lost nearly one out of every eight fans in two years. The Cubs on pace for their worst annual attendance since 1998.
Yeah, attendance at Wrigley is more inflexible than at most parks, but it sure isn’t completely inflexible. Here’s a thought: maybe the Cubs are overdoing it with their add-on costs.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, the $2.00 extra for the Brewers comes because they are the only team in baseball that make it impossible to get the ticket without an extra charge. A few years ago, most teams charged you an additional fee to allow you to print your tickets at home. Those days are largely gone, as 28 let you do it for free, with just the Yankees and Brewers charging print-at-home fees. The Yankees charge you $2.50 to do it, but at least give you the option for free mail delivery. The Brewers charge for that, also.
Then again, the Brewers are the only team out there that doesn’t have an official order processing charge. Their mailing/home-print charge is the same thing, though. Why they don’t just dump the home print and include a processing charge is beyond me. From reader feedback to previous columns, I can assure you that few things bug fans more than the old home-print charge. There’s a reason teams went away from it, and it’s not because they felt like making a tad less money off the tickets.
For comparison’s sake, here’s how teams stack up with last year’s totals, in both cases looking at buying a four-pack of tickets:
Team 2013 2012 DIF NYY $26.50 $20.10 $6.40 KCR $20.50 $14.50 $6.00 PIT $19.55 $14.80 $4.75 TEX $19.50 $15.50 $4.00 NYM $17.00 $14.00 $3.00 SDP $15.50 $12.50 $3.00 TBD $11.30 $10.30 $1.00 HOU $12.33 $11.82 $0.51 CHC $29.04 $28.56 $0.48 BOS $25.00 $25.00 $0.00 MIN $17.50 $17.50 $0.00 SFG $12.50 $12.50 $0.00 CLE $11.35 $11.35 $0.00 WSH $11.00 $11.00 $0.00 MIL $11.00 $11.00 $0.00 ARI $11.00 $11.00 $0.00 BAL $11.00 $11.00 $0.00 STL $10.50 $10.50 $0.00 CIN $8.12 $8.12 $0.00 TOR $16.56 $17.00 ($0.44) PHI $12.50 $14.50 ($2.00) ATL $8.10 $10.10 ($2.00) LAD $18.10 $20.85 ($2.75) OAK $8.25 $11.25 ($3.00) MIA $10.50 $14.50 ($4.00) COL $7.50 $13.50 ($6.00) SEA $8.23 $15.91 ($7.68) DET $15.10 $23.10 ($8.00) LAA $10.95 $23.50 ($12.55) CWS $12.22 $25.30 ($13.08)
Only nine teams went up at all, and two of them by less than a buck. (At first I assumed the Cubs' increase was just due to taxation, but no, their order-processing fee went up by 75 cents).
Looking at the list, it’s fun to guess what the thought process was in each front office. Yankees? Eh, they’re big and arrogant, so why not? Besides, they announced this offseason that they’re cutting their parking prices (more on that coming up), so this is a way of getting it back.
Okay, but what’s going on with the Royals and Pirates? My hunch: they both expected to compete this year and really bring the fans back out. The Pirates have done well. The Royals? They had a nice April but then fell apart.
Texas has had enough success lately to get away with their increases, but the Mets and Padres haven’t. The Mets might just be trying to duck under the Yankees. I noted in last year’s column that the White Sox typically had pegged their add-on costs a hair lower than the Cubs, and here the Mets are hiking up prices, but not quite as much as the main team in town. I don’t know what San Diego is thinking, but they did have really low convenience fees last year.
Cynical thought: I wonder if any of those teams lowered ticket prices this year. That way, they could get the nice headline saying “lower prices” and then quietly increase their add-on fees to get the money anyway. As far as I know, no team did that, but it wouldn’t shock me if some team did.
Flipping it around, a third of the teams have dropped their add-on prices, no team more drastically than the White Sox. I wrote an entire column on them last year, noting that they had counter-productive pricing policies. In terms of ticket prices, add-on costs, and seemingly all else, the Sox would make sure they were lower than the Cubs, but by very little. As a result, there wasn’t much reason for a Cub fan to switch allegiances if it meant just a few pennies on the dollar.
I guess the Sox are making a more aggressive effort to grow their fan base by having lower prices. Lord knows they have the empty upper-deck seats to put them in. The damn shame of it all is that the Sox changed their prices just in time for their offense to completely fall apart.
The Angels reduced their fees after missing the postseason. On the flip side, the Tigers did likewise after winning the pennant. That’s nice of them.
Teams reducing the sticker shock
All teams have convenience fees, and when I started doing these columns, they all handled them the same way. All teams told you the ticket cost X dollars and put the convenience fee on top of it.
But baseball has had an interesting development over the years. Now, damn near half of the teams include the convenience fee in the ticket price when you go online. It’ll tell you the ticket costs $10, and when you go to order, you learn that the ticket itself is $8, and the convenience fee is $2. They’ll still put the order processing charge on afterwards, but that’s it.
