Commentary

Union marketing: Is the price right?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

I’m not an economist and pricing isn’t my strong point at all.  But the question must be asked: Are the Union’s pricing schemes putting butts in the seats or keeping them away?

Of all the Marketing Mix considerations, pricing is most like a tightrope walk because there are so many variables at play. Your ability to compete against other sports and entertainment options can depend on either the past or current success of your team; the attractiveness of your opponent (everyone wants to see the Zlatan); the day of the week (Wednesdays during the school year can be brutal); youth league schedules, the weather, and even the timing of the debut of the latest Marvel blockbuster.

Then you have to fine-tune the many pricing categories to make sure they don’t mess with each other. You have to keep the season ticket price the lowest-per-seat while keeping 9-game, group, promotional, premium and single-ticket prices as attractive as possible, all while still earning a profit. Easy, right?

The basic law of supply and demand dictates that abundance drives prices down and scarcity drives them up. If demand is high and supply is low, you can raise prices without turning off your ticket-buying market. Supply higher than demand? Then it’s time to discount, hence the Union’s recent spate of 10% off promotions.

Union v. Phillies

Are Union ticket prices competitive?  Perhaps. Consider the biggest sports competitor to the Union: the Phillies. With a bigger stadium and many more home games, the Fightin Phils’ lowest single ticket price is $18 in the nosebleed section.  Compare that with the Union: Talen Energy Stadium is less than half the size of Citizens Bank Park, and there are way fewer games. Single ticket price in the River End: $32.75. Sounds reasonable, all things considered.

Compared with the rest of MLS, good ‘ol middle-of-the-pack Union’s prices are… well, frankly, smack dab in the middle.  The price of a Union season ticket places 13th out of 24 clubs, with two price increases in the last six years.

For single game tickets, the Union use a “dynamic pricing” methodology based on supply and demand, sort of like the way hotels and airlines do their pricing.  The club’s ticket office started the year with four levels of pricing depending on popularity, time of year, opponent (which does not have as big an impact as other sports) and other factors like each section’s percentage of season-ticket holders, “hot” versus “cold” seating sections, and comparisons against the secondary market (such as StubHub).

Promo packages

In the way of promotional pricing, the U have offered ten-percent discounts for early season games.  And if you’re a season-ticket holder, you can bring in 10 to 30 guests for $10 a head on a one-time only basis. The club’s “Student Rush” package was a steal at $10 a seat plus a bus ride. And the 3-game “Promo Packs” could get you into the River End for as little as $24 per game, with pretty good discounts elsewhere in the stadium as well.

Then again, a look at the secondary market shows that there is a clear a lack of demand for Union tickets.  Prior to the May 18 Sounders match, Gametime.co had single Union tickets available for as low as $15.  VIVIDSEATS had Section 121 seats for $21.  And StubHub had seats for the same game in all the corner sections for $20. With bargains like these, why pay full price?

Those bargain secondary market prices are kind of a problem for season-ticket holders, also known as the Union’s lifeblood.  It means that if you can’t make it to the game, you’re not likely to be able to sell your tickets at a decent price, IF AT ALL.  Sinking demand for tickets (as there has been for almost every year since 2010) takes your return on investment down with it.  And if your significant other took Economics 101, you’re likely to have a spirited domestic discussion the next time your Union account agent calls and asks you to “ReDoop.”

An existential challenge

Bottom line: the Union’s pricing policies must play a role in meeting the Union’s basic existential challenges:

  • Bring back defecting season-ticket holders.
  • Increase the base of season-ticket holders.
  • Increase the sale of “distressed inventory” tickets to low-demand games.
  • Fill the River End and cover the sunny side “Union” seats. Because optics affect value.

Meeting those challenges is being made harder by the devaluing and lowballing going on in the secondary ,arket.  Because if you can get cheaper tickets elsewhere, why buy season tickets? In other words, why buy retail when you can buy at the proverbial fire sale?

According to Doug Vosic, the Union’s senior vice president for marketing, studies and polls of fans have shown that price has had little, if any, negative influence on ticket purchasing decisions. That would seem to validate the U’s pricing strategies.

But the sold-out Sounders game notwithstanding, whenever you can read “Union” on the bridge side, or the River End remains shallow, the question will arise: “What’s keeping the fans away?”

If it isn’t price, then it must be something else.

This post has been informed by an interview with Doug Vosic, and by SAS Blog by Alex Dietz, Principal Industry Consultant, Hospitality & Travel Global Practice at https://blogs.sas.com/content/sascom/2013/08/05/sports-ticket-pricing-an-example-of-strategic-pricing/

16 Comments

  1. I am getting killed on resale because my kid’s soccer club has twenty season tickets in my section and sells them at a deep discount. I have steadily reduced the cost by moving sections and quantity of my tickets each year. Since I know I can’t sell my tickets, then if I miss a game, the only saving grace is I can relocate those tickets to a different game. Because there are plenty of empty seats in my section, whoever we take to that game still can sit with us.
    There are becoming fewer and fewer reasons to be a season ticket holder. Even if the team is successful this year, I’m not sure if I will redoop. I’ll still go to as many games as I can, but I just don’t want the hassle of trying to move tickets around when I can buy them from my club for $10 less than I paid as a STH.

