Baseball and StubHub – Not So Perfect Together

Posted by Kurt Smith on Monday, November 26, 2012

I’ve stated elsewhere how much better the baseball experience is today compared to when I was a younger man and I didn’t think smoking cigarettes would ever hurt me.

One of the main differences is ticket buying. Remember how you used to have to go to the box office, or at best make a phone call to the team to get tickets? Those two options were it, until the ticket brokers started showing up. Remember them? I do, very well, and the last time I was at Wrigley Field I saw that there are plenty of them left. You weren’t going to get a good deal there. I reached the point where if I couldn’t get tickets from the team, I wasn’t bothering.

Nowadays with ticket sales online and especially the appearance of StubHub, the free market plays a much bigger role in the price of tickets. People—and yes, brokers—who have already bought tickets can very easily re-sell them. But more than ever, they have to compete on price. If it’s a low demand game they’re selling, chances are they’ll take a hit.

Baseball doesn't seem to be considering that end of it with their current apprehension about StubHub, as evidenced by this article I found in the Danbury News-Times.

Apparently, Major League Baseball is bemoaning the idea of 15 cent tickets being available for Chipper Jones’s final few games, or for Pirates games at the end of their best season in years. (I’m not arguing that point, but let’s not forget that the Pirates were contending for a division title before a complete collapse in the second half of the season. When they were winning PNC Park was filled every night.) There doesn’t seem to be much concern for the seller of those tickets who has already bought tickets, and is taking a beating selling the tickets at the lowest price that people will buy because the team…like the Pirates or Phillies or Marlins at the end of last season…is simply too depressing for some fans to watch.

It has reached the point where the Yankees…yes, those same Yankees that charge upwards of four digits for some of their seats, without even including complimentary beer in the deal…are considering opting out of StubHub if baseball continues the deal. The Yankees believe StubHub is partly responsible for their having so many empty seats during the playoffs of 2012.

Really? It doesn’t have anything to do with the Yankees’ average price of playoff tickets being $225 apiece? Might that have something to do with it?

I remember once buying a Living Colour CD on eBay and getting an e-mail from someone representing the band asking me not to buy their CDs on eBay because the band doesn’t make money from it. I was irritated by that e-mail, and replied to him, pointing out that a) someone had already bought that CD and apparently didn’t like it enough to keep it, and b) the CD was $16 new, so talk to your record company and tell them to stop demanding $16 for a CD.

It’s the same principle at work in baseball. Someone already bought the tickets and decided they didn’t want them, and if teams want to sell the remaining tickets that they can’t sell, they need to lower the price. And piracy isn’t a concern with baseball tickets sold on reputable sites like StubHub.

If MLB thinks that putting a floor on ticket prices in the secondary market will help their sales, they’re delusional. The 15 cent tickets were simply sold at a price that the market would bear. If it’s hurting their remaining inventory, it’s because people don’t consider the team worth seeing, at least not at the price the team is charging. If a team has a problem with that, perhaps they should think about putting a better product on the field. And that includes the Yankees. It’s not Yankees fans’ fault that the team charges $11 for a beer and consistently underachieves in the playoffs.

Why do teams not see the benefit of StubHub? I don’t love all of StubHub’s practices—their fees are too much and should be included in the price of the ticket in my opinion—but someone who ordinarily wouldn’t go to the game is providing someone else with their tickets, and the buyer of that cheap ticket is going to pay for parking and will probably spend money on the high priced food and souvenirs.

I try to see the economic realities of the baseball world and to believe that team owners have valid reasons for what often appears to be their sticking it to fans. Seeing what’s gone on with the Phillies in recent years, I’m convinced that people will put up with a lot of wallet abuse to see a winner (in the Eagles’ case, replace “winner” with “a football team”), and there is great pressure on teams and owners to produce one, so they have to go after whatever revenue streams they can.

But I truly think that if baseball messes with the free market of ticket re-selling, that it will do teams more harm than good. Someone who would buy a $5 ticket on StubHub isn’t necessarily going to pay $20 for the ticket from the team, and the ticket goes unsold and the possibility of selling souvenirs, high-priced beer, or simply an experience that brings the fan back is lost. StubHub doesn’t hurt a team’s desire to fill the ballpark; it helps make it happen.

And the economic reality from the fan’s perspective is that StubHub shows the team what their product is really worth. If that hurts their feelings, oh well.


Tags: tickets  stubhub 
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