This is quite the development. Add-on costs are no longer necessarily add-on costs, because they’re staring you right in the face. And it really is nearly a perfectly even split between teams that do this and teams that don’t: 14 include convenience fees in their price, 16 don’t. (Note: all 14 have the same web page layout when you buy tickets. They all let you pick the specific seats you want for purchase, which is another nice touch. So just by looking at a team’s website, you can know in advance how much sticker shock to expect).
Since it’s half one way, half the other way, the difference in sticker shock between teams can be rather notable, certainly a lot more profound than it was just two or three years ago when no team put the convenience fee on the upfront value of its tickets when you went to the team's web site.
It’s a significant enough different to deserve it’s own chart. We’ll call it the sticker shock chart. Basically, it’s the same as the first chart, but for teams who include the convenience fee in the price before you order the ticket, we’ll change the convenience fee to nothing. After all, it doesn’t feel like an add-on fee if it’s part of the initial price you see.
Here’s the adjusted chart:
Team Con.Fee O.P. Other 1 Ticket 4 Tickets CHC $4.75 $4.00 $1.51 $10.26 $29.04 BOS $4.50 $7.00 $11.50 $25.00 KCR $4.25 $3.50 $7.75 $20.50 PIT $4.20 $2.75 $6.95 $19.55 TEX $4.00 $3.50 $7.50 $19.50 MIN $3.50 $3.50 $7.00 $17.50 NYM $2.75 $6.00 $8.75 $17.00 DET $2.75 $4.10 $6.85 $15.10 PHI $2.00 $4.50 $6.50 $12.50 SFG $2.25 $3.50 $5.75 $12.50 BAL $1.75 $4.00 $5.75 $11.00 WSH $1.75 $4.00 $5.75 $11.00 MIL $2.25 None $2.00 $4.25 $11.00 STL $1.50 $4.50 $6.00 $10.50 MIA $1.75 $3.50 $5.25 $10.50 OAK $1.00 $4.25 $5.25 $8.25 LAD Already In $5.10 $5.10 $5.10 LAA Already In $4.95 $4.95 $4.95 HOU Already In $4.33 $4.33 $4.33 CIN Already In $4.00 $4.00 $4.00 TOR Already In $4.00 $4.00 $4.00 SEA Already In $3.83 $3.83 $3.83 COL Already In $3.50 $3.50 $3.50 CWS Already In $3.50 $3.50 $3.50 SDP Already In $3.50 $3.50 $3.50 CLE Already In $3.35 $3.35 $3.35 NYY Already In $3.30 $3.30 $3.30 TBD Already In $3.30 $3.30 $3.30 ARI Already In $3.00 $3.00 $3.00 ATL Already In $2.10 $2.10 $2.10
With half of the teams, the price you see is basically the price you get when you order tickets online. That extra charge is still there, but it just feels so different if it’s upfront rather than tacked on just before you give them your money. I’m less likely to feel like I’m being gouged.
Convenience fees varies by seat price
There’s one last item to check into with convenience fees. Most teams charge higher fees if you buy a more expensive ticket. All the above info is convenience fees for cheap seats. How does it change when you buy the best seat available?
Team Cheap Pricey Dif NYM $2.75 $23.00 $20.25 SFG $2.25 $21.00 $18.75 NYY $5.80 $19.70 $13.90 LAD $3.25 $15.35 $12.10 OAK $1.00 $10.25 $9.25 WSH $1.75 $8.75 $7.00 SEA $1.10 $7.94 $6.84 HOU $2.00 $8.18 $6.18 BAL $1.75 $7.75 $6.00 MIA $1.75 $7.75 $6.00 STL $1.50 $7.50 $6.00 COL $1.00 $7.00 $6.00 LAA $1.50 $6.75 $5.25 ATL $1.50 $6.75 $5.25 CIN $1.03 $6.18 $5.15 TBD $2.00 $6.50 $4.50 CLE $2.00 $6.25 $4.25 ARI $2.00 $6.25 $4.25 DET $2.75 $6.75 $4.00 MIL $2.25 $6.25 $4.00 SDP $3.00 $6.50 $3.50 CWS $2.18 $5.45 $3.27 PHI $2.00 $5.00 $3.00 TOR $3.14 $6.03 $2.89 TEX $4.00 $5.25 $1.25 MIN $3.50 $4.25 $0.75 PIT $4.20 $4.70 $0.50 CHC $4.75 $4.75 $0.00 BOS $4.50 $4.50 $0.00 KCR $4.25 $4.25 $0.00
Only three teams make all customers pay the same rate all over the park. Not so coincidentally, they are have among the highest add-on costs for people sitting in the cheap seats. Two of them are known for routinely having large crowds.
The logic behind raising convenience fees cuts two ways. On the one hand, more than anything else this dramatizes how the fees are about maximizing profitability for the club. It can be infuriating to pay extra for the same service of buying a ticket.
Then again, the more expensive the seat, the less a person is going to notice the little bump. That $19.70 add-on cost at Yankee Stadium gives you a $700 seat. I doubt people willing to spend $700 on a ticket will notice the extra $19.70 all that much.
