"If people don't want to come to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them."
- Yogi Berra
The great New York Yankees backstop (a man who has earned the right, Joba, to visit the team's clubhouse and hang out, whenever he wants) uttered the words printed above in the 1950s, when one of the century's major technological innovations - the television - delivered baseball games to fans' living rooms, fueling a sharp decline in stadium attendance throughout the Major Leagues.
By the end of that decade, the decline became so severe that owners in cities that hosted two (Boston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis) or even three (New York) teams were forced to find fans elsewhere, leading to the sometimes heartbreaking relocation of MLB teams throughout the Midwest and West. (See the picture of the wrecking ball hitting a dugout at Brooklyn's baseball shrine, the long-gone Ebbets Field, below.)
Today, a half-century later, hampered by an economic recession, competing sports interests and probably - though this hasn't been fleshed out - a performance-enhancing drug problem that MLB and the players' union can't seem to solve, attendance is down again.
that overall attendance is down 4 percent while household ratings for Fox Saturday Baseball - even with the elimination of an annoying cartoon character called "Scooter" - are down 9 percent from this time last season.
Let's be clear: Attendance for large market teams is holding steady and in some cases even improving this year over last.
But there's also at least one anomaly in attendance statistics that deserves a closer look: the San Francisco Giants. The team, though it's located in a large city, generally is considered a midmarket draw, and is subject to the same trends as clubs that have see attendance drop.
This season, however, attendance is up 1.7 percent in the Giants' ballpark overall, and the reason may be a new kind of sports technology. (As a side note: the Giants recently adopted
a Shoretel VoIP-based UC systems, so we know they're not afraid to turn to technology to improve the team's bottom line.)
This season, the Giants are experimenting with a new pricing strategy that the live entertainment, hospitality and travel industries generally refer to as "dynamic pricing." What it means generally is that ticket prices are adjusted to reflect the value of a service given (translation: supply and demand).
In the case of baseball games, it means that a major league team can adjust ticket prices not only based on how close a seat is to the action (the traditional method), but also based on pitching matchups, standings, weather forecasts and other factors. It's a science that we'd expect to take into account such details as hitting streaks (think of Ryan Zimmerman's this year), in-game promotions and tourist trends in the home team's city.
The software that the Giants are using is developed by Austin, Texas-based Qcue
, and we had a chance this week to interview
the company's youthful chief executive officer, Barry Kahn.
Among the several major consequences for teams, fans, ticket-sellers and resellers is this: The dynamic pricing model - while it may raise prices for some hot games, such as Cubs-Cardinals or Mets-Braves - also likely lowers prices for less desirable games, such as weekday series or games that involve smaller-market teams.
Just a quick note here on raising prices based on the dynamic model: As Kahn points out, non-season ticketholders often pay exorbitant prices anyway for the hot tickets, because they're bought up by third-party arbitragers looking to make a buck.
One of the interesting things we learned from our talk with Kahn is that all teams (though to varying degrees) are subject to price sensitivity.