19 January 2008

2008 Diamondbacks Prices : Single Game Differentials

Across MLB, two basic components distinguish single game pricing from season packages. The first is a differential, tacked on to each individual game ticket, above the season ticket base price. The second is the premium, above the differential, applied only to designated "premier" games, like Opening Day or when the Yankees come to town, etc. The thirty clubs manipulate these add-ons in a variety of ways, but the Diamondback pricing model is so out of line with the rest of MLB it bears mention.

First, D-Back fans pay baseball's largest single game differentials, on a percentage basis. Chase Field has fourteen pricepoints, thirteen of which feature single-game "diffs" between 50% to 88% - with a median hike of 70-76%. While some clubs earmark particular seating sections for differentials of this magnitude, no other baseball team approaches this figure on a stadium-wide basis, and many clubs employ less than half that overall figure.

Second, Diamondback fans also incur one of MLB's largest % increases when purchasing individual premier games, despite the fact Phoenix "premiums" are quite small. When combined with the massive underlying differentials, however, the resulting increases measure a startling 100% or more over comparable season tickets - and this is true in every single section of Chase Field - a point of pride for Derrick Hall (he calls it a 50% "discount" for loyal customers). I suppose one man's 50% discount is another man's 100% price hike, but seeing how the cost of sold packages has outstripped both inflation and demand over the past decade, the notion of a relative "discount" here seems rather contrived and illusory.

Third, the Diamondbacks designate 17 "premier" games per year, even though Arizona lacks a single bankable rivalry (ie LA/SF, Chi/StL, NYY/Bos) driving unusual ticket demand. These earmarks are consistent with high differentials in that a wishful philosophy appears to be driving price more than actual supply and demand. A philosophy hoping fans either buy individual tickets at prices out of touch with the local market, or get so discouraged with per game sales that they convert to season tickets instead.

Clearly, several big market teams charge higher prices than Arizona, and no one is claiming the Diamondbacks cant charge whatever they want. The point, really, is twofold. First, that fans in MLB's lowest per capita income market pay about league average for single games, and second, this less publicized aspect of the D-Backs' pricing model, affects a much larger swath of fans than does season ticket pricing. While by no means illegal, the model is singularly regressive, even within the profiteering realm of MLB, in that it gouges fans unable or unwilling to make large season ticket deposits to a unique degree.

Establishing a dominant team can certainly help the DBacks mask this cultivated disconnect with fans, but until then, the club policy of aggressively positioning ST packages ahead of artificially inflated single game prices may be particularly ill suited to a burgeoning but steadfastly low income catchment area.

Which brings us to Mr Derrick Hall and how the Diamondbacks position their, to use his lingo, "product" in the local market. For well over a year, the new Team President has orchestrated a campaign to convince local fans that they enjoy the "lowest prices in baseball" and the "most affordable" tickets in the game, despite the fact a) this is true in only a very narrow sense, and b) Mr Hall willfully applies this narrow truth in the broadest contexts imaginable, in order to sell tickets. Mr Hall declined to clarify his position when challenged to do so in a monthly online chat - somewhat of a surprise for one so inclined to set the record straight. Perhaps he was too busy polishing his "Best Place To Work" trophy or cheerfully obfuscating the impact of another exciting policy.

Readers should understand that this ongoing "lowest prices" mantra isnt some one-time, off the cuff remark made by an uninformed, low level spokesman. Mr Hall is a shrewd, hard working executive with extensive communications experience, who has purposely lobbed such broad, undefined claims during numerous televised games and appearances, as well as online, even when pitching to general audiences far more inclined to purchase single games. Club broadcasters, who report to Mr Hall, followed this lead throughout the season, blithely suggesting that the Diamondbacks offered the lowest overall prices in baseball, without volunteering any meaningful context.

Mr Hall's lawyerly, "catch me if you can" salesmanship may betray a hidden contempt for ordinary fans who he purportly caters to. It may reflect poorly on the organization - poorer, indeed, than the uniquely regressive pricing model itself. Goodness knows, there are more important things in the world than the price of Diamondback tickets. Being forthright, in advertising and elsewhere, is one of them.


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