Mets get in the game of floating ticket prices

The Mets bat in the first inning against

The Mets bat in the first inning against the Florida Marlins on opening day at Citi Field. (April 5, 2010) (Credit: John Dunn)

The Mets and Yankees are a combined 20 games over .500, school is out and summer is upon us. So perhaps you are considering taking in a Subway Series game at Citi Field this weekend. Lovely idea!

Early last week, you could have bought a ticket to sit in the Pepsi Porch for $92 for tonight's game or $66 Sunday. By Thursday, your cost for the same privilege would have been $95 Friday night or $75 Sunday.

But wait: During the same period, seats in the Metropolitan Box section had dropped from $215 for Friday night to $199, and in the Baseline Box from $125 to $94.

There is nothing new about such fluctuations to anyone with an Internet connection who is familiar with StubHub and other resale sites. Variations based on market demand now are a standard part of the ticket-buying experience.

What is new about the changes above is they were found not at StubHub.com but at Mets.com. This season the Mets have become the first New York-area team to join the trend toward such "dynamic pricing'' in a big way.

The first to take the plunge nationally was the San Francisco Giants in 2010. It paid off, thanks to a dramatic playoff race and a World Series championship.

The Mets have not reached that level yet, but the fact that they have exceeded expectations has helped generate enough demand to justify the risk of allowing prices to float.

"We think it's working very well," said Dave Howard, the team's executive vice president for business operations. "The way I look at it and describe it is it's the next step in the evolution of market-based pricing."

The first step, which the Mets took in 2003, was variable pricing based on the attractiveness of opponents. But such prices are set before the season and, as Howard said, "The reality is a lot happens between that point and when you get closer to the game."

That includes teams' records, weather and pitching matchups, all forces that shape prices on the secondary market but now can be reflected on team sites.

The market always has the final say, of course. So, for example, one might think Sunday's matchup between R.A. Dickey and CC Sabathia would be the hottest ticket of the weekend. Not so. More people evidently prefer a 7:15 p.m. Saturday game to a made-for-ESPN 8:10 p.m. start on a Sunday. Thus: Most prices are higher for Saturday.

Teams increasingly are diving into the dynamic market as an answer to StubHub because even though Major League Baseball has a partnership with that site, teams are better off having fans purchase directly from their box offices.

But that does not mean dynamic pricing will put the secondary market out of business. The Mets, like most teams, establish a price floor to prevent tickets from selling for less than a season-ticket holder has paid on a per-game basis.

That leaves the door open for prices to plunge into the single digits for less attractive games, something the Mets themselves can't get away with lest they anger season-ticket holders.

"We don't see that it hurts our marketplace, simply because there is always going to be the need for fans to resell tickets," StubHub spokeswoman Joellen Ferrer said. "We feel our marketplace is a true reflection of market value."

MLB's deal with StubHub expires after this season. Even if it is renewed, teams can opt out, something the Yankees are considering doing out of frustration with seeing so many of their tickets resold for less than face value. Their paid attendance is down an average of 1,724 per game this season. (The Yankees do not use dynamic or variable pricing.)

Many in the industry are keeping a close eye on the Mets' experience.

Like most teams that employ dynamic pricing, they get data from a company called Qcue that analyzes the market. Howard said the team gets suggestions from Qcue daily but implements only those it chooses to use. Prices are reset daily.

The use of dynamic pricing doesn't seem to have created a stir among fans used to similar concepts in the airline, hotel and rental car businesses. "I don't think anyone is perceiving we're gouging,'' Howard said.

But it is not a cure-all.

Even with their unexpected success, the Mets are averaging 27,515 in paid attendance, down from 28,390 last year at this point. And they are not above using gimmicks, such as a promotion for the Subway Series in which some prices were tied to the game-time temperature during this week's heat wave.

But Howard said the idea is working as intended, getting more people into the ballpark, generating revenue that otherwise might not have been realized and reflecting real-world forces.

"The Mets fan will know,'' he said, "that they don't have to go to a secondary market source, because Mets.com is being priced based on the same factors.''

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