Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ticket’s anyone – a look at Major League Baseball ticket sales on the eve of spring training

In our commitment to creating an even better Insider Report, SportsBusinessNews.com will offer an occasional series focusing on sports industry related ticketing and sales related issues. With spring training set to begin later this week (pitchers and catchers set to report), the end of the NFL season, and the NBA and NHL regular seasons winding down there are no shortage of sports teams dealing with ticketing related issues.

While the Yankees and Red Sox have each sold or surpassed 3 million tickets being sold for the 2007 season, teams at the other end of the baseball spectrum are much more interesting to look at. The Florida Marlins held their annual FanFest over the weekend and were thrilled to be able to sell 23,000 tickets on Saturday.

Interest was heavy at FanFest for the "Super Saturday" specials. An emphasis on entertainment is being attached to Saturday games.

Some of the "Super Saturday" entertainers will be American Idol Finalist, and South Florida native, Nadia Turner, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, Kansas, Jo Dee Messina, El Gran Combo and Disco Fever, featuring Gloria Gaynor, Tavares and France Joli.

"Season tickets are around the same number as last year, but the facts are, our attendance is going to go up because of what we're doing with our "Super Saturday" program," Marlins President David Samson said.

Season tickets will be roughly in the 5,000 range.

"We have concerts after [home] Saturday games every single week from American Idol Finalists to Cheap Trick to Kansas to Joan Jett, and all the different things we're doing," Samson added. "The season-ticket prices are so inexpensive that we are really generating a nice buzz."

The Yankees and Red Sox have no challenges in selling tickets they have their own unique supply and demand related ticketing issues. The Marlins have to become creative in selling their tickets. Each of the 13 Saturday home games will be designated as a "Super Saturday". The highlight of each "Super Saturday" will be a postgame concert featuring internationally acclaimed recording artists followed by a fireworks spectacular. The concert and fireworks are free with each ticket purchased for the Marlins game that night. In addition, the Marlins are featuring a special 15-game Super Saturdays ticket plan, which includes discounted pricing on tickets to all 13 home Super Saturdays, Opening Day (April 6) and Closing Day (Sept. 27).

Super Saturdays will also feature:

•Pregame parties at The Strike Zone at Gate H featuring live DJ's, celebrity appearances, marching bands, Billy the Marlin, the Mermaids, special prizes and live TV/radio broadcasts
•Parking lot give-a-ways for the first 5,000 cars
•Interactive give-a-ways for the first 25,000 fans
•An enhanced game presentation featuring a Super Saturdays' Host and multiple premium give-a-ways

Winning the American League proves success on the field directly relates to box office results for the Detroit Tigers. According to a report in The Detroit Free Press: the Tigers had sold 13,855 regular-season tickets as of Friday morning, up from 9,834 last year, according to Bob Raymond, the club's vice president of marketing and ticket sales. The Tigers successfully leveraged their post season success into a 40 percent increase in their season ticket base. The Tigers offered 2006 post season tickets (the Tigers hosted seven post season games at Comerica Park) to people interested in buying 2007 season tickets. The results speak for themselves.

The Tigers have sold 57,054 spring training tickets so far, compared with 37,378 at this point last year, Raymond said. Associated spring revenues have increased to $910,315 this year, up from $542,098 in 2006.

What’s interesting the Tigers have sold more tickets for the 2007 season and are also ready to offer more games their fans can watch on television. Two weeks ago the Tigers and FSN Detroit announced a vastly expanded television schedule that included a record 134 games on the cable and satellite network, plus 17 weekend games broadcast over the air on WJBK-FOX 2 in Detroit and other stations around the state.

Combined with eight Saturday games scheduled for FOX network national or regional broadcasts and two Sunday night broadcasts on ESPN, the new schedule means only one Tigers game won't be televised -- the first Saturday game of the regular season at Kansas City on April 7, which the FOX network did not pick up but which falls within the network's national exclusive time window.

Televised games -- or rather, games that weren't televised -- became an issue for some fans last year as the Tigers' success continued. FSN and TV 20 combined to broadcast 130 games last season, a hefty raise from previous seasons but still not matching the broadcast slate for some major-market clubs. Though ESPN picked up several games during the week over the second half, some games -- notably some weekday afternoon contests -- weren't on the air, leaving fans to either tune in online or turn to the radio for broadcasts.

Last week the Toronto Blue Jays held their annual “state of the franchise” with their season ticket base. The Blue Jays finished in second place in the competitive American League East. Blue Jays President Paul Godfrey reminded the more than 800 season ticket holders what he said at last year’s “state of the franchise” gathering when Godfrey told the Blue Jays faithful the Jays would challenge the Red Sox in 2006 (they did).

"I said there's a great buzz here in Toronto, great cheering, and there was a panic in the streets of Boston," Godfrey said Thursday to a packed house at this year's edition of the annual forum for Toronto's season-ticket holders.

A few days after his remarks, Godfrey received a call from Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who was ready with a comeback.

"He said, 'I've been looking around and I don't see it,'" Godfrey recalled. "I said, 'What don't you see?' He said, 'I don't see any panic in the streets of Boston.' I should've called him after the season was over, because the Blue Jays ended ahead of the Boston Red Sox."

Godfrey announced the Jays have sold 851,000 tickets before they put their single game tickets on sale for the 2007 season 20 percent increase over where they were at the same time a year ago.

