Sports teams slash ticket prices to keep fans

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Contributor's Notes: Jeff Beresford-Howe: Want to see the Stanley Cup champs? Got $11.50? No problem. This way, sir.

Want to see the Stanley Cup champs? Pull a ten out of your wallet and throw in some laundry quarters and you're in. Fans in New York City wouldn't know it — The Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Jets, Giants and Knicks are still partying like it's 1999 when it comes to ticket prices — but out there in the provinces, teams are grappling with the economy. And the economy — and by extension the fan — is scoring some impressive victories.

Contributor's Notes: Jeff Beresford-Howe: Want to see the Stanley Cup champs? Got $11.50? No problem. This way, sir.

Want to see the Stanley Cup champs? Pull a ten out of your wallet and throw in some laundry quarters and you're in.

Fans in New York City wouldn't know it — The Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Jets, Giants and Knicks are still partying like it's 1999 when it comes to ticket prices — but out there in the provinces, teams are grappling with the economy. And the economy — and by extension the fan — is scoring some impressive victories.

In California, a state devastated by the economy and shoved deeper into the hole every day by a state government that seems dedicated to the proposition that Mickey Mouse isn't just for Disneyland anymore, teams are adjusting fast to new times. The Los Angeles Kings announced in December that during a holiday-season 36-hour window, fans could pick up any ticket to January 2009 games in the Staples Center for $11.50. This wasn't just for games against teams nobody wanted to see, either. The defending champ Detroit Red Wings, the best road draw in the NHL, were included, and so were up-and-comers the Chicago Black Hawks. The promotion was a huge success. The team says they sold 15,000 of the tickets over six games, although they got some pushback from season ticket holders who weren't thrilled at occupying their $140 seats next to someone who paid less than a tenth of that.

The Kings are a canary in the coal mine. They play a sport (hockey) in a city where no one cares about hockey except for the Canadian ex-pat community (now there's a business model), where the mortgage crisis strikes at the heart of the way the whole region works, and they're notably bad (one division title in 42 years of existence and one playoff series win in the last 15 years). If you're slashing your corporate or personal budget, the Kings are a likely candidate to go to the top of the hit list.

But slightly less extreme versions of what the Kings are doing are noticeable around the NBA and the NHL. The Golden State Warriors, whose name is designed to disguise the fact that they play in Oakland, are on the lower-ticket-price bandwagon. After putting second-deck tix on sale for $8, the Warriors this week announced a two-for-one deal for select games. Sure, one of them is against the Phoenix Suns, who've pulled off a self-inflicted collapse, but another is against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs — NBA royalty.

Teams are even dialing back on ludicrous concession prices for terrible food. Dollar Dog days, long a staple at Oakland A's games — the dogs are kind of small, and it's not unusual to see a guy applying mustard to a six-pack of them — have become a New Jersey Devils fan favorite, and the New York Islanders have what must be one of the best deals anywhere. For $99, you can get four tickets to a game, four hot dogs, four sodas, four hats and a $40 card good at children-of-all-ages video wonderland Dave & Buster's. And again, the package isn't just available for games against the dregs of NHL; it's offered for match-ups between the Islanders and league powerhouses like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and the Devils.

Prices aren't the only way teams are changing their business model. You can see the difference in customer service, too. The Los Angeles Clippers and the Kings have hired people to personally call ticket buyers the week of the game and ask them if there's anything the club can do to enhance the game experience. Even the A's, notoriously uninvolved with the care and feeding of their season ticket holders, have jumped on board. After a miscommunication — <cough> team incompetence <cough> — resulted in the possibility that I'd lose the outstanding seat location I've had for years on a partial season ticket plan, one threat to jump ship to the San Francisco Giants netted contact from three different people in the organization trying to make it right.

And the A's aren't trying to protect a cash cow, either. The total cost of my season package — 22 games in the 20th row right behind home plate — is $660.

Teams are even doing something which has become virtually unheard of outside the minor leagues: trying to get young fans back in the parks and arenas. The Devils are offering $15 tickets to college kids if they get their tix online and use a college email address. It's $35 if trust fund babes want to upgrade their seats.

The extent to which none of this has reached New York yet is remarkable. That seat in Oakland that costs me $30 is $2,500 at New Yankee Stadium. The Giants and the Jets claim near universal follow-through on deposits for their ludicrously expensive Personal Seat License (PSL) program. The Mets just announced that they've already sold 25,000 tickets for every game in 2009, and the Rangers outreach to new fans appears to be an offer to allow people to get on the waiting list for season tickets, when and if they become available.

All this suggests one of two possibilities. Either the New York teams are about to join their brethren and adjust, with humility, to new realities or they'll become, like the Yankees, the nightmares of every non-tristate sports fan, bludgeoning their league opponents with dollars.

— Jeff Beresford-Howe

Guests:

Jeff Beresford-Howe

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