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08 November 2005

Let's not panic, people

All of the posts at Athletics Nation and other boards reek of overreaction. There's a lot of information going around, and it's important to keep everything in perspective.

First, the only ticket prices that have been posted and verified are those for which season tickets will be sold. This is largely a marketing decision that aims at the parts of the Coliseum that will have the most consistent service. The problem with the previous situation is that for games where you could expect 25,000 or less, it was difficult to determine the proper staffing levels. In fact, it was common on Monday and Tuesday nights to see no concesssion stands open on the View concourse and the outer reaches of the Plaza concourse. That may not mean much to fans who are, well, used to the situation, but it makes for a pretty time-consuming affair just to get a hot dog if you were unfortunate enough to sit in the affected sections. Since those concession stands will only be open for high-attendance games, it makes sense to only sell season tickets for sections whose level of service will be relatively consistent and homogenous regardless of the game date, time, or attendance scenario. Season ticket holders should feel that they are getting some kind of value-added aspect to their commitment, and this pricing scheme moves things in that direction. Remember that Wolff is a hotelier and fully understands basic and advanced concepts of customer service. There's plenty to criticize in the handling of this matter, but I'll get to that later.

Second, the A's needed to establish greater price differentiation among their tickets. The pre-2006 pricing structure was probably the simplest in the major leagues. That made it easy for walk-up fans, but it made it difficult for the A's to sell value among the pricing tiers. Even low-revenue teams like Kansas City and Minnesota had more sophisticated pricing structures than Oakland, where the entire upper deck is a single price. The new pricing structure is much more graduated than in years past. The obvious holes in the structure are at the $12, $16, and $24 levels (based on single game prices). $12 or $16 can be filled by the View level seats. Before you start screaming in a comments post, keep in mind that similar seats at the Metrodome cost $18. At Kauffman Stadium they're $12, and across the bay at China Basin they're $19 or $24 depending on whether the games are on weekdays or weekends. View level seats are usually subject to heavy discounting, and that probably won't change if the View level seats are sold. We can probably say goodbye to the Double Play Wednesday promotion, since it may have hurt the A's seasonal ticket revenue in the long run. Think more along the lines of more frequent newspaper family packs or half-price nights for students (wishful thinking? I'm not a student).

The argument above assumes that the View level seats are sold, which is not a given. The A's are in a tough position regarding the View level. There's no way to cut corners on service without completely eliminating concessions and security to parts of the View level. The split-level concourse design prevents the A's from easily closing off sections of seats while providing service to those that are open, as the Dodgers do with the Pavilion bleachers in their outfield. The A's could go with a two or three-tiered pricing scheme with the View level, say $16, $12, and $8 or $6, but they'd have to keep the facilities open on the upper concourse to justify the price hike along the infield.

There is an interesting potential benefit to this. Since the big-ticket games (Giants, Yankees, BoSox, fireworks) usually have high advance sales, pushing season ticket holders (A's fans) to the lower decks relegates more of the opposing team's fans to the View level.

Whatever happens with the View level, the A's have a few months and much initial feedback upon which they can put together a viable single-game pricing strategy. In doing that, they can do the one thing that would help clear up a lot of the confusion: FIX THE WEBSITE! It looks like they just pasted the new table of prices without updating the seating map or the interactive pricing map guide. Fans looked at the site and saw two different prices for seats along with no explanation for the missing View level in the table. Bad information begets FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Get the graphics fixed and post a message about the View level that explains it once and for all, and you'll put the nervous nellies' minds at ease. The sooner it gets done, the better. I have the feeling that the calls and e-mails from early Monday afternoon elicited responses from the ticket sales staff that weren't properly prepared or informed. By the time I called just before 5 p.m. on Monday, it sounded like the ship was in order. Still, there's still a good amount of confusion (and perhaps misconceptions) among some of the most faithful fans, so there should be some sort of release that addresses their concerns.

15 comments:

jrbh said...

Who's panicking? People are just pissed off. One of the charms of the Coliseum is that it's one of the few major league ballparks left in the country that has a truly democratic fan base. It's also one of the few places in the country where (a) tickets are available and (b) cheap enough for students, poor kids and casual fans to check things out.

This move doesn't take place out of context, either: people clearly don't trust Wolff and his intentions. Partly this is a hangover from the Schott/Hoffman years, but I think it's also fair to say that Wolff has shown already that he isn't a friend of the average fan or the East Bay and would much prefer the Giants' 30-to-50-rich-whites-and-asians-only ballpark attendance model, in Oakland or wherever else he can make the most money for himself.

Kenny said...

I won't be a student for long, but I will have a student ID with no expiration date for a long time.

Other than that, the move makes all of the business sense, even though it dows have an emotional toll on me. Some of my favorite seats are in the 300's.

Georob said...

This is one of those times where the impact of the blogosphere is felt. In the "old media", very few would be paying attention to this(at least in November), giving the A's time to get their marketing in synch.

I suspect Athletics Nation has a mole or two inside the A's front office(AN had the Ken Macha rehiring online almost 30 minutes before anyone else did) which is a double-edged sword to say the least.

As Marine Layer says, this is all about building a season ticket base. Still, if you have a game where the first and second deck is sold out 72 hours before game time, I see no reason NOT to put the third deck on sale, at least for high demand games. Trust me, this will be tweaked big time by the time we get to Fan Fest.

And Jeff, it is indeed unfortunate that "working class" fans may come up short when we finally get a new venue. I would hope that Lew Wolff takes this into account. (I think temporary bleacher seating for some games would work) But we need the yuppies, too. And that's just a fact of life.

jrbh said...

