Are pro sports in Minnesota recession-proof? Ticket prices may tell the story

Bud Selig, baseball’s vaunted commissioner, recently said out loud what other leagues have been saying internally: In the face of the global financial meltdown, pro sports is not recession-proof.

Despite massive subsidies to teams’ bottom lines from television networks and from governments for stadiums, ticket pricing remains at the cutting edge of the lifeline of the industry.

“We need to protect our ticket prices,” Selig told reporters in Milwaukee during the National League playoffs. “This is family entertainment. I tell the clubs this all of the time … We should be very careful not to get too cocky and overprice ourselves.”

What about Twin Cities pro teams? Are they getting cocky?

Twins increases
Last month, the Twins organization announced its ticket prices for next season and new Target Field in 2010.

Here at MinnPost, I quickly praised the team for its reasonably priced tickets: 37 percent at $20 or less per ticket as part of a season’s ticket package.

But some readers questioned how reasonable the entire Twins ticket increase will be. Between 2008 and 2010, the average ticket price for all fans — not counting super-high-priced club and suite tickets — will rise 60 percent, from $21 to $33. (That doesn’t count tickets in luxury suites and high-end, fancy club seats.)

One MinnPost reader noted that this is the troublesome and predictable pattern: A team gets a publicly subsidized facility and then piles on with ticket prices.

A painful example is Dave Bice, a local businessman, who has for the past three seasons purchased four Twins season tickets just beyond third base at the Metrodome. Each ticket cost $28 per game. At 81 home games per season, the four seats cost Bice a stiff $9,072 per year.

But with the Twins announced ticket prices for Target Field, a comparable seat will cost Bice $69 per game, a 250 percent increase. Those four season tickets, if he decides to keep them, will cost $22,356.

If he were to move farther back from the playing field, to less attractive seats, those will cost him $38 per seat, a 35 percent price increase, for a total of $12,312.

“I think they’re way overpriced,” said Bice, who operates a construction firm. “And I live in Hennepin County, too. I’m paying for the ballpark anyway.”

He referred to the ballpark-dedicated 0.015 increased sales tax (3 cents on $20) that everyone who shops in the state’s most populous county pays.

The marketplace
An analysis of Major League Baseball ticket prices for the past five years finds that the Twins have been consistently below the league-wide average, according to statistics developed by Team Marketing Report, a respected industry newsletter.

Of the other area pro franchises, only the Timberwolves have been below their respective league’s average ticket price.

Average ticket price for Minnesota teams

Here are the average ticket prices for the Twin Cities' four major-league teams for the 2008 and 2008-09 seasons.
Source: Team Marketing Report; MinnPost reporting.
Here are the average ticket prices for the Twin Cities’ four major-league teams for the 2008 and 2008-09 seasons.

The Vikings and Wild have been consistently above their leagues’ ticket average; the Vikings this season are at $73 per ticket, and the Wild average ticket tops $60 per game.

About half of the Wolves’ season’s tickets cost $20 or less per game. (For single-game tickets, about one-third of all Target Center seats cost $20 or less.)

But when the $90 and $175 tickets are factored in, the Wolves average this season still reaches past $49 per game.

(By the way, tickets for the WNBA’s Lynx range from $10 to $155 per game, with the best seats costing $31 and $42 apiece in season-ticket packages. The minor-league St. Paul Saints have the good-ol’-days ticket prices: $5 to $12.)

Historical context
Consider how far ticket prices have come since the Twins moved to Minnesota in 1961 … prehistoric sports times, to be sure.

These may be recalled as the “good old days” for consumers, but not for players or even for the game. Baseball has flourished by every measure since the advent of free agency in the 1970s; attendance, salaries, franchise values and TV rights fees are all up dramatically.

Here’s a comparison of Twins ticket prices the past five years and for 2010*, the team’s first year in new Target Field, with Major League Baseball’s average ticket and those for two American League teams.

Up through this year, the Twins have averaged about $20 per ticket. By 2010, it seems likely the Twins’ average ticket price will exceed the Major League average for the first time.

*2010 prices: The Twins have announced season prices. The comparisons assume a typical 5 percent annual increase in MLB prices.
Source: Team Marketing Report; Minnesota Twins; MinnPost reporting.
*2010 prices: The Twins have announced season prices. The comparisons assume a typical 5 percent annual increase in MLB prices.

According to the Major League Baseball Players Association, the minimum salary in 1961 was $6,000, or about $43,000 in 2008 dollars.

