THE METS TICKET SITUATION, 2011.
The team has recently initiated a broad shake-up of its ticket operations. Over the last several months, Bill Ianniciello, the longtime head of ticket sales, was replaced by Leigh Castergine, an executive brought in to overhaul the department in the wake of last year’s steep decline in attendance.
Mets Could Feel Financial Squeeze Beyond Opening Day, New York Times, 2/26/11
In all of the Madoff/Wilpon madness over the past few weeks, this particular bit of news appeared to be glossed over. It doesn’t surprise me when issues regarding ticket sales get ignored; beat writers don’t buy tickets and they sit in the press box. Issues of pricing, obstructions, and how many people are actually in the ballpark vs. the idiotic attendance figure (which is tickets sold, not bodies through the turnstiles) get ignored. But there is a potential story here.
Leigh Castergine, the Mets new VP of Ticket Sales, comes from the NBA (Orlando Magic) and most recently the NHL, where she worked for the Bruins, where she was Director of Sales. I don’t know much about hockey, but I know they treat their season ticket holders like gold. And I can tell you a lot about what the Bruins do, because I know a season ticket holder:
We have a specific individual account rep (back-end client management), plus another individual sales rep (front-end sales). You get to pick from a selection of fan appreciation packages when you sign up- one geared towards businesses, one towards families/kids, and one more general one. In addition to tickets for all preseason games and dibs on playoff tix, we also got free tickets to the rookie games in preseason. After one of those rookie games, they had a STH reception with all the rookies/minor league players – food, booze and all the players walking around talking to people while dressed up in suits. Since then, as a STH, I’ve been invited to drive the Zamboni during a game, sat in on semi-regular “state of the Bruins” meetings with GM, front office, and players, and been to Scouting Meetings pregame where the VP/Player Development gave us updates on rookies in the system, scouting needs, trades and took questions. We get invited to all Bruins Foundation events (the non-profit wing where the players throw parties or other events to raise money for charity)- usually at a significant discount. The coolest thing they do is the Select-A-Seat event . In the summer, after everyone has purchased their STs, they open up the Garden one night, and mark off every available seat that’s not currently held by a STH. Then they rotate through the STHs in small-ish groups, and you can roam around the Garden and if you see any open seats you’d rather have than the ones you have, you can switch. Then between each group, they update the marked seats so the next group can pick from the updated group. That’s how I got glass seats! Because of our glass seats, we also got membership in the Legends Club, which allows us to get into the Garden 2 hours before faceoff (1 hour before the gates open for everyone else) — and there’s a nice bar with food and alcohol, plus we can walk right up and watch the visiting teams warm up in the hallway outside the club, and generally have freedom to walk around anywhere in the Garden for that hour before the general population gets in. It’s very cool.
Of course, I understand that there are way more (way more) baseball games per year than there are hockey games, and there are more baseball fans than hockey fans. But I’d like to think that some of the immediate changes we’ve seen around ticket plan sales — dedicated ticket reps, extended payment plans — are coming from this same spirit of understanding and serving ticket holders, and I look forward to see what Ms. Castergine can do in the future.
I look forward to this, because until this happened, I believed that the Mets felt that they understood their ticket problem, and were going to go about it in the same old ways they have been handling this in the past – in other words, coming up with the best way to spin the smallest possible change in ticket pricing and making it sound like they were great philanthropists who lived to bring affordable baseball to the masses. I will give credit where credit is due and say that the hiring of a new executive in this area seems to recognize that they have a problem and are trying to do something about it.
The problem is, of course, that most of the seats are overpriced, and despite the various “reductions” the seats are still over priced. The seats that are fairly priced are in such high demand that the Mets think they can just keep raising the price, and now the Promenade Reserved Infield is very well sold, while the rest of the park struggles. We sat in the Mezzanine at Shea, but there is nothing comparable at Citi Field. There are people who would love to sit on the Caesar’s Club level, but because it’s a club level, the tickets are overpriced, so those people head upstairs – where they find that Promenade Club is overpriced. Promenade Club prices are almost double what Promenade Reserved Infield tickets cost. Tickets for Opening Day in Section 420 are $10 more than tickets on the field level in the Baseline Box section 127.
They reduced prices, and say they did, but no one digs in and sees what the actual reduction is – or isn’t, as the case may be. I’m sorry, but it’s not a big story that the $400 tickets are now $300. The companies who buy those tickets are overjoyed. Yippee.
It’s like when the Rolling Stones go on tour, they make sure there are two seats in the stadium that are priced at $25. That way they can say, “Our tickets are affordable! They start at $25!” The media buys that bullcrap (well, some of them do), and that’s what’s happening here. The Mets reduced some ticket prices, but then jacked up the Promenade because it was the only thing that was selling consistently. They wouldn’t reduce Caesar’s Club, but offered some of those ticket holders $100 gift cards as a way of offsetting the price – which is not the same as reducing the price, but clearly they are terrified to do that any more than they have to.
And don’t get me started on the service charges.
Last year, I wrote a post about what I think the Mets need to do to fix the attendance problem at Citi Field. Hooray, they finally offered a discount to season ticket holders. They started to offer people the chance to pay in multiple installments. There is still a very, very long way to go by any appreciable standard. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but something has just got to give.
We didn’t buy a plan from the Mets this year. We are, however, going to 25 games, sitting in a lower row than row 14, and getting the season ticket holder discount to boot. More on that in a future post.