I'm not against yuppies going to ballgames. Almost all my best friends are yuppies. I'm against *only* yuppies going to ballgames.

Kevin said...

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

If you want to field a competitive team, you're going to have to spend the money. Right now, the A's are having a hard time competing with the likes of Anaheim, Boston and NY because of their limited payroll. The only thing which is keeping us "in the game" is our A+ farm system. If we want to keep our fee agents, or shop for one, the A's will have to find a way to increase their revenues. And Double Play Wednesdays will not do it.

Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that I can pick up tickets right up until game time, or come 20 minutes before a game and find parking up close. But if we need Double Play Wednesdays or some other dollar promotion to draw 25,000, what does that tell you about the current fan support?

jrbh said...

Well, I'd argue with just about everything you said: first, as you noted, the A's, without spending a ton of money, *are* fielding a competitive team. But I'm not sure it's because of the farm system; it doesn't seem to me dramatically more productive than the other well-run teams in MLB. Rather, we choose to play our kids instead of cashing them in the way some other organizations do.

Second, it's clear that the team could, with everything staying the way it is in terms of venue, spend quite a bit more money than it is now. The desire of Schott and Hoffman to milk the team for every dime probably cost the A's a World Series or even maybe two in the last few years. They could have spent quite a bit more on players without losing money.

Third, with a team that publicly tells it's fans over and over again that it's too poor to go all the way, the A's still finish in the middle of the pack or so in attendance. *That* says everything I need to know about A's fans.

Oakland Si said...

No Moles

...at least not on this issue. I simply noticed that the View Level was missing from the 2006 seating and pricing page, and asked on AN whether anyone had any information. A poster who has had season tickets on the third deck called the ticket office...and the rest is history

Anonymous said...

If we're in the middle of the pack even when we're fielding contending teams AND despite playing in one of the largest stadiums, yes it tells you something about A's fans: that they're passionate, they're optimistic, but they're few and far in between.

Z said...

As OakSi said, no moles. We pieced together all the information from quotes and speculation, and from poster after poster calling the Front Office. It pretty much was Speculation leading to Speculation leading to.. and so on.

And the media and newspapers still have no clue on this subject at all. If they do, possibly spurred by the flurry that struck after the origional chance observation, its because the A's are keeping them quiet.

The problem is by keeping it so quiet, they are not allowing themselves the chance to put their positive spin on it and help quell it before ... well.. what has already happened, happen; the topic going out of control and leading to an increasingly negative feeling towards it by simply reacting to it.

The problem probably is that they do not even know what their complete plan and do not have their plan in place.

Anonymous said...

Are the feelings overwhelmingly negative over on AN? I don't think so, the posters seem pretty much evenly split. Of course, those who feel like they were violated by this (supposed) move are being the most vocal. But you have quite a few posters who have expressed their support for this plan.

And as for the fan base as a whole, I'm sure there are alot more of those who don't really care about this than those who will have been "alienated".

kudzu said...

jrbh, it's that 30-to-50-rich-folks model that contributes to the Giants having a revenue of many many times that of the A's. And if I remember correctly, you have always been one of the most vocal bashers of the A's "cheap" ways, how they let their stars walk, how they can't sign free agents, how they had to trade away Hudson and Mulder, etc. Well, put 2 + 2 together for a second and you'll realize that it's sheer hypocrisy at worst, or plain idiocy at best, to demand from the A's large-market expenditures and yet at the same time denounce any of their attempts to emulate large-market ticket sales strategies.

Sure you have every right to wish that the A's remain accessible to students, families, and the poor, and that's great, but if you choose that position you have no right to complain about the A's constant roster turnover and payroll restrictions.

jrbh said...

I don't buy your premise, kudzu, which is that the A's don't have enough money, as things are presently constituted, to compete. I believe that Schott and Hoffman took huge profits rather than invest in the team.

I'd also argue that if, in order to compete, the team needs to shut out people who can't afford $30 or $40 a game, then fuck major league baseball. We're better off without it.

By the way, the decision the A's made which has hurt them the most wasn't about money, per se: it was the choice to sign Chavez rather than Tejada. It certainly cost the A's the division in '04, probably cost the division in '05, and will hurt us for years to come.

Kevin said...

jrbh,

Where did you get the information that Schott and Hoffman took huge profits rather than investing in the team? Granted they did make a lot of money when they sold the team, but on an annual basis, what was their bottomline?

Georob said...

Well, no one outside of baseball can ever see the accounting records, but suffice to say that Steve Schott, Ken Hoffman and Lew Wolff wanted to make a certain return on their investment. (I guess I should add John Fisher too)Trying to guess how much profit is being "hoarded" at the expense of player salaries is a waste of time.

What I'm trying to say is that it's their money to do with what they see fit. If my #1 priority as a fan is having a team pay more to get or retain star players, then I probably gave up on the A's a long time ago anyway.

If fans don't like the way the A's are run, they either root for another team or find something else to do. That's business.

jrbh said...

The last thing baseball owners want is for fans to think of what they do as "just business." Without special emotional attachements and without special legal protection, baseball would have gone the way of ice hockey years ago.

Vis. the money, Schott and Hoffman themselves liked to brag that they made money every year; some estimates are that they took home as much as $15M in good years. On top of that, they realized a *huge* profit when they sold the team, buying very low from the Haas family and selling medium-to-high to Wolff and Fischer. Every major league team went up in value during the period Schott and Hoffman owned the team; they chose to take that value and walk away with it rather than invest in the team.