That’s less than Twins first baseman Justin Morneau made per game this past season.

Average salary data are only available back to 1967; the average wage then was $19,000 per player, or about $121,000 in today’s dollars.

This past season, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the Twins average player salary was about $2.5 million.

That’s 20 times greater than in the 1960s.

But in 1961 and 1965 — the Twins’ first season in Minnesota and the franchise’s first World Series appearance — the highest-priced ticket in Met Stadium was $3.

That’s equivalent to $21.50 for the box seat, in today’s dollars. The average price of $2 per ticket would amount to $14.25 today.

Remember, this past season the Twins’ average ticket price was about $21. All things considered, to date, Twins ticket prices haven’t soared toward the top half of the MLB charts.

But, come 2010, they likely will.

Have you been to a movie lately? It might cost you $10 a ticket.

The recent Eagles concert at Target Center: Most tickets were $87 or $187 a piece.
Complications, auctions
Other pricing schemes are sure to migrate into the Twins’ single-game ticket prices at Target Field.

One method recently instituted by the Cleveland Indians — and used in different forms by most teams — is called variable pricing, or “value pricing.” It’s like the airlines: Games on bad days against bad teams sell for a cheaper price than a July Saturday night against the Yankees.

During the course of the season, the same seat might cost $35 one game and $85 two weeks later.

In a new ballpark, the Twins single-game ticket prices for Target Field haven’t been announced yet, but Chris Iles, the team’s corporate communications manager, this week said: “It’s safe to say that variable pricing will be part of the team’s single-game pricing plan going forward.”

And then there’s the high-end sweepstakes that the New York Jets will conduct later this month for the most exclusive seats in their new stadium.

The “private seat license” is nothing new. That’s when a fan pays an upfront fee to buy the right to his or her seat. Then, after that purchase, they have to buy the tickets.

What’s new about the Jets’ PSL sale is that it will be an auction. There will be 2,000 elite seats available in the “Coaches Club.”

Each ticket for each game will cost $700. But to get access to those tickets, a customer will have to bid online for the right to the seat.

The auction price will begin at $5,000, with the bids expected to rise lots higher. Fans will actually be allowed to stand on the field behind the Jets’ bench.

The Twins have declared there will not be PSLs at Target Field. If and when the Vikings develop a finance plan for their hoped-for new stadium, you can be sure PSLs will be on the table.

(In college sports, a “donation” to obtain a good seat is common. The Gophers football program, for instance, is asking $500 per year for 50-yard-line seats at the new TCF Bank Stadium.)

Dana Warg, the former Target Center executive, used to shake his head at the rising cost of sports, music and family shows at his arena and say, “That’s just the price of milk.”

And you know how much you’ve got to pay for a quart of milk these days.

Jay Weiner writes about off-the-field sports issues, such as sports business and sports and public policy. He can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Bill Siegel on 10/09/2008 - 12:16 pm.

    It’s true that ticket prices are quickly outpacing the average fans ability to pay but occasionally some good deals are still available. For the upcoming Wolves season my friends and I agreed to a package where the cost of each seat would be equal to the Wolves lottery number for the draft. Since the Wolves were guaranteed a top 5 pick the most we would have to pay would be $5 a game with a potential for only $1 a game. With the Wolves getting pick #3 we were locked in at 42 games for a total of $126. Not bad for season tickets.

  2. Submitted by Jay Weiner on 10/09/2008 - 07:08 pm.

    Bill, if you would, tell us more about that deal.
    How was it advertised?
    How did you know about it?
    Where are the seats?
    thanks/ jw

  3. Submitted by Bill Siegel on 10/10/2008 - 01:00 pm.

    My company use to provide discounts to certain games and it was all managed through the reps for the Wolves. After the first year dealing with several different reps I found one guy that was, for lack of a better term “cool”.
    For the last couple of years he has always been able to get me some deals on tickets. Last year my friends and I payed for 10 games (none at full-price) and ended up getting free tickets for an additional 10 just by showing interest in going to games. At the end of last season he sent me an email for the deal. I’m pretty sure it went to everyone that the Wolves had an email address for. It was $40 down before the draft and you were locked in to pay the rest when they got their lottery number. It was too go to pass up, even if we can’t make all the games.
    The seats are not good. Right at the top on the end of the court but my friends and I figured there won’t be many people at most of the games so we can sneak down to better seats. Plus we get season ticket holder status and all the benefits that entails (?).
    Hope this helps!

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