Rationale behind Rays freezing season ticket prices

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Last week, the Rays announced that they were freezing season ticket prices for the next two years. That means 2016 season ticket holders get the same prices for their 2017 and 2018 season ticket packages.

In a business where prices usually increase, seeing a price freeze makes some think business is doing bad. Cork Gaines of RaysIndex.com called the Rays decision a “terrible sign“. Kyle Glazer of Baseball America said what the Rays were doing is “unprecedented“.

According to Glazer,

The Rays have the third-lowest average ticket cost in 2016 at $21.04, according to Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index, a nearly four percent drop from their average ticket cost in 2015. The average MLB ticket this season costs $31 and the Red Sox have the most expensive average ticket at $54.79, according to the report.

The insinuation here is that tickets are cheap enough and people should be buying them. Here is the problem with this line of thought. We know the Rays hyper-local population (within 30 minutes) is lower than any other team in Major League Baseball. With the Rays fanbase living further from the ballpark than any other team’s fanbase, the overall cost of a game is higher than just the cost of the game. Rays fans have to pay gas and time costs to enjoy a night at the ballpark.

With their recent decision, the Rays are holding the product part of the experience stable. Meanwhile, traffic is getting worse, their stadium is getting older, and faith in ownership is dropping.

Before the season, I had a chance to speak with Rays Chief Business Officer Jeff Cogen. Cogen emphasized repeatedly how the season ticket base was the most important part of the Rays fanbase. Season ticket holders are the base in which all other parts of the fanbase are built. They are guaranteed fans and butts in seats.

Prior to joining the Rays, Cogen was the CEO of the Nashville Predators. He held that position from 2010 to 2015. During our interview, he compared the Rays situation with the Predators when he arrived in Nashville.

Here is a chart of the Predators season ticket prices from 2005 to 2015. Notice anything interesting?

Predators season tix prices

Cogen took over as Predators CEO in August 2010. Predators ticket prices stayed at 2009/2010 levels through the 2010/2011 season and the 2011/2012 season. This is not a coincidence.

The 2016 season is Jeff Cogen’s first as Rays Chief Business Officer. He and his staff have been given a very difficult problem. They are probably still gathering information on the fanbase. They are probably still trying to figure out who their fans are and where they are.

Freezing ticket prices for a few seasons is a tried and true first step in holding the base of the fanbase stable. If it draws new season ticket holders, even better. The next step is growing the fanbase. Contrary to what various hot takes believe, that takes time.

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