The evolution of the season ticket moved forward this week with the Minnesota Twins introducing a season pass with flexible seating options. But we’re guessing this won’t be the last team to rethink how to offer season tickets to new audiences.
For decades season-ticket sales were the backbone of MLB and MiLB financials: by convincing folks to pay for their seats in a fixed location before games started, season tickets staked teams to important cash flow between seasons. The financial health of most pro baseball teams was tied to season-ticket sales, especially in markets where businesses accounted for most of this between-season revenue, providing both cash and stability.
But as we live in an increasingly on-demand society, season tickets have faded in popularity. This is not new: partial season ticket plans (half season, quarter season, etc.) were an early response to lessened interest in full-season tickets. But an alarming trend has emerged in recent years, as insiders know: rare is the MiLB or MLB team that has not seen a decline in season-ticket sales of all kinds over the last decade. Corporations have increasingly explored different ways of entertaining at the ballpark (four tops, smaller group areas, cabanas), and individuals don’t want to be tied to the same seat for 81 or 40 games. We’ve seen many MLB and some MiLB teams respond with new social spaces designed to accommodate passholders who simply want a spot somewhere at a drink rail or bar spot. These Ballpark Passes are cheap and easy to implement, thanks to advances in ticket technology. Think of these Ballpark Passes less as tickets and more as subscriptions.
The Twins are combining the ease of use of a Ballpark Pass with the advantage of a fixed seat in a Twins Pass program. For a flat fee, a buyer can access Target Field for up to 79 games (two certain sellouts are excluded) and are sold at three different levels: $894 for a lower-level seat, $494 for an upper-deck seat and $294 with no seat at all (your standard SRO ticket). The Twins Passes are billed monthly. Fans can request a seat via a phone app a week before a game or just head to Target Field and wing it. Currently the seats are randomly allocated, but a group can request adjacent seats.
“It’s based on fan research. There’s a new generation of fans who just want access to the ballpark, who like to watch the game from various different spots, or hang out at the Bat & Barrel or Hrbek’s,” Twins President Dave St. Peter told the Star Tribune. “We recognize we need to find ways to connect with younger fans, to push our attendance back to a level that’s representative of the market.”
In the short term, the Twins Pass is an attempt to boost revenue by committing fans to a ticket, however inexpensive: if you buy a pass and attend every game without a seat, you’d be paying $3.72 a game. We’re guessing the expectation is that fans will only use the pass a certain percentage, boosting that per-game number. And lowered ticket revenue will likely lead to increased spending on food and beverage, booting the per caps. We will be interested to see if many traditional season-ticket holders ended up dropping a fixed seat for this flexible plan, or if the plan overwhelmingly generates new sales.
We don’t expect this to be the last attempt to reshape the season ticket. At the 2018 Winter Meetings, we were privy to discussions from more than one team owner discussing ways to overhaul their season ticket plans, indicating how seriously they take the situation. Season tickets these days are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they provide revenue and cash flow in the offseason. But they also commit a team to setting aside prime real estate to folks who may or may not actually show up at a game. There is nothing more frustrating to a GM or team owner than an unused season ticket seat in the rows behind home plate.
One plan would have an MiLB team totally eliminate fixed seating assignment for season-ticket holders, giving them first crack instead at prime real estate and then selling access for the unused seats to the general public, perhaps at a premium. (It would be a twist on the Twins Pass plan, turning season tickets into subscriptions and proactively forcing them to commit to a game, helping teams plan their nightly staffing as well.) The advantage: because it’s highly unlikely everyone would claim a fixed seat on any given night, teams can oversell the space. No-shows then become an asset, not a liability.
Such a move would be pretty gutsy, and we don’t expect to see it any time soon. But steady declines in season-ticket sales will inevitably lead to overhauls in how baseball teams sell plans, and technology will be key in these efforts.
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