School is out, the summer months have officially arrived and the Cleveland Indians continue to produce a quality winning percentage within the confines of Progressive Field. As interest in the Tribe continues to improve, demand for tickets has increased dramatically from the basement levels of April and early May. But as this demand has increased, a select group of Cleveland fans has expressed angst regarding the team’s pricing structure, specifically in regard to the pricing and availability of upper reserve seating which had typically allowed fans access to the stadium for under $15, oftentimes as low as $8.
With a quick scan of available seats in Progressive Field’s upper reserve section, fans will find that these seats will cost them $211, with a large section of seats along the first-base line and the right field corner being unavailable. This has lead some fans to believe that the team is holding back the lower-cost seats of yesteryear. Fuzzy math leads to statements surrounding price hikes which can be extrapolated by the old “family of four” metrics. What was, however, is no longer the case.
“There are a lot of misconceptions out there,” said Curtis Danburg, Indians’ Senior Director of Communications, in a phone interview with WFNY. “The fact is, there is no longer a lower-priced, or $8 ticket.”
Like the majority of their peers, the Indians moved to a value-based, dynamic ticket pricing system roughly five years ago under the premise that not all 81 home games are created equal. Supply and demand dictate that games earlier or later in the season should cost less than those in the middle of the summer. Games against the Kansas City Royals or Oakland Athletics should cost less than those against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Mid-week games should cost less than those on weekends. But it is not just the specific opponent or setting which determine pricing—the team has also employed several other value-based mechanisms which allow fans to lower the cost of their experience.
Like the Cavaliers and “Flash Seats,” the Cleveland Indians have rolled out what is called Fan Pass, a paperless ticketing system that allows for the electronic transfer of tickets from fan to fan as well as to fans from the team. Tickets can be electronically stored on credit cards which can be swiped at the gate, allowing fans to not only skip time spent waiting in line at the box office, but allows them to pay less for tickets then they would have to via the more antiquated paper method. In addition to the evolution of the electronic ticket process and the inherent behavioral changes required, the Indians have also employed a mantra called “Buy early and save.” If fans buy tickets to any Indians game in February, they not only pay the cheapest price, but they get the best value.
Where is this best value? The Indians say that it can be had in the lower reserve and mezzanine sections. There are obvious reasons why the team would prefer to have fans sitting lower: It is not only more aesthetically pleasing on television, but it also allows for higher levels of service due to the concentrated staffing of concessions and cleaning crews. All upper reserve seats carry the identical price of $21. As seats in the upper reserve section sell, subsequent sections do open—as evidenced by higher attended games like Opening Day. But as these sections open, the price does not decline as one moves down the first base line.
“We understand that fans are value-conscious,” said Danburg. “For that fan, there is value there. If fans prefer to wait, we understand that as well, but on the other side of that is the value equation. The misinterpretation is that the Indians are holding back their lower-cost tickets and that just is not the case.”
A quick scan of the Indians’ peer group and it becomes evident that the $21 upper reserve tickets are not abnormal. Upper reserve in Kansas City’s Kaufmann stadium will cost Royals fans $26. Milwaukee’s Miller Park is priced at $24. San Diego’s Petco Park has their upper reserve tier priced at $27. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks are lower, priced at $17. When one looks at the average ticket price in Major League Baseball, only the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Diamondbacks and Padres have a less-expensive average cost. Only the Tampa Bay Rays, Padres and Diamondbacks have a lower average “fan cost” as estimated by Team Marketing Report. For 2013, the Indians have the largest drop of any team year-over-year at a -9.4 percent2.
For those fans looking to pay less than the requisite $21, their salvation can be found in the upper level of Progressive Field’s left field bleachers. Where the lower bleachers are dynamically priced, upper bleachers are $10 through Fan Pass and $12 through a printed ticket. For the misconception that there are a severely limited number of upper reserve bleacher seats available for each Indians home contest, Friday, June 21 against the Minnesota Twins—a night that featured the infamous Sugardale dollar dogs and a locally renowned Fireworks display—there were 1,211 $10 tickets in the upper bleachers. The rub is that these seats were sold out by June 10, eleven days before the actual game. The lack of low-priced seats available in these instances is a function of fans scooping them up in advance. Fans who bought early saved.
Taking a macro look, prior to the Indians’ recent home-stand, there were approximately 500,000 seats available at a price point of $20 or less, equating to roughly 10,000 per game. Of the 44 games remaining, 38 had upper bleacher seats available.
The Indians will be the first to admit that one of their goals, as with any business, is to maximize revenue. The dynamic pricing strategies, and various mediums of obtaining tickets, however, are done so to also ensure that the fan experience is maximized. While fans who opposed the team’s current strategies will tout walk-up numbers which could be impacted by the lack of lower-priced tickets, the team takes a bigger picture approach and prefers to look at overall attendance. Fans who buy in advance can seemingly ensure that they can be cared for in a more appropriate fashion.
“If we know how many fans are coming down to the ballpark, we can better serve the fans,” said Danburg. “It helps us provide better service.”
This may be one of the unfortunate byproducts of the evolution in the entertainment-based service industry. Prices being higher during the day of the game are truthfully no different than other facets of the entertainment industry like airlines or hotels. Sure, this causes angst and pain. Change is difficult. But as the industry evolves and the use of technology grows, the Indians will continue to rhetorically ask: “How can we best service our fans while maximizing revenue?”
The team will readily admit that they are in the minority when it comes to closing off levels of the upper deck. This is the obvious byproduct of attendance totals which simply do not meet those that were tallied when the stadium was opened back in 1994. But, again, the team says that this to better the service level—when fans are in a more confined area, concessions can be staffed better, restrooms can be cleaner. Potentially most important to the fans, there is no $8 ticket which is dangling in front of them like a carrot on a string. Sure, this means that fans are forced to pay a higher price, but this is only in the instances of those who wait until the day of an impending game. Progressive Field, by every metric used when compared to peers, continues to be one of the cheapest average tickets in baseball.
Think prices are hindering “walk-up” sales? The top three teams in single-game tickets sold thus far in 2013 are the Colorado Rockies, Diamondbacks and Brewers. For their upcoming weekend series, their upper reserve tickets are priced at $28, $25 and $24, respectively.
Within Progressive Field, bleacher seats can be had for less than $10. Lower reserve seats can be had for prices well below the rest of the league. And if it’s and upper reserve seat that is yearned for, they too can be purchased for a price that is in lockstep with the rest of the league. The advent of third-party sites3 is merely an additional medium for fan disposal, assuming that “value” is the ultimate goal. The Indians insist that said value is there; it simply takes a little bit of advance commitment and the willingness to embrace the technologies employed.
“We want our fans to be educated consumers,” said Danburg. “With the Fan Pass, the value is there and its easier to get into the game as you skip waiting in ticket lines. We realize it’s a behavioral change that everyone, including the team, has to get used to. We understand that takes time.”