Fielding cheap baseball tickets
With prices varying widely, catching the best deal comes down to timing.
This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site MarketWatch.
After years of increases, last season average ticket prices across the league stayed fairly flat, at $26.98 for regular tickets and $88.18 for premium tickets, according to data firm Team Marketing Research. This year, early indications are that whether the price is up or down depends on the team.
The price of single-game tickets for the New York Mets, for example, is up 2% to 78%, depending on the game and seat section, while the Chicago Cubs dropped its prices 2% on average and the Boston Red Sox froze rates at 2012 levels.
Even so, 2013 Mets tickets are averaging just $73.91 on the secondary market, while Red Sox tickets average $96.38, according to SeatGeek.com, a site that aggregates secondary ticket market listings.
Experts say fans who buy early at the box office may snag better prices this year than in previous seasons, as teams move away from set face values to variable pricing (in which rates differ by game) and dynamic pricing (which changes constantly based on demand). With those systems, prices can go up or down, but tend to rise overall as the season progresses, says Will Flaherty, a spokesman for SeatGeek.com.
Preseason sales can represent some of the best box office prices. "They're trying to get fans to buy tickets from the team early," he says. That said, early buying with dynamic pricing in play isn't without risks: Teams can drop prices if there's bad weather in the forecast, if they get stuck in a losing streak, or there are just a few too many open seats.
Daily deal sites represent another potential bargain-hunting tactic for early buyers. Groupon announced a partnership with Major League Baseball in November to offer discount tickets and other perks, and Travelzoo recently offered Mets tickets for as little as $12, a day before they went on sale to the general public.
Sports-focused daily deal site CrowdSeats.com launched its baseball deals this week, including $24 tickets to a New York Yankees vs. Arizona Diamondbacks matchup on April 16 (a 45% discount) and $26 tickets to a San Francisco Giants vs. Colorado Rockies game on April 9 (40% off). Sales typically launch about two weeks out from game day, with discounts ranging from 30% to 60%, says Justin Cener, founder and chief executive for CrowdSeats.com.
Fans who wait to buy may not be shut out entirely. Secondary markets tend to see prices drop over time -- although tickets to headliner games can still go for more than double their face value, says Eric Hom, a spokesman for ticket aggregator FanSnap.com.
The first plunge may come soon. Depending on the team, secondary market fare may currently be just those games season ticketholders don't want to attend. Once team box offices open individual ticket sales to the general public, resale selection broadens and prices get more competitive. Prices drop further as more tickets become available during the season, he says. Of course, if the matchup is a hot one, or the team is on a winning streak, dalliers risk getting shut out, or priced out.
This year, Yankees tickets in particular may be more competitively priced, says Flaherty. The team opted out of renewing MLB's deal with resale site StubHub.com in favor of setting up a marketplace with TicketMaster. Sellers will be charged a 5% commission, versus 15% at StubHub.com. "That means the seller could set a lower price, while still getting the same amount from that ticket sale," he says.
Even dynamic pricing could work in the favor of fans who buy at the last minute. Many teams cut prices at the box office for last-minute buyers, says Barry Kahn, chief executive at Qcue, which implements dynamic pricing programs for sports teams. "Usually people ask one of two questions: What's the cheapest ticket, or what's the best ticket available?" he says. "It may be better to ask, 'What's the cheapest ticket downstairs?' Teams are trying to put really enticing upgrades out there."
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