28 March 2011

Threat Level: Sedona Red

Not that many around Phoenix noticed, in the media shadow cast by Salt River Fields, but the club rolled out a new single game pricing scheme for the regular season, dumping the familiar regular/premium "gasoline" model for a complex, color-coded hierarchy, more evocative of terror threat levels.

The most expensive games are even coded red and yellow, as if to say:

"Danger. You are within purchasing radius of a so called premium game. Severe risk to wallet probable."
They've basically expanded premium pricing from a dozen or so dates per year - to a wishful fifty one (who honestly believes these Dbacks will participate in fifty one remotely 'premium' games?) - and divided those into five classes to help cover their tracks. It's not as if ticket face values have skyrocketed, but the expansion of even modest premiums across a broader segment of schedule is significant.

For example, bleacher seats ran $15 last season, with a $5 premium for about a dozen top games. This year, only 31 of the lowest desirability dates are $15. Another fifteen games run $16, and the remaining thirty five cost between $18-22. So, a fan pays the same as last year 31 times, a little more than last year 43 times and a little less, six or seven times. (Oh yeah, and the Yankees or Red Sox arent coming to town in 2011 either.)

It's a similar tale around most of the stadium.  The fattest hikes are appropriately found in the All You Can Eat sections, where this year's mean price, across the entire schedule, exceeds last year's premium rate ($35).
Other club level hikes were relatively lean, and single game rates actually came down in the priciest boxes surrounding the dugouts. But unless those seats are readily available on an individual basis, that seems an empty statistical manipulation more than anything else.

In summary, most of the cheaper and moderate entrances to the ballpark are now less accessible. The smaller but important supply of expensive boxes and club seats are relatively flat, and in a few cases lower -at least in theory.

Briefy, over on the season ticket side, it's the same deal. Eleven of sixteen stadium pricepoints increased - and they're all the cheaper and moderate sections.

Surprisingly, I have mixed feelings about some of this. For years, I've encouraged the Dbacks to roll out demand based pricing - and here it is. There's certainly economic justification for trying to flexibly match ticket price with event demand. In theory, it helps maximize revenue by matching unique seats and events with individual fans, via differentiated, almost customized, price. I think when you look at how they've valued seats, relative to one another, the pricing flow around the park may look smoother than ever.

The problem is that genuine demand-based pricing implies that you're making those sales, those connections, and from what I can derive from anticipated attendance, the Dbacks aint doin' much of that. They aint doin' that because when you look at how they've priced seats, relative to customer utility, the park may look less appealing than it ever has. These prices dont seem to match up with what most potential customers are willing to pay to watch these Diamondbacks.

I used to enjoy hunting around the seating chart, looking for relative bargains. Maybe it was a cool Friday or Saturdaynight  game against the Brewers, at the standard single game price. Or "sneaking in" with a $5 ticket and moving down. Or lucking into a front row seat in a traditionally underpriced section online. Those little pleasures are all but gone now.

They've been disappearing for years, and the Diamondbacks' curious version of "demand-based" pricing, along with Ticketmaster, pretty much closes the door on those little discoveries, without offering up anything in the way of new pleasures. The stadium has almost fifty thousand seats. Surveying the whole thing, section by section, I gradually realize there's no place I'm really eager to sit anymore. Or at least no place I wouldnt feel somewhat foolish, buying a ticket from the ballclub.  It's hardly terrorism, but with a venue more empty than occupied, that's not the way demand based pricing is supposed to work.


me said...

Good article, wish you'd write more as I stop by your site everyday to read any new posts.

Diamondhacks said...

thanks, me. My arm's still in a cast for another week, so it's been challenging to write (and do a lot of things) lately.

There's other reasons I dont post every day, though. Most of the stuff I've argued passionately about for years is more settled now. Is there anyone anymore who doesnt realize Derrick Hall is a disingenuous marketer or that the Dbacks arent a well run organization?

It's not like I need to get on a soapbox anymore. Unless I want to gloat about it, which I'm not entirely above, and will likely dabble in, on an 'as needed' basis.