Tonight the Rays return home with the best record in baseball. Much has been written about the Rays ongoing struggle with ticket sales and this weekend marks the team’s first big test to see if they can draw big crowds for teams other than the Red Sox or Yankees. We have also received several complaints from fans about the new ticket pricing system and season-ticket options. So we pestered the Rays for some insight. Their answers are mostly propaganda, but they do clear up some of the questions we have been getting from fans. So here you go…
RI: Back in mid-February, Stuart Sternberg called season-ticket sales “bad, not good.” Now that the season has started, how would you describe season-ticket sales?
TBR: We have nothing new to add to Stu’s comments.
RI: Explain the decision process behind tiered-pricing. Have you seen a difference in the way fans are buying tickets? What do you say to the loyal fans who may now think they are being gouged for the more attractive matchups?
TBR: Tiered pricing is used by the majority of teams across Major League Baseball. We are only 6 games into the home season but buying patterns appear to be consistent with past years. We were very proud to be recognized as the Most Affordable Team in Professional Sports last year by ESPN the magazine. It should also be noted that our season ticket holders continue to receive the best value, with a savings of up to 33% off single game pricing.
RI: It seems a lot of fans are confused with the five different price-levels. In hindsight, was five too many? Why not three? Are there any plans to change this system next season?
TBR: We have not heard of any confusion, but we will continue to seek input from our fans about not just our ticket pricing but all aspects of our business.
RI: The smallest season-ticket plan this season is 20 games and Friday, Saturday and Sunday ticket plans now require the fan to also purchase select weekday games. What was the reason for limiting the season ticket options and making the smallest package a full quarter of the season?
TBR: We offer more than 50 season ticket products. They vary by seating categories, price discount, game selections, etc. Each product has its own benefits associated with it. Two benefits that we are most proud of- seniority and postseason opportunities- are offered to all official season ticket holders. Seniority, by way of a priority number, will ensure you the best seats year over year, and postseason opportunities guarantees the ability to purchase all 10 or 11 games that could occur in the postseason. Periodically, we have offered 4-10 game packages in the form of the Holiday pack, Fan Fest pack, 9=8 pack, etc, and we will be offering a Summer Select 6 pack this June.
RI: Why not offer 6, 8 or 10 game packages that include 1-2 Red Sox/Yankees games, as well as 1 or 2 of each of the bronze, silver and gold games?
TBR: What you described is actually very similar to our Summer Select 6 pack, which will be made available in June. Again, being a season ticket holder provides the best value. Many of our fans get together and buy season tickets as a group (and split the tickets).
RI: We have heard from a lot of season-ticket holders that seem to have been priced out of their old seats. Obviously they can choose to move to a cheaper section, but they don’t seem too happy with that option. What efforts have the Rays made to retain these customers? Did you see a significant change in the percentage of season-ticket customers that renewed their packages this season?
TBR: We continue to offer large discounts to season ticket holders, and we continue to emphasize affordability at Tropicana Field. A family of 4 can attend some games for as low as $32, bring in their own food and park for free. As I mentioned before, we are very proud to be ranked the most affordable team in professional sports.
RI: One of my biggest concerns with attendance has been the more expensive seats close to the field. It is not unusual for the Rays to have a decent-sized crown, but on TV it appears as though the place is empty. It seems to me that this perpetuates the myth that nobody is going to the games and may make the Rays seem unpopular to potential ticket buyers. Are these empty “TV seats” a concern to the Rays? Why not make more of an effort to make sure those seats are filled? Is there anything you can do to get fans into those seats if season-ticket holders aren’t showing up? What about unsold seats? Why not let fans that do have season ticket packages place their name on a waiting list so that if seats in those sections do go unsold, your loyal fans can be moved up?
TBR: If you are speaking of the Avant Air Home Plate Club seats (the big cushioned seats directly behind home), almost all of the seats have been sold to season ticket holders. The customer has access to two lounges so they may not be in their seats for the entire game.
Empty seats also sometimes show on TV in the left and right field foul pole areas, which are also some of the last to sell. We have a Group Sales department that offers special discounts in those areas for groups of 20 more, and you will see some large groups during the season in those areas.