Thursday, July 4, 2013

Attendance and "dynamic pricing"

The Twins' announced attendance for the Monday and Tuesday games against the Yankees didn't reach 30,000, a fact that had Pat Reusse declaring on Twitter that "Twins fans don't give a damn about this team." (When the Wednesday night game drew 38,000 plus, Reusse credited the scheduled fireworks.)

I would think that those figures suggest more that Yankee fans in Minnesota -- and they're out there  -- don't care about their team, but never mind that.

A greater point is that in this new age of "dynamic pricing," attendance -- or, more precisely, tickets sold, since that's what is announced -- is not a particularly good measure of fan interest.

Pull out your handy-dandy Twins pocket schedule and examine the seating chart. Note the lack of specific prices. The Twins have not only a bewildering number of section classifications in Target Field, they have five different classifications for games. The Friday-Saturday games last month against Detroit were listed as "elite" games; the Sunday game of that same series was a "premium" game; when Detroit comes to Minnesota for a weekday series in the last week of the season, those games will be "extra value" games, and the tickets will be considerably lower priced.

The result that the same seat is priced differently for different games.

And the point of dynamic pricing isn't to maximize ticket sales; it's to maximize income. These are not the same.

Let me illustrate with some made-up numbers -- made up because (a) I'm not privy to the real numbers and (b) I want to keep this easy to follow.

Imagine a section of 1,000 tickets. If you price them at $10 apiece, you can sell them all for each game, $10,000. Price them at $100, you only have to sell 100 of them to get that same $10,000. Sell 500 of them at that price, you get $50,000 -- and Pat Ruesse sees empty seats.

I suspect that, had the Twins known how little interest there would be in the Yankees as an opponent -- remember, these aren't the Yankees we've come to know and loathe; no Jeter, no A-Rod, no Teixeira, no Granderson -- this series wouldn't have gotten the elite, gouge-the-buyers designation. (Even in Yankee Stadium, ticket sales are down some 6 percent, and the TV ratings are reportedly down an astounding 40 percent.)

But I don't know that for a fact. It's possible that the extra charge levied for these "elite" games against the Yankees more than made up for the fact that about a third of the tickets went unsold. I do suspect that after a few years of dynamic pricing, the Twins will have sufficiently refined the algorithm to find the sweetest spot of revenue.

That's their goal, remember. Not butts in seats, but money in the wallet.

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