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Around the Horn

How Much is a Mariners Game Ticket?

Determining the price of a Mariners ticket is a complicated matter these days.

It used to be, way back in the years before 2008, that a ticket was a ticket was a ticket. A lower reserved seat was the same price for a midseason game against the Red Sox as a late April game against the A's. In '08, having slipped form one of the top teams in attendance from 2001-'05 to the middle of the pack, the M’s started using tiered pricing, declaring certain games to be “premium” and adding a surcharge; they also instituted pricing “discounts” for tickets bought before the season started and what I like to call the "just stay home incentive" or "walk-up penalty,” a $2 surcharge on tickets bought day of game. In years following, they declared more games to be “premium” and added additional surcharges for summer weekend dates, throwing the bone of reduced prices on a few generally undesirable cold-weather weekday evening games.

But 2012 is when it got really crazy, when so-called “Dynamic Pricing” was introduced, ostensibly to tie prices to individual games to that game’s demand among ticket-buyers. The tiered/premium concept wasn’t discarded, though, as each game was given one of four base prices (“single,” double,” triple,” or “home run”) to begin the season. And they are not distributed evenly—for the 81 home dates on the 2018 schedule, there are seven "singles," 18 "doubles," 42 "triples," and 14 "home runs," meaning nearly 70% of the games are some form of "premium" if "premium" is defined as greater than the average ticket price.

The theory behind Dynamic Pricing says that prices go up when enough tickets to a particular game are sold, and as game day nears, can go up or down based on how much time is left to fill the stadium. The official line is, "adjustments are based on market conditions." If this were true in practice, tickets to games with low presale numbers would get cheaper as the date approached, encouraging more sales. But to my knowledge, at no time have prices to any games decreased “dynamically.” Prices go up, but they never go down, with the exception of unrelated promotions such as the “Supreme Court” date for Felix Hernandez’s start following his perfect game.

For my season ticket group, the face values of our upper-deck tickets in 2018 are $13 (single), $17 (double), $20 (triple), and $23 (home run), giving an average for the season of $19.25. But good luck finding anything close to that at the box office. The initial price for single-game tickets in that same area appears to be $15/$22/$28/$35, but that's the floor, before the season even starts. As "market conditions" (a euphemism, surely) encroach over time, those numbers will vanish. Similar location Opening Day tickets were listed at $52 a week beforehand. Opening Day is one of the dates where one can believe actual market conditions could play a role, as it's always one of the highest-demand dates on the schedule, but think about it: A ticket priced at $23 for season-ticket holders and $35 for the masses will cost you over 33% more than its declared value when buying direct from the Mariners. And that doesn't include extra fees if you go through Ticketmaster.

I have a rule for myself: I will never again buy a single-game ticket from the Mariners while this policy is in place. I will gladly continue my season ticket purchases, but beyond that, if and when I want to go to a game I didn't get in my ticket-group draft, I will buy from a scalper on the streets outside the ballpark or from an online broker like SeatGeek or StubHub. Because those options actually do rely on market conditions, they will be cheaper. That Opening Day seat mentioned before? The same day the M's listed it for $52 you could get one next to it for $47 on SeatGeek. Let's pick a random "home run" game and see what the pre-season list is: August 3rd against the Blue Jays, when all the Canadians invade from BC, is currently priced at $35 from the Mariners, $28 on SeatGeek. Something more immediate, May 5th against the Angels, a "triple" game: $32 from the M's, $22 on SeatGeek. How about a game where a small crowd is almost assured, say a Monday in April? April 16 vs. Houston: $15 from the Mariners, $10 on SeatGeek. The Mariners have become their own scalpers, shooting themselves in the foot on low and moderate crowd nights by discouraging attendance and just plain soaking their customers on higher demand games.

The Mariners are by no means alone in this. Other teams use "dynamic pricing"—though whether their version of dynamic goes up and down I do not know—and the concept of tiered pricing for different parts of the schedule has become more the norm than the exception. The days of taking the family out for a night at the ballpark as an affordable option you could do several times a year are pretty much gone for all but the well-to-do. And that's awful, but it's at least more understandable for teams like the Dodgers, that have routinely sold well over 3,000,000 tickets a year for some time now. For the Mariners and other teams in the second division of attendance figures, the logic is less sound.

It's not merely maddening because it feels like we're being fleeced, it's frustrating because it harms the club. The Mariners' goal should be to have as many fans in attendance as they can get. I'm not saying they should just declare all seats to be a dollar apiece or anything that extreme, but what they've done is decide that attendance is not a fungible thing—that only a certain number of people will attend, so get as much money out of them as possible and forget about filling the stadium. That's nuts. The ballpark holds 48,000. Deciding that averaging half-full is fine, soak those people, is not as smart as setting an average attendance goal of, say, 70% full and make the same or greater revenue from the additional tickets, concessions, parking, etc. sold to those extra 10,000 fans per game. Grow your audience. Expand your customer base rather than alienate it with price gouging. It's not that difficult a concept, is it?

Do you have an opinion on the Mariners’ ticket pricing arrangement? Have you chosen to go to additional games because they’re (initially) priced as “singles” or “doubles”? Have you gone to fewer games due to the sometimes-daily price jumps or premium surcharges? How do you get your tickets? Sound off in the comments below.

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