A fun annual ritual of baseball teams that have just capped off surprisingly good seasons is to capitalize--emphasis on capital--on fan enthusiasm by raising ticket prices.
Another fun ritual is for baseball teams deep in the clutches of a multi-year attendance slide (such as, a run of six years of diminishing returns like the White Sox are in) to start exhausting every possible means of meeting their increasingly disinterested fans halfway.
On Thursday, the White Sox emphatically opted for the latter, unveiling a bevy of planned cuts to the price of attending games at U.S. Cellular Field in 2013.
- 87% of season tickets are having their prices held static or reduced.
- Prices of bleacher seats are being reduced 32%, outfield reserve tickets are being reduced 30%. For bleacher seats, that's a drop of approximately $700 per year for a season ticket.
- Prime and Premier pricing tiers for individual series are being removed. These designations were not only a tool for the franchise to make extra money off of partial season ticket holders who were required to pick from these series, but also removes the ability for the marketing department to tout their cheapest rates in advertising and defensive public statements, while at the same time making a killing off of the matchups people actually want to see.
- Corner outfield seats are available for $20 all-year-round save for Opening Day and the Cubs series, while corner upper deck seats will be $7. That sets more reasonable bare minimums to enter the 100-level concourse (since the ban on upper level ticket buyers entering the low concourse appears to be staying), and the ballpark itself.
- Parking has been reduced to $20 per game from a previous mark of $25, and will go down to $10 on Sundays.
- 27-game season plans will cost more than 25% less "on average".
- $810 now represents the cheapest full-season ticket available.
- The cost of premium upper box and upper reserved seats are being reduced by 17%, regular upper box seats are having their prices slashed by 28%.
It's a big glut of price-cutting information, but here are some notes.
The changes are being introduced as a response to a study conducted by independent consultant Rich Luker, an author and columnist for the Sports Business Journal. It of course sounds goofy for the White Sox to implicate that they needed an expert to tell them that their first big step in reversing a six-year slide in attendance is to stop banging on the door of the top five most expensive fan experiences in the sport. But Luker probably helped calibrate the extent of the cuts.
The cuts should have a significant effect on Half-Price Mondays, if for no reason besides that $7 seems like as low as the team would go for park admission. That's one of many details--along with whether a raise can be expected for premium sections (and how much of one), or the details and requirements of smaller partial season plans--that won't be fleshed out until more is finalized.
Next season brings construction and disruption to the CTA Red Line, which has been seen as a possible hindrance to attendance. It's unlikely that the White Sox would be hedging against a collapse in traffic when they could simply aggressively push the Green Line as a public transportation alternative, but the parking reductions will offer temptation for those hesitant to adapt.
Finally, the White Sox for years have put their price out ahead of their performance, in anticipation of the day where the team would catch up and drive in a torrent of revenue. For years, they brushed off suggestions even just to slash the prices of the very cheapest of the upper deck seats for the sake of filling them. While dynamic pricing actually saw the prices of some games drop in response to demand in 2012, we're still less than two years removed from Chairman Reinsdorf requesting with full seriousness for fans to invest with vigor in early-season tickets in response to theoretical off-season improvements.
In that light, this a sudden and significant change in tune. Even if a trip into the morass of a newspaper comment section finds fans railing that this proposal only goes half as far as it needs to, it's a trip to see the Sox walking in this direction at all.
As far as breaking points go, six consecutively worse years at the office and finishing under two million total fans is a legitimate one. But a cynical man--perhaps a man embittered by watching the Tigers celebrate being able to string seven wins together after a disappointing regular season, perhaps a man who hasn't seen a home playoff game since his college years, perhaps just a burnt-out blogger at the end of a long week--might point out that a concession in prices is an awfully good way to prime a fanbase for a more challenging period of baseball lying ahead.