It’s late August, and you’re a MLB front-office executive sitting in your office waiting for the first draft of next season’s schedule. There are a few strict guidelines to keep in mind. Your schedule must be between 178 and 183 days; it can include no more than two day-night doubleheaders for any team; and teams traveling from Pacific to Eastern time zones must have a day off in between games.
Katy Feeney, who serves as a vice president in the commissioner’s office, oversees the whole process. Once she signs off on the schedule and it's in your hands, you can begin the task of allocating your ticket packages to produce the highest-possible revenue for your team.
From a ticketing standpoint, what are some of the highlights you should be looking for on the schedule? Let’s look at the variables that go into each game:
It may come as a surprise, but the best scenario for a home opener is to play the worst team on your schedule, as it’s a guaranteed sellout, and there tends to be a huge drop-off during the next couple of games anyway.
Day or night
It’s best to have as many night games as possible. Teams carry 10-to-13 Sunday day games, as it’s typically a get-away day for visiting teams. The lucky clubs only have 10 of those such games. If you have 25 day games or more on your schedule, it becomes very tough to sell tickets.
The goal is to sell as many season tickets as possible, so the hope is that you have the most time to do so and have minimal homestands in the beginning of the season when school is in session. Plus, contending with NBA and NHL games and postseasons until June can be tough.
Every team in the National League wants to host the Red Sox or Yankees, while American League teams hope for the Cubs, Cardinals, Mets, and Phillies. The better the interleague draw, the easier it is to sell tickets.
People will go to the ballpark on July 4th and Father’s Day. Conversely, people travel or tend to stay home for Mother’s Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day. The hope for you, the front-office executive, is that your home games don't fall on those last three holidays.
It’s best if they are on the weekends so your team can earn maximum ancillary income.
Every team can catch lightning in a ticket bottle when a player is chasing a record (i.e. Barry Bonds in '07). The return of a key former player helps a bit as well, with fans coming out to pay tribute to their past favorites (i.e. Vlad Guerrero in Anaheim, Matt Holliday in Colorado).
It's ideal to stack promotions and giveaways during the week, as it’s when crowds are typically the smallest.
Now, that you've gotten a chance to dissect the schedule and see what does and does not work in your favor, it’s time to allocate and leverage your key games to the maximum revenue via mini-plans. Besides full season tickets, most teams offer the following: half-season plans, quarter-season plans and anywhere between three and nine smaller plans.
For example, the Yankees offer Friday plans, Saturday plans, Sunday plans, and three others to fill out their packages. The Dodgers offer a Tuesday/Friday, Wednesday/Saturday and Thursday/Sunday mini-plan. The Brewers offer six different nine-game offerings. Some teams offer "Pick ‘em" plans, but that allows fans to dictate their buying patterns, which results in loss of control of inventory for that team. Aside from season tickets and mini-plans, the remaining inventory of the 81 games for a given team is released in smaller plans later in the season or held for individual tickets.
The key to deciding which games to put into each plan is to make fans buy as many duds (April/May, weekday, day games) as possible while they are also buying the games they really want. Rank your team's games with projected attendance and you’ll find three distinct groups: 8-to-15 projected sellouts, 20-to-30 mediocre games and the rest aforementioned duds, at least from a sales standpoint.
The highest financial yield is received from individual tickets, so you'll want to leave the best games only in full- and half-season plans as much as you can. From there, it's best to offer four 18-game plans, leaving out as many games in your top 10 of projected attendance. If you have to offer those games, only do so in these plans. The more games a fan buys, the better the seat location and amenities that fan should receive.
Lastly, offer eight different nine-game plans to the same 72 games as above. Each smaller plan should have one or two key games or promos. It’s best to evenly sell all the plans, so you'll want each to pack the same punch. If your team can project more sellouts, reduce the number of games in the plans by removing the sellout games and producing four 16-game and eight eight-game packages.
Today’s market has forced the mini-plan process to be a key component to a team’s revenue. The secondary market has changed the psyche of season-ticket buyers and sellers. The days of selling out the stadium on full season alone only exists in Boston and Chicago. The rest of all teams’ challenge is how to best allocate and sell inventory over season tickets, mini-plan tickets, group tickets, and individual tickets. This discussion will continue to be a more integral part of the game moving forward. Expect to see teams adding ticketing analysts, revenue analytics and more as they look for ways to increase their ticketing revenue and the ancillary income that comes along with it.
Next week: How MLB teams take to the task of pricing their inventory.
David Simmons is a graduate of the University of Central Florida who worked in the front office of the Los Angeles Dodgers over 4 seasons. He has a decade of ticketing experience and currently resides in Baltimore. You can follow David on Twitter @davidesimmons
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