Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Rays' Unorthodox Ticket Manipulation

A tip of the cap to Times columnist John Romano, who turned a reader's tip into a really nice mini-investigation on questionable ticket-selling strategies by the Rays.  In short, Romano found the team wasn't releasing many tickets until the day of the game, potentially to create a false sense of demand.
Team officials declined to talk about ticket policies, but industry experts say it could be part of a strategy to spur more sales by making fans think available tickets are scarce.

In other words, the team that sells fewer tickets than any other in Major League Baseball might be artificially creating demand by not making all their seats available in advance.

"It sure seems like it could be a manipulation of the market to create the illusion of a scarcity of tickets that doesn't actually exist," said Gary Adler, executive director and general counsel for the National Association of Ticket Brokers. "No matter how you slice it, it seems like an anti-consumer policy to withhold tickets from the public."
Ticket manipulation was in the headlines recently in Nashville, where WTVF rockstar Phil Williams exposed the Titans were moving unsold tickets via a scalper.  Not only did they keep their sellout streak alive, but the team used the false demand to justify more expensive tickets for everyone else.

In the Rays' case, Romano suggested things may not be nearly as sinister - the big number of tickets released on game day may be a result of the Rays' attempts to sell more multi-game flex packs up until the last minute.  But withholding tickets until game day creates another frustration for fans who really want to sit in specific seats behind the dugouts:
Complicating this policy is the Rays' practice of adding a $3 surcharge to any ticket purchased less than five hours before the start of a game. The surcharge is designed, ironically, to encourage people to buy tickets in advance. 
On Memorial Day, the additional tickets did not become available until after 2 p.m., so they automatically went on sale with the surcharge. 
I guess, since the Rays aren't exactly a tough ticket these days, their ticket strategy isn't terribly consequential to most fans.  But I've also written recently how the team has struggled to preserve the perceived value of its tickets.

Fans want to feel like they are getting a good deal when they spend disposable income, and they want to feel like they are getting a product that is in demand.  But if there's no demand for Rays tickets and the tickets can be had for as low as $7, the team will feel real repercussions from its numerous discount options.

A better question - are the Rays doing more harm than good by charging a $3 walk-up fee?!?

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Romano, who has written numerous times about his many stadium frustrations with Tampa Bay leaders, finishes his column but openly questioning the Rays:
The Rays are trying to convince the people of Tampa Bay to join them in a partnership to build a new stadium and ensure MLB's success in the market for years to come.
Playing a cat-and-mouse game with tickets doesn't seem like the smartest way to grow that relationship.
Last fall, Rays president Bryan Auld promised more transparency on issues regarding the stadium campaign;  maybe being a little more forthcoming on the team's ticket policies would help fill some seats too.


  1. The $3.00 surcharge has always been a problem for me. It's not the money as much as the claim that the fee is to staff the ticket booth on game day. That and the fact that a lot of people don't know if they're able to get to the stadium until a short time before the game is schedule to start. There's been at least 3 times in the past 2 years that I was penalized for my inability to make a decision until the last minute. There's probably been 6 or more times that I could of attended but decided to watch the game on TV because of the surcharge.

    1. Shame on you for not simply walking around the street, and not bought your tickets 2nd hand...

  2. We shouldn't count out the idea of the Rays tanking tix sales to look bad to St. Pete to look better for the idea of moving. With a low payroll, a cheap cost of operating at the Trop compared to many other places with new stadiums, and a big TV deal around the corner with better then most rating, they can afford to do that. It's no different then trading All-Stars like David Price, Shields, etc for cheaper top future prospects...

    1. Isn't that the plot of the movie Major League?

    2. How about calling out their marketing tank? The marketing VP left for USF and instead of hiring a new one they just added a title to the VP of Fan Experience. "Rays baseball, now with MORE DJ KITTY!"

  3. John Romano states:
    "Team officials declined to talk about ticket policies, but industry experts say it could be part of a strategy to spur more sales by making fans think available tickets are scarce."

    'Industry experts' must think we fans are totally stupid. With average attendance under 15,000 and stadium capacity at 31,000, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the park is less than one half full more often than not.

    John Romano states:
    "Experts say the ticket industry has gotten increasingly high-tech, often employing large staffs of computer analysts who have a world of data at their fingertips and create algorithms designed to maximize sales."

    So how large a staff do the Rays employ to create these algorithms? Hopefully, for the Rays, it is less than the number of fans coming to the Trop.

    Methinks the Rays might be over-complicating their ticket selling infra-structure. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe all these machinations are solely to make sure that the fans buying the flex packs will be able to get any seat to which they are entitled. So the result is protecting the 'access' for a relative few to the detriment of potentially the many more non flex pack fans that attend or would attend.

  4. Not news: Shady Ownership in Shady Industry Utilizes Shady Ticket Tactics, Preaches Cooperation

  5. Does the team benefit in some other way by artificially depressing ticket sales? Does it make their stadium argument stronger?

    Remember the first career of these Rays execs was in number manipulation. They can use numbers to say almost anything they want them to say. This is their culture:

    1. In the movie Major League, poor ticket sales supposedly helped the relocation effort...

  6. If ticket price silliness doesn't work, the Rays should bring in some of these people: