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Home Jordan Kobritz Kobritz: MLB Ticket Surcharges May Redefine the Word "Gouging"

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Kobritz: MLB Ticket Surcharges May Redefine the Word "Gouging" PDF Print E-mail
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Jordan Kobritz Article Archive
Written by Jordan Kobritz   
Monday, 12 July 2010 00:00

The Biz of BaseballAverage ticket prices for a Major League Baseball game are the lowest of any of the five major league sports. But if you purchase a ticket online from a team’s website, get ready to pay extra – in some cases, more than double the ticket price – for the convenience.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democratic Congressman from Queens, N.Y., conducted a study of the various fees charged by MLB teams and the results are guaranteed to make even the most calloused banker blush. The study was based on an analysis of every MLB team’s website. According to Weiner, the fees charged are “arbitrary, excessive and can sometimes be greater than the face value of the ticket.”

In fact, Weiner’s study found that in some cases, the total fees charged to purchasers exceeded the ticket price by 200-400%. For example, the Colorado Rockies charge $8.00 in fees for a $4.00 bleacher ticket. But as a percentage of the ticket price, those fees pale in comparison to what the Oakland A’s charge in fees - $8.25 - for a $2.00 bleacher ticket.

While the A’s had the highest percentage of fees-to-ticket-price of any team in Weiner’s survey – in part because they also had the lowest bleacher ticket price – some of the highest fees were charged by the big market teams, the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Phillies. But those clubs also have some of the highest ticket prices. Because most fees don’t increase proportionately with the ticket price – convenience fees being the exception – Weiner’s study found that the higher the ticket price, the lower the percentage of fees charged. For example, fans paying $300 for a ticket to a Yankees game paid $16.75 in fees, an add-on of only 5.5% of the ticket price.

Ticket fees in one form or another have been around for decades. Ticketmaster refined the concept and sports fans and concert goers have seemingly become inured to the concept of add-on fees. The only way to avoid fees is to purchase tickets to an event at the venue box office, but that method of purchase has its own drawbacks. Not every ticket purchaser has convenient access to the box office, and for those who appear in person, the travel expenses and lost time can easily exceed the cost of fees.

Fees come in different amounts and with different names, such as convenience fees, which ostensibly cover the cost of making ticket purchases available 24 hours a day; processing or handling fees, which cover the cost of processing each ticket order; and a printing fee, perhaps the most outrageous fee of all. Fans that purchase their tickets online and print those tickets at home are charged a printing fee ranging from $.75 per ticket to $2.50 per ticket. No telling how much the printing fee would be if teams used their own equipment, paper and electricity to print your tickets.

Many MLB teams have embraced the concept of variable ticket pricing, where tickets for weekend games cost more than the same seat for a weeknight game and tickets for a game against an attractive opponent - the Yankees or Red Sox - cost more than the same seat for a game against Kansas City or Baltimore. Weiner’s study found the same is true for ticket fees. For example, Tampa Bay fans paid higher fees on an upper reserved infield ticket for a weekend game than they did for a Wednesday night game. And order and processing fees varied depending on the team’s opponent.

Weiner didn’t suggest in his report that ticket fees are illegal – they aren’t. Nor does he propose to limit ticket fees. His avowed goal is to provide greater transparency by introducing legislation requiring all websites selling baseball tickets to display the total amount of fees as a percentage of the ticket price. Similar legislation regarding concert tickets was previously introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), but that bill has stalled in committee.

If Weiner’s legislation was to pass, it’s doubtful that MLB fans will change their purchasing habits. It’s still cheaper – and more convenient – for many fans to purchase tickets online, rather than at the stadium box office. Even if they have to swallow hard at the sight of a $2.50 per ticket printing fee.

Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. He looks forward to your comments and can be contracted, here.

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