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How The Cubs Should Price 2013 Tickets

Tuesday, Cubs season-ticket holders will get invoices for next year. Will prices, which have been way too high, come down commensurate with team performance? Here's one way they could price tickets reasonably, and still make money.

David Banks-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

You're probably expecting me to begin this article by saying, "Cut prices in half! The team sucks, so don't try to sell tickets at Yankee levels!"

But I'm not going to. Sure, that'd be great. But I'm a realist. Cubs ticket prices have gone up far beyond what team performance would warrant, but the team simply isn't going to lower them to the levels that the current team record would justify. And, once the team gets good and stays good (presuming Theo's plan works), the sky's the limit.

What I'm going to do here is look at how tickets were priced in 2012 -- when even the number of tickets sold were down to pre-2003 levels -- and produce what I think would be a fair plan, one that would encourage season-ticket renewals and new buys, while still leaving the Cubs with a reasonable amount of revenue for 2013.

This analysis is limited to bleacher ticket prices, because that's what I'm most familiar with. However, I note that although bleacher season-ticket holders got a 14-percent reduction in 2012, other season-ticket holders didn't. Thus I would like you to assume, for the purpose of this exercise, that similar reductions to what I'm proposing would happen for all season-ticket holders.

First, in 2012 the Cubs had five price tiers for bleacher tickets (prices noted here are rounded to the nearest dollar, include all fees, and are the season-ticket price; single-game prices were slightly higher):

Tier       Price    No. of games
Marquee    $85      13
Platinum   $56       9
Gold       $41      21
Silver     $28      27
Bronze     $17      11

What's the first thing you notice? Right. The price difference between tier 1 and tier 2 is much, much larger than the difference between any other two tiers. And, there were more games there than were justified by either team performance or the opponent; this meant that weekend dates with the Astros, Reds, Diamondbacks and even the White Sox failed to sell out when they might have otherwise done so at lower levels.

The bleacher season ticket in 2012 cost $3,421.60; that's an average of about $42 per game. But take out that overpriced tier and the other 68 games cost $2,316.60 -- an average of about $34 per game.

Somewhere in between those two numbers is a reasonably-priced average for all dates.

I went through the 2013 schedule and this, I think, is a reasonable breakdown of the dates as scheduled, keeping the five tiers. I should note that the Cubs split games in tiers differently in 2012 for bleachers and "bowl" seats. I think that's too clever by half; that kind of pricing difference might have been true from 2003-2009, but it certainly wasn't true by 2012. This breakdown, I believe, should apply to all seats:

Marquee: 7 (Opening Day, plus July and August weekends vs. Cardinals, except Thu 7/11)
Platinum: 21 (Fri/Sat/Sun games between Memorial Day & Labor Day; White Sox 5/29-30)
Gold: 23 (Sat games before Memorial Day & after Labor Day; all Mon-Thu games between Memorial Day & Labor Day, including Labor Day)
Silver: 10 (all Fri & Sun games before Memorial Day and after Labor Day)
Bronze: 20 (all Mon-Thu games before Memorial Day and after Labor Day)

That actually puts more games (28) in the top two tiers than in 2012 (22), except skews them much more toward the second tier than the first; it puts fewer games (30) in the bottom two tiers than in 2012 (38), but skews them more toward the bottom than the second-to-last tier; thus, the season-ticket holder would wind up paying less even if current pricing levels were continued.

I'm proposing, here, a slight reduction in those levels. The biggest complaint I heard from most people wasn't about bleacher pricing in general -- it was about the $85 top-priced ticket. Now, if that price were dropped, then the Cubs could get closer to true dynamic pricing -- instead of asking the laughable price of $140 for a ticket face-priced at $85 (hint: no one bought them at those prices).

So let's drop the $85 top price to $70 and cut the other tiers by five percent each. Rounding off, that would make them $53, $39, $27 and $15, and for the bleacher season-ticket holder, the total would be $3,070 -- about a 10 percent reduction overall. That would make the average price of a bleacher ticket over the 81 games approximately $38, which is about what it was in 2007. It would also make the difference between the Marquee and Platinum price closer to the difference between the other tiers; in 2012, that difference was almost $30.

After pricing tickets this way for season-ticket holders, the Cubs could price tickets higher for single-game sale -- up to a point, after which they could float them, as the Giants and Cardinals, among other teams, do. This would encourage people with season tickets to renew them, and people from the waiting list to take them. It would also likely result in smaller no-show counts, since tickets priced at these levels would be easier to resell, thus having more butts in the seats to buy concessions and souvenirs.

Do I expect such a reduction? Really, I have no idea. I've heard quite a number of differing theories on where the Cubs are going with ticket pricing. One thing is nearly certain -- if they continue to price tickets at premium levels, higher than the current on-field product is worth, they run the risk of having a larger decrease in ticket sales than they had in 2012 over 2011 (about 4½ percent).

We'll find out Tuesday. I'll post the prices when I get my invoice. If they turn out to be lower than this, I'll be pleasantly surprised.