Do the laws of supply and demand apply to MLB ticket sales? See the nearby screenshot of a portion of the Miami Marlins 2014 schedule. The last column reflects the tickets available for purchase through a MLB approved ticket broker. At first glance, it would seem to indicate that the Dodgers, Giants and Nationals have many more tickets to sell than the Miami Marlins. They don’t. Well, not really.
Welcome the world of MLB finances. A world in which if regular fans were more aware of its realities, they would feel like more like Alice in Wonderland than Costner in Field of Dreams.
A recent Forbes article by Jesse Lawrence does a good job of explaining the logic behind the figures reflected in the screenshot above:
Case and point is the Astros, Marlins and Cubs. Last season, these three teams combined for 317 losses, an historically bad mark. Despite that poor performance, 2014 Houston Astros tickets have an average price on the secondary market of $103 while Cubs tickets average $101. None of those, however, can compete with the $138 average price for Marlins tickets. At $138, the average price for Marlins tickets are lower than only Yankees tickets and Red Sox tickets. While the Yankees and Red Sox both have approximately 1 million tickets on the secondary market for sale, someone looking to buy Marlins tickets on the secondary market could find only 85,276 tickets for sale. Most of those tickets are for lower level seats, and in fact, you can’t even buy tickets for the Upper level of Marlins Park, anywhere. That said, if you’re looking to get a cheap ticket to see the Marlins play, you’re best option is to get tickets directly from the Marlins, which is exactly the point.
… the Secondary ticket market has become the defacto buying channel for concert tickets as well as sporting tickets. No other market has been impacted … like the secondary market as MLB tickets. With the need to sell almost 100 million tickets each summer, MLB are burdened with the task of filling their stadiums with the equivalent of one-third of the country’s population every year. With all that available inventory, fans have been conditioned to not even think about checking the box office–once the only place to buy tickets. Instead, fans have been trained to find one of the hundreds of websites out there that are doing their best to get fans the cheapest ticket possible.
So that explains how the Marlins, a team expected to be at the bottom of the league in attendance [again], make the fewest tickets available for purchase and, for good measure, with one of the highest average ticket prices in MLB. Left unexplained is how the Marlins, a team with little tradition and ownership which is detested, plan to grow their limited fan base. But even that type question, which focuses on the fan, misses the point at the bottom of the rabbit hole which is MLB finances.
In that world, attempting to grow a fan base by allowing a secondary ticket market to function during periods when a significant portion of the local fan base feels betrayed by ownership–due to having team payrolls which are below the level of revenue sharing monies received [monies intended to limit such disparities in player salaries] less than one season after building the team a stadium–is a loser strategy.
Attempting to grow and keep a fan base is hard work with no guarantees, whereas receiving revenue sharing monies is a sure thing. Miami is the 2nd city in which Loria has succeeded financially, in large part, due to his willingness to disregard the interests of the local fan base, Montreal being the first object of his disaffection. For more on that, see Jonah Keri’s book on the Expos, ‘Up, Up & Away.’
Limiting ticket sales in Miami is not much different from the strategy of cancelling local broadcasts in Montreal. Loria’s M.O. is not exactly innovative, or responsible I would argue, given how our community largely funded the stadium his team plays in.
But our stadium and team, located in the heart of Little Havana and on sacred Orange Bowl grounds, will outlast his ownership. Until then I will follow my Marlins with interest, but no [direct] dollars.
In that, I am like many of my fellow Miamians who enjoy MLB, but don’t support it unconditionally. That type of calibrated approach is something which many of us have had practice with in much more serious topics than baseball. As in, Marlins si, Loria no. We can wait. They can look it up.