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!