How The Cubs Should Price 2014 Tickets

David Banks

The Cubs have had declining won-lost records and declining attendance for five straight years. How can they price tickets so as to still make money, but sell more tickets? Here's one idea.

This annual post is where I get everyone hot and bothered over this topic; the Cubs will, as noted in Friday's post about the season-ticket holder email we received, send invoices in a little over a week's time, so they have clearly already decided how to price tickets. Thus this is simply an exercise, though I should note that in last year's post on this topic I managed to guess the total price of a 2013 bleacher season ticket within $5 (yes, five dollars), although I didn't quite get the breakdowns of games and prices exactly correct.

So here's my attempt to do the same thing for 2014. Here are a few stipulations before we begin.

  • If this topic does not interest you, please pass it on by.
  • This is not a personal agenda. Yes, I would love to pay less. Who wouldn't? I would happily pay more to see a better team, and have done so in the past. The point of trying to guess what a good price point is, is to say that watching a rebuild team is like watching an expansion team (and late in 2012 and 2013, the major-league Cubs were not much better than expansion level). The business office should price the big-league product accordingly, in my view. When the team gets better, the prices can, should and will go up.
  • I'm limiting this discussion to bleacher ticket pricing, since that's what I'm familiar with. I'm well aware that prices in other parts of the ballpark have not come down as fast as bleacher prices, which (at least for season-ticket holders) are down 25 percent from their 2011 peak.

First, here is what a bleacher season ticket has cost each year since 1997:

1997: 65 games @ $12, 16 games @ $6, season ticket price $876
1998: 64 games @ $12, 17 games @ $6, season ticket price $870
1999: 74 games @ $15, 7 games @ $6, season ticket price $1152
2000: 73 games @ $15, 8 games @ $6, season ticket price $1143
2001: 75 games @ $20, 6 games @ $10, season ticket price $1560
2002: 74 games @ $24, 7 games @ $12, season ticket price $1860
2003: 28 games @ $30, 47 games @ $24, 8 games @ $12, season ticket price $2064
2004: 26 games @ $35, 44 games @ $26, 11 games @ $15, season ticket price $2219
2005: 43 games @ $38, 33 games @ $28, 5 games @ $15, season ticket price $2633
2006: 46 games @ $40, 29 games @ $30, 6 games @ $15, season ticket price $2800
2007: 47 games @ $40, 28 games @ $30, 6 games @ $15, season ticket price $2810
2008: 49 games @ $45, 25 games @ $36, 7 games @ $22, season ticket price $3259
2009: 14 games @ $60, 34 games @ $50, 28 games @ $40, 5 games @ $25, season ticket price $3785
2010: 26 games @ $60, 30 games @ $50, 19 games @ $40, 6 games @ $25, season ticket price $3998 
2011: 13 games @ $81, 17 games @ $65, 19 games @ $47, 17 games @ $36, 15 games @ $22, season ticket price $3992
2012: 13 games @ $85, 9 games @ $56, 21 games @ $41, 27 games @ $28, 11 games @ $17, season ticket price $3422
2013: 7 games @ $75, 9 games @ $52, 29 games @ $42, 19 games @ $30, 18 games @ $19, season ticket price $3075

(Notes: 2011-13 prices are rounded to even dollar amounts due to the splitting out of taxes making prices a non-even dollar amount; bleacher season-ticket holders have gotten a small break, $1 or $2 per ticket, over single-game prices, in 2007, 2012 and 2013.)

As you can see, prices continued to go up after the team's best record during that span (2008), until they peaked in 2010-11. Over the last two seasons, as attendance dropped, the price dropped; it's almost 25 percent below its peak. Tickets sold have dropped from the club-record 3,300,200 in 2008 to 2,642,682 in 2013, about a 20 percent drop. However, I'd assume that in 2008, that virtually all of those 3,300,200 actually were in the house; that butts-in-the-seats count was much, much lower by 2012-13.

What I'm going to suggest here is another price drop, but then also suggest that the Cubs keep the five pricing tiers higher for single-game tickets, perhaps as much as 20 percent higher. This could accomplish two things: first, encourage season-ticket renewals, and second, make it attractive for the first-time season-ticket buyer. Once they do that, they could then float single-game tickets in a true dynamic-pricing system, and still not undercut the price for the season-ticket holder. The box office could then compete with tickets sold on Stubhub. This is how many other teams do it, as I detailed in this article last April. Many teams give anywhere from 30 to 50 percent discounts off single-game prices for season-ticket holders.

The problem the Cubs have with pricing for 2014 is that there are far fewer games that could be considered "marquee." The Yankees are coming -- for two weekdays in May. Those aren't marquee dates, and neither are the two home dates against the White Sox, also two weekdays in May. Saturday games other than those against the Cardinals that have been priced at marquee level over the last two years haven't sold out.

So here are the splits and the prices I'd charge for 2014 bleacher season tickets. (Note: per-game prices listed here are rounded to an even-dollar amount and would include the amusement tax.)

Marquee games: 3, at $65 each (Opening Day, two Saturday summer Cardinals games)
Platinum games: 16, at $45 each (three games in May, seven games in June, four games in July, two games in August)
Gold games: 24, at $35 each (five games in May, six games in June, seven games in July, four games in August, three games in September)
Silver games: 23, at $25 each (April weekends, two games in May, three games in June, seven games in August, seven games in September)
Bronze games: 14, at $15 each (All Mon-Thurs games in April and September and Friday 4/18, except Labor Day and the final series against the Cardinals)

That's a total of $2,540 for a bleacher season ticket, or about a 17 percent decrease from the 2013 price. It would drop the average cost per game over the full 81-game schedule to $31 from the $38 level of 2013. Then, the Cubs could price single-game tickets at or near 2013 prices, which, as noted above, would encourage season-ticket renewals and new purchases.

I've heard that the Cubs have been considering reductions of this type. We'll find out in a little over a week how close I came to reality. And yes, of course I'm renewing no matter what; this post from last month should remind you why. I'll post the pricing structure when I get my invoice.

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