  2. Jack Mahon says:

    I’ve tried putting unused tix on the team’s resale site but … zilch.
    We had sat in the north stands for years, and would’ve stayed there, but this is a SUMMER league, remember, and the sun is a killer.
    From where I sit, the river end looks to be one of the most sparsely populated sections. What’s going on there?
    Maybe the families/groups/leagues approach is the wrong direction. IDK, but for me, if I want to see pro, maybe good, soccer, then I have to remain a STH.

  3. For some of the folks questioning the value of being a STH (assuming that you do come to the games/use you tix) –

    Once you add in the fees, most of tix on stub hub are not cheaper than the price paid by the STH (which is less than face value). I checked the seats in my section (127) and prices with fees for the next few games are all higher than my per seat price paid for my season tix

    By being a STH, you were able to take advantage of the $10 group ticket promotion. I grabbed tix for a bunch of friends for the fireworks game (July 6).

    At the end of the day, WINNING puts butts in the seats. The U have some work to do to earn back the trust of fans who have become disenfranchised, but I think, for the first time in while, they are taking positive steps.

    I haven’t seen the place rocking like that Seattle game in while. IT WAS AWESOME.

    Apologies for the non-negative post

    • Atomic Spartan says:

      Never apologize for having a fact-based opinion

    • I agree with this. I view my season tickets (also 127) as a pretty good value in Philly sports. And I’d rather the money I spend go to the club than StubHub fees. Can’t speak much to resale. I’ve been lucky enough to have family/friends who are willing to take the tickets when I haven’t been able to go.

      And I too look forward to Talen rocking on a weekly basis again.

  4. John Osborn says:

    I grew up on $5 Fugazi shows so I think the Union’s tix are overpriced, especially when I was in Scandinavia recently. I got a front row seat in Malmo, Sweden for $50, and an 8th row, playoff ticket in Copenhagen, Denmark for $38 — both in midfield.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Kudos to Matt Custer for this most informative series.
    .
    Thank you , sir, very much.

  6. SilverRey says:

    The Union are easily the most affordable pro team in Philly. No real complaints there.
    .
    I would like to see them add a $15 tier though for early 20s crowd. I remember being very happy that my team had cheap tickets at that age.
    .
    Of course it would also be nice to do what Atlanta is doing, and sell icy cold beverages/concessions at a non-gouging price.

  7. Vince Devine says:

    The ticket prices are fine, it’s the $20 parking fee and outrageous concession prices that drive up the overall cost of attendance.

  8. scottymac says:

    I don’t have tix anymore, but over the last ten I’ve been a STH in a few sections including club.

    Yes- compared to the big 4 teams, the Union are a value.
    Yes- if you compare a STH per game pricing plan to a secondary market ticket with fees, it’s ~comparable. However, that analysis leaves out the much greater cash outlay for 17 games vs 1. The perceived and marketed value of “have the same seats” and “invited to random events you won’t be able to make” benefits as a reason to part with said upfront cash vs the freedom to not go or have your evening free without trying to sell tickets is something we all have to figure out.
    .
    After watching the team tread water, I decided Sugarman was much smarter than I gave him credit for, as it was I giving him thousands of dollars for seats, not the other way around.

  9. 55yearsin thegame says:

    Well, to begin, the article does not understand basic economic principles. The author calculates that the Union price must be reasonable by camping stadium size and ticket prices t those of the Phillies. That is actually not how supply and demand works.

    Demand means the actual desire people have to see the games. Two years ago the Phils could not give tickets away. This year they are selling out. There is, in fact, demand.

    There is not much demand for tickets to see the Union. they have been bad for too long and the prices are actually kinda high.

    Also, somebody noted that the River End seems sparse these days.

    Gee, I wonder why?

    The stadium is in the wrong place. The U have totally missed the bs on te arc to the Mach phenom. Suburban families have lots of things on which to spend money 130 bucks for 4 tickets to sit with the Sons of Ben might not seem like the very best idea.

    • So I have to ask. Where would be the right place for the stadium? As you state above, when the Phillies were playing bad baseball,they couldn’t give tix away. I assume that their stadium is in the right place. So using stadium location as part of the metric for ticket price and or demand seems a bit off. I go to 3 to 5 Phillies games a season. And I have season Union tix. I truly feel for most fans, winning is the decisive factor for spending money on tix. The loyal or diehard fan will go no matter what. I have never attended any sporting event by saying, “Hey let’s go see so anb so play. I love the location of the stadium. “

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