A few e-mailers, internet commenters and message board posters have suggested that the Nats are raising season ticket prices in 2014. This is not exactly correct.
The Nats did, however, raise their season ticket prices in 2013, a fact that was barely (if at all) mentioned at the time, largely because so many season ticket holders bought or renewed their 2013 plans early enough to take advantage of the team’s offer to lock in at 2012 prices. That means that many fans will, for the first time, be paying more for their Nats Park season tickets in 2014. Got that?
Since several people have asked me about it, and since there seemed to be at least mild dissatisfaction among some fans, and since I’ve written about the topic whenever the Caps or Redskins raise ticket prices, I’m going to attempt a few paragraphs of explanation. Let me specify that I do not have anything against the Nats. I am not out to get the Nats. I am not making a value judgment on the cost of Nats tickets, or Nats souvenirs, or Nats commemorative thigh tattoos. I am just attempting to explain something that could possibly be of interest to my readers.
Q: Go over that first part again.
A: Right. The team told both existing plan holders and prospective new plan buyers last offseason — following that first NL East title — that they could buy 2013 season tickets at 2012 prices. They had until April 1 to take advantage of this offer.
“That was a conscious decision,” outgoing COO Andy Feffer told me. “Typically teams increase prices right after the season; they increase prices to capture renewals and new sales. This was our first playoff run. We consciously said let’s wait until April and do something different.”
Q: Then what happened?
A: The overwhelming majority of customers took advantage of the offer and either bought or renewed their packages before April 1. (VP Chris Gargani told Team Marketing Report that 100 percent of existing plan holders paid 2012 prices in 2013.) Anyone who purchased a package after April 1 paid the higher prices for this past season. Buyers who pulled the trigger before April 1 were also offered options to lock in the 2012 prices for two or three seasons, knowing that prices would be going up.
“We had a significant percentage of people that took the two- or three-year deals last year, knowing that they want to see this club for a long time,” Feffer said. “So they locked in, and now those people are locked in at 2012 prices.”
Q: How often have season ticket prices increased since Nats Park opened?
A: This was the first time season ticket prices have increased since Nats Park opened.
“It’s very unusual that any club would hold season pricing for the first five years in a new venue,” Feffer said.
Q: And just how much did prices increase?
A: Depends on the section, and the type of plan. As with many sports price increases, higher-end tickets increased by the biggest dollar amount, but some lower-end tickets had the biggest percentage increase.
There are a bunch of price points that increased by $5 a game, including the LF/RF baseline box, LF/RF baseline reserved, LF/RF corner, CF reserved and LF/RF mezzanine tickets.
Near as I can tell, the largest percentage increases were on upper RF terrace partial plans (40 percent – from $10 to $14), upper RF terrace half plans (30 percent – from $10 to $13), lower RF terrace partial plans (27 percent – from $15 to $19), lower RF terrace half plans (20 percent – from $15 to $18), LF/RF mezzanine full plans (20 percent – from $25 to $30), and upper RF terrace full plans (20 percent – from $10 to $12).
Many of the increases were significantly less as a percentage: all the infield gallery plans, outfield gallery plans, and upper infield gallery plans increased by $2 a ticket.
Q: What else would someone speaking for the team say?
A: With the Red Carpet Rewards program, you could acquire additional seats, which would then decrease the per-ticket cost of your actual seats.
“When you’re asking the question what’s the true value of the seat, or of your purchase, it’s not just 81 times your number of seats,” Feffer said. “If you add in all the additional seats that they’re getting for free or upgrades, the actual value of the seat itself is actually less than the average price.”
Q: What happens now?
A: New plan holders will again be able to lock in current (2013) prices with multi-year arrangements. (Either two- or three-year commitments; see here.) The team is also offering “eCash” bonuses loaded onto Ultimate Ballpark Access cards. (That money can be used on concessions and merchandise.) New plan holders who buy three-year plans before Sept. 30 will receive 10 percent of the value of their season plan in eCash in 2014, and five percent in 2016. (Plus, of course, the guaranteed price locks for those years.) For one- or two-year plans, it’s five percent of the value in eCash in 2014. (The two-year deal, of course, also includes the price lock.)
Q: Are the Nationals getting too expensive?
A: “I would still argue without a doubt that the Nationals are the most affordable sports entertainment in town: by having five-dollar tickets for every home game, and the Dollar Mondays, and the Five-Dollar Tuesdays,” Feffer said.
Q: Again, why are some people surprised to be seeing higher numbers on their invoices?
A: They might have locked in their 2012 prices for 2013 but not realized that. Only now are they paying the 2013 prices, for 2014.
“We have not raised prices for 2014, they are the same as 2013,” Feffer said.
Q: Is there a lesson to be learned by other teams here?
A: Heck yeah! When I talked to Feffer, he stressed that the team has “not raised prices for 2014, they are the same as 2013.” When Gargani e-mailed Team Marketing Report earlier this season, he stressed that “in reality, 100 percent of season plan holders paid 2012 pricing (no increase).” So prices didn’t really increase in 2013, and they’re not really increasing in 2014! This is the best way ever to raise prices without ever increasing them!