Empty Seats and Free Tickets

The Tampa Bay Rays have been in the news for two reasons this week: for clinching a playoff spot and for players complaining about low attendance. Specifically, Evan Longoria and David Price commented on how “disheartening” it is to play in front of such a small crowd when they are playing for a playoff spot.  Longoria said “…for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we’re all confused as to why it’s only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building.”

Rays management decided to respond to the players’ concerns by giving away 20,000 tickets for Wednesday’s (tonight’s) game, with the hope of creating a great atmosphere in the stadium before the playoff begin.  You can read the details on this promotion on tampabay.com.  I have a few thoughts on both halves to this story.

Let’s start with the players’ statements regarding the low attendance. My former classmate Eric pointed out that this is a potentially risky position for the players to take in “calling out” the team’s fans.  On the most basic level, the attendance for a baseball game is based on supply and demand, and over the past years, I think we’ve seen that the demand for regular season baseball games in this market isn’t there, at least not on a level that would fill Tropicana Field.  Outside of the physical venue itself (which I understand that people are not very fond of), the team has done pretty much all they can to increase demand. They clearly have a great on-field product, they offer tickets at all different price levels for a wide range of buyers, and they actively promote the team in the marketplace (marketing, PR, media, etc.).  With their current situation in that stadium and with all the alternatives that their have when it comes to time and money, the team may simply have reached their economic equilibrium.

With that in mind, the players’ decision to comment on the low attendance has little chance of actually increasing ticket sales. In fact, there’s a chance that their comments could actually hurt fans that do choose to watch on television but for some reason choice not to purchase tickets. These fans are still very important and should not be discouraged.

As for the team’s ticket giveaway, there are definite good and bad points about it.  On the positive side, it shows that the team cares about the players’ opinion and are willing to take action.  The giveaway has the chance of getting some fans in the building that typically choose not to buy tickets, and if they have a good experience, it could lead to future sales and increased attendance.  It can also be a positive PR move in the Tampa community.

On the negative side, openly giving away large numbers of tickets devalues the product that other customers have paid for, especially your season ticket holders.  The team is trying to account for this the best they can, by only giving tickets in certain sections and allowing paying customers to upgrade their seats at no cost, but you still create a divide between those that had to pay and those that didn’t. In addition, the team decided to hand out the tickets at the stadium starting at 4:45PM instead of allowing for an online redemption process.  There is a big trade-off here. With this method, their redemption rate will by close to 100% for however many tickets are distributed. However, in trying to distribute 20,000 tickets in roughly 2 hours, I can’t imagine that they’ll be able to collect contact information on these fans, which can be a lost opportunity for future sales and marketing efforts.

It will be interesting to see how many tickets they end up giving away tonight.  I wish the team a lot of luck with their offer and their future ticket sales!

14 thoughts on “Empty Seats and Free Tickets

  • September 29, 2010 at 9:10 am
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    I wanted to note this and maybe I am wrong.

    If you already bought tickets for the game the team is saying you can exchange them. So in theory, those fans who bought tickets can exchange tickets for another game which would mean that not one person at the game could spend a dime at the Trop.

  • September 29, 2010 at 9:12 am
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    Matt – they can exchange them for a better location for this game, not for a future game. Sorry if that part wasn’t clear.

  • September 29, 2010 at 9:42 am
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    Gotcha,

    Thanks for the clarification. Keep up the great work on the blog. Absolutely love the insight.

  • September 29, 2010 at 11:53 am
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    I agree with the pros and the cons- definitely gets people in the building, some who would have never done so and some who just lost interest… in hopes to turn them into repeat buyers/attendees. Who knows, they could purchase tix for the next game OR they could sit and expect to be given free tickets again.

    The players calling them out could result in a “what have you done for me lately?” argument that they don’t want to open.

  • September 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm
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    People have very busy lives, especially once school starts back up in the fall. They have a variety of things they could devote their time to each and every evening, some entertainment-related, some not. Obviously, the Rays’ on-field product is not the issue. Just glancing at the situation without having ever been to Tampa indicates to me that the stadium is probably in an awful, inconvenient location and that fans just have no interest in driving out to a stadium that is widely regarded as having a very drab environment. They’d rather stay home and watch the game on TV while being able to flip over to The Office or Dancing With the Stars or The Biggest Loser or Jersey Shore if they feel like it. I LOVE baseball and I’ve been to one game in Arlington this season and would never even dream of going out there on a weeknight. The traffic is abominable and the parking lot might as well be in New Mexico. It’s not convenient.

