Straight to the Nuts: The $63 Question

In which I once more impersonate a journalist but fail to dumb things down enough

As soon as the regular season wrapped up for the Mets (sometime back in July), all anyone could look forward to was Opening Day 2013 (and Dickey’s 20th win and subsequent Cy Young award, but those don’t fit the narrative).  It was another lost season and the fans were left without a reason to cheer on their favorite team at Citi Field (other than the whole “favorite team” thing).  It would take some major moves by the Wilpons to convince the fans to turn out in 2013 (like, um, cough-selltheteam-cough).  With the team disappointing and no relief in sight, attendance projections were looking bleak.

And then the Mets released pricing information for Opening Day.

Few will forget where they were when they saw that the “cheap” seats were going for $63.  $63!  That’s like dinner for two at Bertucci’s!  Movie tickets and concessions for a family of four!  That $63 only gets you in the door, it doesn’t cover transportation/parking, food, souvenirs, or the 15 beers it takes some people to survive the Mets experience.  The horror.

You know, I can kind of see why people would be upset.  $63 for nosebleed seats for a game against the Padres when a good chunk of the lineup hasn’t been set and could be filled with prospects who aren’t ready or cheap free agents who would be better off retiring isn’t exactly a bargain.  Move up to better seats and things look even worse.  I remember a time when the team was good and upper deck seats were $5, so $63 sounds insane.  But we’re talking about Opening Day.

Opening Day is like a playoff game that every team gets to host.  It’s not just a game, it’s an event.  Growing up well outside the NYC metro area (but still inside the NYC media area), seeing an Opening Day game in person seemed about as likely as winning the lottery without buying a ticket.  The fact that we never even considered trying to go to an Opening Day game (or really any game) might have something to do with that.  Opening Day seemed to be the realm of the rich and famous, celebrities, trust fund kids, trophy wives/girlfriends, etc.  The upper deck is reserved for hedge fund interns, stock traders, classical musicians, and retired sports mascots.  Us normal folks have to settle for watching on television.  Or these days some stupid app on our smartphones.

$63 is still a lot of money for a baseball game, so I would probably pass even if I could walk to the stadium.  But I can’t walk to the stadium.  In fact, it costs me somewhere upwards of $100 just to get to the point where they scan your ticket, search your bag, and give you a pat-down just to be friendly.  Add $63 (or more) to that, plus concessions, and we’re talking Cirque du Soleil money.  (Note to self: work in more Las Vegas references next year.)  Now factor in travel time (8 hours by car and 4 by train if I go with the option that doesn’t cost me anything for lodging) and time taken off from work and we’re getting up there in cost.  At that point, it feels like the team owes me money for taking the trouble to get there.  So yeah, $63 ain’t happening.

But this isn’t about me.  Let’s face it, the Mets aren’t going to make money paying me to go to games (nice work if you can get it…) and I’m not the kind of customer they’re catering to, even if I do spend a ton of money in the team store on the rare (one) occasion that I’m there (mostly because they don’t bother putting pins up for sale on the web site, damn stingy corporate idiots).  The Mets need to put butts in seats, not just on Opening Day but on 80 other days as well.  They’re banking on people seeing the insane single-game ticket prices and opting to go with a multi-game package of some sort, which will inevitably result in the other tickets going unused because of poor planning or disinterest on the part of the customer (the only sure bet in the world of sales and marketing).  If the “Hey, it’s a much better deal if you buy tickets to a whole bunch of other games too!” approach doesn’t work, they’ll discount the remaining tickets at some point down the road, advertising incredibly discounted prices that are probably still higher than 2012’s prices (not that anyone can remember what they paid for something a few months ago).  If the plan works and they do sell a bunch of packages, then they’ve boosted attendance numbers for other games without really cutting prices.  Genius!

Except there’s a downside to this approach.  If you’re not interested in getting a ticket plan or package and just want to get a ticket to Opening Day without spending a fortune, your only option is to wait until March and hope for some discounts.  Now how many people will bother to check back in four months after the team essentially says “Sorry, but we aren’t interested in your business” to them?  By March, people will have moved on to something else and won’t be buying tickets to Opening Day or any other day.  The Mets may have a solid plan financially, but it fails on psychology.  You use the event atmosphere to get people’s attention and then sell them on making the games a regular part of their entertainment habits.  To do this, the cost and risk barriers need to be sufficiently low, otherwise something else will take priority and most of them will not give you a second look.  Multi-game packages are too much risk and $63 for nosebleed seats is too much cost.  You may drive people to check out some Cyclones games instead with this approach, but that’s not going to put butts in seats at Citi (unless they do something like Futures at Fenway there, which they really should if they aren’t because Futures at Fenway is awesome, especially when all the New York teams win).

As for me, I’m sure as hell not paying $63 for a ticket to any regular season game and I can’t justify buying a multi-game package, so that just leaves the group rate from a certain controversial t-shirt magnate, with pricing yet to be announced. Even if that price turns out to be reasonable, it’s a tossup as to whether I go and there’s not really anything the Mets can do to change that. [Update: Pricing was revealed to be $95 for outfield seats with a t-shirt included. 900 tickets sold out in 24 hours. Looks like there’s a market for higher prices if additional value is provided.]

Well look at this, I just got an e-mail from the New Hampshire Fisher Cats advertising a special with 10 ticket vouchers and a $25 gift card for $75.  Not only are the Fisher Cats local to me, but they also play the Binghamton Mets three times in 2013, all on weekends.  What was that about Opening Day tickets again?  Oh well, couldn’t have been that important, maybe next year.

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