Ticket Turmoil: Baseball Ticket Sales Show Customer Isn’t Always Right

I came cross a fascinating article by Forbes contributor Lee Igel on how dynamic ticket pricing is hurting attendance in Major League Baseball. The article points to how even a successful franchise like the New York Yankees has experienced difficulty in selling tickets. Of course the downturn in the economy and poor play on the field can contribute to a team’s struggles at the box office, but Igel points to another factor: the secondary ticket market.

Stubhub brings power to the fan, but is that a good thing?

Secondary ticket sites such as Stubhub have opened new windows for sports fans looking to attend games that have already been sold out or fans who have tickets but cannot attend certain games. But because the tickets are sold based on popularity and demand, they do not have to be sold based on face value. This means tickets can be sold for much higher or lower prices than they are listed by the team.

For example, if you want a ticket to see the San Diego Padres play against the Houston Astros on June 26, you can go to the Astros’ box office and pay $13 for a seat in Section 427. A quick search on Stubhub shows you can get that same ticket for as little as $5. Why such a change in pricing? Well the Padres and Astros are currently a combined 31 games under .500, and the game is on a Tuesday night. There isn’t much demand for the ticket, so the price has been lowered on the secondary market to sell.

That same night, the Oklahoma City Thunder could (if they can stave off elimination) be hosting the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Tickets in Section 328 are face valued at $200, but on Stubhub they are up to $936. Clearly these tickets are in demand.

This brings us back to the Yankees, who say they may drop their partnership with Stubhub at the end of the season because of difficulty in selling tickets and a drag in attendance. Such a claim has been ridiculed, but Igel points out that sites like Stubhub create two problems: 1) too many choices, and 2) shifting burdens.

Igel’s argument makes sense. If you were given a list of three TV channels to watch, you’d likely make your mind up pretty fast. If you were given 300, you would be more likely to sift through your options before making a selection. In other words, adding choices makes you more hesitant to purchase for fear of passing up a better deal.

His argument of shifting burden is spot on as well. If the team sets the price on a ticket, you know what it is and decide whether or not to pay it. But now that it is other fans setting the price — some much higher than face value — the fan now has difficulty determining what a fair price is.

Perhaps Stubhub and other sites are getting too much criticism for poor attendance. But a decade after the website launched, teams are finding out that giving fans more power isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Photo (cc) by teamstickergiant and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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