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  • September 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm
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    Fans who aren’t season ticket holders have to make choices on a game-to-game basis on how to spend their limited supply of disposable income. If you can only afford to go to one or two games for the rest of the season, and the September games are relatively meaningless b/c you know the team has locked up a playoff spot, aren’t you going to make the choice to save your money for October baseball?

  • September 29, 2010 at 3:06 pm
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    If their goal is simply just to fill up the stadium, then I can’t blame them for giving out tickets however they can. But the marketer in me thinks this is a huge missed opportunity to collect data/leads. It seems like they could have implemented an online redemption process without too much trouble.

  • September 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm
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    With respect to what Eric said, he is correct, the stadium is in a VERY inconvenient place to most of the Tampa Bay area (I lived there for four years). According to one of the Tampa sports talk radio personalities, there are only 600,000 people living in a 30 minute driving radius to the Trop, which is the LOWEST in MLB. Traffic from Tampa to St. Pete is brutal on the weekdays. So you’d really have to be a diehard fan to go to a game on a weekday.

    Also, Tampa has been hit particularly hard by the economy due to the amount of construction and home sales that have been lost.

    Finally, I think the players have a right to say they are disappointed in the fan turnout, just as the fans have the right not to turnout. It isn’t the worst thing if fans are reminded that their presence at games does actually give players a boost, and is noticed.

  • September 29, 2010 at 4:37 pm
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    Great comments everyone. Really enjoy the various perspectives. I don’t know much about the actual building or location so Amanda and Eric’s insight is great.

    Given the success of the team, however, I’d still expect more fans to be in attendance. The Yankees vs. Rays series (which had serious playoff implications) drew roughly 28,000 per game. I’ve gone to a lot of games at the Oakland Coliseum (Oakland A’s) which isn’t a great stadium but when the A’s were in contention the place was electric.

    Russell makes a great point that giving away tickets not only devalues the product but by handing out tickets in person they likely aren’t collecting any fan information.

  • September 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm
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    In response to Chris about expecting more fans to be in attendance than 28k, I don’t know that I agree. The Rays reported attendance has been relatively steady the past 3 seasons while they’ve been winning… around 22-23k per game on average. Even if they get a new stadium that is more comfortable and convenient for their fans, they’d probably boost that per-game average by about 5k (at least in the first few seasons, assuming they’re still putting a competitive team on the field). Drawing 27k-to-28k per game is actually around the league average… similar to the Astros, White Sox and Padres this season. What that says to me is that if you take an average MLB market and combine it with an inconvenient/outdated ballpark, you’re gonna get below average attendance, playoff team or not.

  • September 30, 2010 at 1:32 am
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    Good point Brian. My argument is that I’d expect more fans for a series against the Yankees that had playoff implications, or a series in which the Rays could clinch a playoff birth. The Cleveland Indians did a study recently (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aIMcWw4Qzvlk) and found that Yankees games alone boosted attendance 11,000. Thus for a Yankees series in September I’d expect more, while understanding 28K for a typical game is about the league average.

  • September 30, 2010 at 8:51 am
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    Another piece that hasn’t been mentioned is the fact that so many people living in Tampa / Central Florida are transplants that brought with them allegiances to other teams. When you combine those allegiances with the inconvenience of getting to and from the game I can see why people don’t show up.

  • October 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm
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    Great article and great comments. I particularly don’t know the area but if one of the true issues is the park’s location (along with traffic/parking/…) maybe we could start seeing shuttle buses+reduced price ticket packages like in college sports. I honestly don’t know if this is already being done (I’m not a big baseball fan, really) but at least management could charge ‘something’ (of course enough to cover costs) for the package and get extra revenue from food and drinks in the ballpark.
    Prior to that, I believe online redemption activity is a must in order to understand true reasons for low attendance.

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