Or look at that Mets fee, for instance. A $23 convenience fee for a ticket! That’s insane, right? Well, the ticket costs $455. That $23 add-on is just five percent of the ticket cost. Meanwhile, a cheap CitiField seat might have a comparatively meager add-on cost of $2.75, but that’s an increase of over 10 percent to its $20 ticket. (That said, it is pretty insane that the convenience fee there is more than the seat plus convenience fee in the nosebleeds).
There’s another item worth checking on: parking prices. This one is tricky because with some teams its damn near impossible to see the game unless you drive there and pay the team a parking fee. This is famously true of Dodger Stadium. Other places are the opposite. Speaking as a Cubs fan, not only have I never parked in a team-owned lot to watch a Cubs game, I don’t even know where they would be. There ain’t much space around Wrigley.
A few teams don’t list parking fees on their web sites, but those that do are listed below. All figures come from team lots only, because obviously they don’t control the pricing at other places. If a team has more than one price point listed for its stadium parking, I went with the cheaper one.
Team Parking NYY $25.00 NYM $20.00 STL $20.00 TBD $20.00 CWS $18.33 OAK $17.00 HOU $15.00 MIA $15.00 DET $15.00 SDP $15.00 PHI $15.00 TEX $15.00 SEA $12.00 COL $12.00 CLE $12.00 SFG $11.00 LAD $10.00 WSH $10.00 LAA $10.00 ATL $10.00 BOS $10.00 KCR $10.00 MIL $9.00 BAL $8.00 PIT $5.00
Team sites didn’t list parking info for the Cubs, Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, or Diamondbacks. I did a little asking and found out that Toronto charges $20 Canadian to park at the Rogers Center, but there is very little parking there, anyway. A friend of mine said he paid $15 to park at Target Field, but he wasn’t sure if it’s a team lot or not. The Cubs effectively don’t have team parking. I have no idea about Cincinnati or Arizona.
The Yankees announced that they were lowering their parking prices this year, and they did. But they were the highest by a mile last year at $35, so they can both reduce parking prices notably and still be the highest. Good thing for the fans that the Big Apple has a good public transportation system.
The White Sox are near the top despite also reducing their parking prices this year. It was $25 last year, but now it’s $10 on Sunday and $20 the rest of the week (which I averaged out to $18.33 for the chart above). Thus, despite lowering ticket prices, the Sox still are below only the Yankees in their prices six days out of seven.
The Chicago divergence
Each year I try to find some lesson or theme in this, and the most interesting thing I see here is the separation between the Chicago teams. Last year, the White Sox rivaled the Cubs on these lists with their extra costs. Heck, if you were going to park at The Cell, it might’ve been even more expensive than a day at Wrigley.
This year, a clear separation has emerged as the Sox are trying to use people’s pocketbooks to win fans from the Cubs.
Quick comparison time. Say you want to order a cheap seat for when the Sox play the Twins on Sept. 18 and a cheap seat for when the Cubs play the Pirates on Sept. 25. Go to both websites to order the cheapest available, and you'll initially be told they cost a similar price: $9 for the cheapest seat in Wrigley and $9.18 for the cheapest seat at U.S. Cellular. That's pretty even, with an unexpected slight edge to the Cubs.
But then you go through the process. As you go through the online form for the Sox, you quickly learn that $9.18 covers the cost of the ticket, convenience fees, and local taxes. The ticket itself is just $7. All you have to pay on top is a processing charge of $3.75. For just $12.93, the ticket is yours.
It's a very different experience buying a cheap seat from the Cubs. That $9 price is just the ticket. When you get ready to buy it, you learn there's an additional $4.75 convenience fee, a $4.75 order processing charge, and $1.51 in taxes. So you have to spend nearly $20 to pay for a $9 ticket.
Those cheap seats looked so close in price when you began the process, but the Sox came out more than $6 cheaper. The first time you might be able to fool the fan with the similar sticker price, but once you've paid $20 for a $9 ticket, you've learned pretty quickly the gap between advertised price and actual price.
I wonder if the Cubs will respond. They are stuck with a dangerous combination of factors now. They have attendance that is continuing to go downhill, a bigger price separation, and—last but not least—their team is isn’t expected to be competitive for a bit.
Do they ride things out and assume continued fan loyalty? Do they think the team will get better sooner rather than later? Do they figure they need to act sooner rather than later before attendance continues to drop? These are interesting questions the Cubs haven’t had to ask in quite some time.
References and Resources
All ticket prices were based on going to the teams' websites and looking items up by trying to order tickets (though I stopped before actually buying any, of course). Ticket prices are based on the following games for each team:
June 27: Nationals (This was my only non-September game. By the time I realized I was looking at a June game, I already had all the info and decided to just go with it.)
Sept. 1: Mariners
Sept. 4: Brewers, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Red Sox, Astros
Sept. 5: Royals
Sept. 7: Braves, Mets
Sept. 10: Dodgers
Sept. 11: Phillies, Giants, Blue Jays, Indians
Sept. 12: Marlins
Sept. 17: Rays
Sept. 18: A's, White Sox
Sept. 19: Pirates, Rockies, Tigers
Sept. 20: Twins, Rangers
Sept. 25: Cubs, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels
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.