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Buy Me A Spreadsheet, And Cracker Jack

Memo to the New York Mets front office, from one of your team’s diminishing number of followers:

You seem to be running the Mets like an airline. This is not a good idea. Airlines seldom make any money. Also, most of their customers can’t stand them.

Citi Field, the beautiful $800 million facility you opened just last year, is like a shiny new terminal. Most everyone who has been there (I have not, for reasons explained below) says it is a great place to embark on a journey, and every baseball fan knows that a good ballgame is, indeed, a journey. But people don’t go to airports because they want to sit in the terminal’s comfy chairs or eat in the food court. At best, those amenities just encourage repeat business. Unless people can get a good product at a fair price, they won’t show up, even if you put up the Taj Mahal.

You may think I am referring to the team’s sorry performance since 2006, but let’s set that aside for now. You have turned the simple act of buying a ticket into an exercise in higher mathematics.

Your team’s website lists 41 types of tickets at Citi Field. If I want to see a game, I have to decide whether I want the “Metropolitan Box Bronze” or the “Field Box Silver,” which have the same price. Or do I want to step up to the “Field Box Gold?” Or maybe just a “Baseline Box?” All of which assumes that a ticket might be available in any of these classes. To find out, I have to try ordering a ticket for each category, one category at a time.

But that’s not all. Besides dividing categories of tickets like “Field Box” into classes of Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and unlabeled nonmetallic, you have also divided your team’s 81 home dates into five groups — which you have also labeled Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and, I suppose for clarity, Value. (I agree that, at today’s prices, there is no value in precious metals.)

So if I am planning a Citi Field outing for later in the season, I have to consider whether I want the Field Box Gold for a Silver date or the Field Box Silver for a Gold date, and so forth.

All told, you have 205 permutations of ticket prices. To put this in perspective, the Mets play 162 games in a season (81 at home), and if they perform at last year’s rate, it will take the Mets nearly three years to win one game for every ticket type.

Sheesh. I have an M.B.A. degree, and I hold a CPA license and a Certified Financial Planner® credential, and even I think it’s just too much work to deal with this. I’ll just wait for a day when I have nothing else to do, and then maybe try to snag a ticket online from whatever is available. Or, more likely, I’ll just stay home and watch the game on TV, which is what I have been doing for the past couple of years.

A lot of us are doing that these days. You cut ticket prices this year by 20 percent, and your per-game home attendance is still down 18 percent from last season. This implies that your gate and concessions revenue may be off by about one-third from 2009. This isn’t the recession at work; this is your team’s marketing combined with its on-field performance.

I need not remind you that the Mets’ performance has been nightmarish. It began when star outfielder Carlos Beltran watched the last strike of 2006 sail past his bat in the pennant-deciding game against St. Louis. Then there was the epic September collapse of 2007, which, improbably, the Mets managed to repeat in 2008. Next you inaugurated Citi Field last year with an awful assortment of minor-leaguers who managed to lose 92 games while replacing your often-injured veterans. You stripped your AAA affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, of so much talent — if you could call it that — that the Bisons finished last in their International League division while the Mets floundered, too.

Which brings us back to the airline business model: You degrade your product, charge your customers wildly different prices for what amounts to the same thing, and charge customers again if they want to “upgrade” to anything that makes them slightly less miserable. This is what the flyboys, between visits to bankruptcy court, like to call “yield management.”

Charging different prices to watch games against different opponents, or on different days of the week, sends a perverse message: Fans should expect to pay more if they want to watch better baseball, and if they want to watch better baseball, they should wait for better teams to show up in Queens. This doesn’t say much for the caliber of the Mets.

It also does not reflect the fact that baseball often produces surprises. Your game on Wednesday, June 9, against the San Diego Padres is a Bronze ticket, even though the Padres have been one of the big success stories thus far this season. Meanwhile, your Friday, July 9, game against the Atlanta Braves is a pricey Gold ticket, though the touted Braves have been about as mediocre as the Mets.

Across town, the consistently excellent Yankees have 21 categories of tickets, and all games are created equal. The only pricing difference is a small discount for people who buy tickets in advance rather than on the day of the game. The team’s management recognizes that fans show up to see the Yankees, not the other team, even though they may boo extra hard for the Boston Red Sox.

In Philadelphia, the Phillies — who have won your division three years in a row, and who sell out practically every date — have only 12 single-game ticket categories. And their top ticket price is $60, compared to $460 for you-know-who. You don’t want people thinking of your ticket prices when they call you the Amazing Mets.

You might observe that, in the airline business, organizations like Southwest, which provide a good product and consistently excellent value, prosper, even when other airlines ride their yield management theories into the ground.

I suggest you follow their example.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Anyone Can Achieve Wealth,” and Chapter 19, “Assisting Aging Parents.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s previous book Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55.

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