By QUENTIN FOTTRELL and KELLI B. GRANT
Baseball fans have long griped about the cost of a day at the ballpark, but this season, it's easier than ever to get a discount -- even from the teams themselves.
The average face-value of a Major League Baseball ticket has risen steadily over the last decade, and fans who pay full price are paying more than ever. But increasingly, there's little reason to do so: Ticket prices on resale sites like StubHub.com and RazorGator.com are down 6% on average from the beginning of the season, with tickets for some games selling for half their face value, according to price comparison site FanSnap.com. And as teams try to compete with these flourishing resale sites, many are offering their own discounts, including a new pricing scheme that offers cheaper tickets closer to the game day. By this time in the season, unless your team is playing its arch-rival or a serious contender to win the pennant, experts say, there's no reason to pay more than face-value. "Box office tickets are still expensive, but there are different ways to circumvent the traditional pricing," says Jon Greenberg, editor of Team Marketing Report. "It's easier in every way to get a deal."
What's pushing prices lower? Thanks partly to the steroids scandal that continues to taint baseball's allure -- as well as rising ticket prices over the years -- attendance is on pace to drop for the fourth season in a row, according to Baseballresearch.com. That means more tickets are available for teams to try to unload at any price, and also more tickets potentially available on the resale sites, forcing sellers to compete with one another, says Jack Groetzinger, the co-founder of comparison site SeatGeek.com. At the same time, fans have become increasingly accustomed to shopping around for deals. Each Major League Baseball team has its preferred partner resale site -- for most, it's StubHub -- but that doesn't preclude sellers from offering tickets on any of the hundreds of other resale sites, or posting offers on general sites like eBay and Craigslist. As a result, consumers can look for bargains and wait for ticket prices to fall, although experts say consumers are safer sticking to the 50 or so well-known, reputable sites tracked by FanSnap.com and SeatGeek.com.
Of course, the cheapest tickets are often cheap for a reason: teams are on a losing streak, it's a weekday afternoon game or the matchup is inconsequential. Yankees home game prices have dropped 47% since the start of the season in part because the team is hosting a number of American League West teams that fans aren't interested in seeing, says Christian Anderson, director of FanSnap.com. For example, secondary market tickets to a July 27 Yankees game against the Seattle Mariners start at $7 -- $20 less than the cheapest box office price. Fans who want to see a team on a hot streak, a rivalry game or a player aiming for an historic milestone will pay substantially more. In the days before Derek Jeter recorded his 3,000th hit earlier this month, asking prices for Yankees tickets on secondary market sites jumped from $60 to $200. (Prices swiftly retreated after Jeter notched the milestone.)
For fans looking for cheaper tickets, one of the best places to start these days might actually be the box office. In response to the proliferation of resale sites, teams have started offering their own sales and deals. A handful of teams -- including the the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago White Sox -- are going further, adjusting their prices on a daily basis based on demand. Prices fall when a team's on a losing streak or if ticket sales are sluggish, and rise if the squad is winning or a player is nearing a milestone. Such dynamic pricing offers give fans transparency, but are still largely limited to a few sections of seats or games, says Barry Kahn, chief executive of Qcue, a Texas-based technology company that works with 10 teams. This year, the St Louis Cardinals, Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers began testing such offers. "Every team will be doing this within two to three years," he predicts. Brooks Boyer, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for the Chicago White Sox, says dynamic pricing will help fans on tighter budgets. Terrace tickets for the Cardinals' July 31 home game against the Chicago Cubs recently dropped from $33 to $19 at the box office. Seats in the same section ranged from $42.50 to $66 for other games earlier in the season.
Last-minute buyers can also use their phones to find deals, in and out of the stadium. FanSnap.com launched a free companion app for iPhone last summer. Reviews on iTunes gave the app 2.5 stars out of five, primarily citing "connectivity issues." FanSnap says it investigated the claims to see if there was a bug in the app, but found that most complaints stem from people trying to use the app in areas where there wasn't a good cellular network connection. You're still buying the tickets from a resale site like RazorGator or StubHub so check those site policies -- especially on e-ticketing and pickup options if you're already en route to the game.
Another brand new iPhone app aimed at making your ballgame experience cheaper is Team Marketing Report's FanCostExperience ($0.99), which gives average prices for food, beer and tickets based on what other app users said they paid, and directs you to the cheapest places in the stadium. The app launched July 10, so users may find that some stadiums have more pricing feedback than others. Anderson says e-tickets are sold up to two hours before a game in most markets and most metro areas have outposts for StubHub.com and other resale sites near the stadium. But be warned: "You're playing a game of chicken," Anderson says. If you wait too long, tickets can spike -- as they did for Yankee Derek Jeter's milestone game -- or fans could end up with seats up in the "nose-bleed" promenade seats.