Godfrey told the Globe and Mail the Blue Jays have had a season-ticket renewal rate of 94 per cent (well above the industry standard of 90 percent) and he believes the club will surpass the one million mark in tickets sold by the end of the month. "That's something that hasn't been done since the golden days of the franchise," he said.

The Jays put their 2007 single game tickets on sale on February 23. This year for the first time in recent memory the Jays home games against the Yankees and the Red Sox will be on weekdays. While that may not suit the wants of New Englanders and New Yorkers who enjoy spending a weekend each season in Toronto (as does the Toronto Tourism industry) it makes a great deal more sense for the Blues Jays to schedule harder to sell opponents on weekends when its easier to sell tickets.

The New York Mets two weeks ago announced that advance sales of tickets for the 2007 season at Shea Stadium have surpassed 1.5 million (1,578,745) and are pacing 50% ahead of last year's comparable year-to-date sales. In 2006, the Mets did not eclipse the 1.5 million tickets sold mark until February 25, on their way to selling a record 3.5 million tickets, including eight sellouts and 11 crowds in excess of 50,000.

New business sales for Season Tickets for 2007 are up more than double from last year's same date sales. Continuing full Season Tickets holders in both 2007 and 2008 will have priority in purchasing Season Tickets at Citi Field, the Mets' new home scheduled to open in 2009.

For the Mets it’s the perfect ticketing storm. Mets General Manager Omar Minaya signed several key free agents over the last few years, the team has been much more competitive and the Mets are moving into a new stadium with fewer seats than their current home Shea Stadium. Construction has begun on Citi Field. Shea Stadium seats more than 54,000, Citi Field will seat just a shade north of 45,000. A better team, a new state of the art facility with fewer seats, the perfect example of the law of supply and demand when it comes to selling baseball tickets in New York.

The Los Angeles Angels sold close to 32,000 season tickets last year, expect to sell close to 32,000 this year as well (the Angels have sold close to 2.6 million tickets without putting their single game tickets on sale for the 2007 season) announced their 2007 single game prices will remain at the same prices used for the 2006 season.

"We want to try to protect, as much as possible, the integrity of the ticket price for families, groups and those who can't come out frequently," Angles spokesperson Tom Mead told The Los Angeles Times.

The Angles sold more than 3.4 million tickets for the entire 2006 season and are likely to either meet or surpass that total in 2007. What makes the Angels decision to keep ticket prices for 2007 in line with what they were priced at in 2006, the Angles average ticket price last year was $18.97 the fifth lowest average in Major League Baseball. What’s important in understanding the Angels decision making process – they have 81 dates to sell tickets for and they play in the very competitive Southern California market. In establishing ticket prices you have to know your market and be able to meet their expectations in terms of pricing.

If the Angles have sold a great many tickets for the 2007 season, the New York Yankees are on pace to shatter the mark the record the single season Yankees record they set in 2006. The Yankees sold 4,200,518 in 2006, after selling 4,090,440 tickets in 2005 (the first time the Yankees topped 4 million in tickets sales in any one year). Earlier this month the Yankees blew past 3 million tickets sales for the 2007 season a full month ahead of when they hit the 3 million mark last year.

"It's kind of amazing," chief operating officer Lonn Trost told MLB.com. "We're a month ahead of last year. Hopefully, the fans like the product we're putting on the field, and the fun they have coming here.

"It's a great place to watch a game. There are 162 games left, and you've got to be here to see it before we move into an even greater stadium."

Of the three million tickets sold, Trost noted that the Yankees have already sold in excess of 33,100 season tickets. In 2006, the Yankees completed the season with 33,682 season-ticket holders.

"We're really doing well, but we still have loads of great tickets to sell," Trost said.

While nearly every game at Yankee Stadium has already sold more than 30,000 seats, Trost said even premier games against the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets are still available to fans who want to experience the next-to-last season at the current facility.

And more than ever the Internet has become the key in being able to purchase baseball (and most other) tickets at face value. The New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins all saw increases in single-game spring training game ticket sales when they put their single game tickets on sale three weeks ago — which comes after all four teams announced a rise in season ticket purchases for 2007 spring training games.

Each team noticed when they put tickets on sale on January 20, the majority of their tickets sales came from their online ticketing sites.

"That probably made up about 75 percent of our opening-day orders," Traer Van Allen, manager of stadium operations at Tradition Field, said of the Mets' online orders.

Van Allen said fans have become more comfortable with making online orders.

"From a convenience standpoint, nothing beats it," Van Allen said.

The Cardinals and Marlins single game spring training ticket sales were up 27 and 24 percent, respectively, in sales for opening day, Roger Dean Stadium general manager Rob Rabenecker said, noting that online sales make up over 75 percent of all transactions.

Rabenecker said there is no reason to get to the stadium hours in advance.

"The guy who's getting up at 8:45 and fixing a cup of coffee, he's got the same chance of getting those seats as the person who gets here four hours before," Rabenecker said.

And remember MLB Advanced Media, LP (MLBAM), the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball, announced on August 21, 2006 that, to date in 2006, it had sold on behalf of the League's 30 clubs, a record 20 million tickets online at MLB.com, the official league website, and all 30 individual club sites. That represented the first time MLBAM had reached the 20 million tickets sold milestone and the company's sixth consecutive annual record.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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