Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Future of Ticket Prices

One of my biggest expenses as a sports road tripper is game tickets. Next to accommodation, the actual sporting events are where most of my cash goes. Naturally, I try to be as thrifty as possible. I rarely buy tickets in advance because my plans often change and TicketMaster fees are outrageous. I either use the box office on game day or find someone who has an extra. At all times though, I'm aware of the face value of the ticket so I have an idea what I should be paying.

In the olden days (about 10 years ago), teams generally had the same pricing structure for each game during the season. A ticket would cost the same regardless of the occasion or the opponent. It was easy to study the seating chart and figure out the best place to sit as well as what would be a reasonable amount to pay to a scalper. Well, those simple days are fast disappearing. First there was variable pricing, where teams would set three or four pricing structures depending on the opponent. Rivalry games, opening day, and big stars generate more demand from fans, and therefore prices are higher. Similarly, a weak visiting team would see prices drop. For teams, it made good business sense to maximize revenue by charging more for popular events. For fans buying on the secondary market, it wasn't much of a problem as the prices in each category didn't fluctuate during the season, so you still knew what the face value was.

Now, however, comes a whole new structure: dynamic pricing. Check out the San Francisco Giants' ticket page. As I write this, there are 20 seating options for the next 6 home games listed. But each seating option has a different price for each game, and these prices can change as the game gets closer. They use the term market pricing, which I guess means that the price goes up as more people buy tickets and game day approaches. Yikes! This is bad news for me, as I like to buy my tickets on game day, again to avoid the extra charges and to have maximum flexibility. Now I have to worry about the price being substantially higher on game day, much like airlines raising flight prices as the flight date nears. It's a no-win situation for me.

The Giants are not the only team doing this. The Sacramento Kings have also been using a similar system recently. The game that I am hoping to see on Wednesday is likely to be their last game in the city. Demand has skyrocketed and the Kings have consequently jacked up ticket prices. Upper level seats are now $154 plus a $16.25 "convenience fee" for my TicketMaster friends. Of course, there are many Sacramento fans that are willing to pay that for what might be the last chance to see a pro basketball game in their hometown. As a visitor with no connection to the team, I'm not so willing. So I'll likely be on the outside unless I get lucky. Ironically the game is being dubbed as Fan Appreciation night, which really means "We appreciate one last chance to gouge you before we head off in search of richer fans".

Another relatively new introduction to ticket structures is known as game-day pricing. Many clubs now add a couple of dollars to the ticket price if you buy on the day of the game. Another way to look at it is advance purchases are discounted, which is fair enough. As a road tripper though, I am usually only in town for a day and don't want to risk a rainout or cancellation which would leave me stuck with the ticket. Not to mention that buying in advance incurs the ridiculous fees charged by TicketMaster. Either way, it makes the game just that much more expensive.

I expect to see more of this dynamic pricing on my future travels. I'm not sure how it will affect me, but it will be something worth tracking. I'm interested to see how things play out in San Francisco next week. Perhaps, like airlines, they'll have cheaper standby seats that only open up a few minutes before the game starts. But I doubt it. I think the only thing that I can rely on is that these extended trips are going to get more and more expensive as time goes on.



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