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It soon could cost more Bucs to see baseball in Pittsburgh

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

Pirates fans rebelled in 2002 when the team raised ticket prices after a 100-loss season. The club has not had an across-the-board rate hike since.

That will change, perhaps as soon as next year. A day-of-game pricing plan — calling for walk-up tickets to cost $2 to $5 more apiece than tickets bought in advance — that the Pirates will implement this season is the first step toward increasing all ticket prices.

"From a business perspective, I think they have to raise them," said John Clark, professor of sport management and director of the MBA program at Robert Morris University. "I've been expecting it to happen for the past couple of years. I think Pirates baseball is worth more than what we pay for it right now."

In each of the past five seasons, the Pirates have had some the lowest average ticket prices among the 30 major league teams. An infield box seat at PNC Park costs $27 compared to $99 for a comparable seat at Fenway Park in Boston.

According to Team Marketing Report, an online marketing publishing company, the average cost of a ticket to a Pirates home game in 2010 was $15.39. That's 42 percent less than the MLB average of $26.74 and the third-lowest in the majors.

The Pirates likely will have the lowest payroll in the majors this year — about $45 million. But that cost will rise, president Frank Coonelly said, as the Pirates' younger players move toward salary arbitration and free-agent eligibility.

"We need to have a competitively priced product," Coonelly said. "We've gotten far behind. We need to have a sustainable, competitive team on the field. So we really need to move (ticket prices) in that (upward) direction. When• As soon as we possibly can."

The day-of-game pricing increase does not apply to group or season-ticket sales.

The Pirates do not expect much backlash from the pricing plan, which will affect about 10 percent of their overall ticket sales.

"We've had day-of-game pricing for four years on our all-you-can-eat seats, and we've never had one complaint," marketing director Lou DiPaoli said. "It's an easier way for us to get that price moving upward."

When the time comes to raise all ticket prices, DiPaoli hopes the soft-sell approach works better than what happened nine years ago.

The Pirates drew a franchise-record 2.46 million fans in 2001, their first season at PNC Park. The turnstiles spun fast, but losses piled up faster, and the Pirates finished 62-100.

A week after the season, management raised prices for 2002, arguing the increased revenue would result in fewer losses. It worked — sort of. The Pirates won 10 more games in 2002, but season-ticket sales plunged 40 percent, and attendance slipped to 1.78 million.

Former managing general partner Kevin McClatchy later admitted the price hike was a mistake. Season-ticket plan rates in 2003 were rolled back by $1 per seat per game.

Last season the Pirates drew 1.61 million fans — a lower total than in three of the final four seasons at Three Rivers Stadium — and lost 105 games, third most in franchise history.

The lesson of 2002 was never raise ticket prices after a miserable season. And yet ...

"There never is a good time to raise prices, even if you're the Red Sox or the Yankees," DiPaoli said, grinning.

In 2004-05 DiPaoli worked in the ticket office for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. The team went 13-69, which is akin to a baseball team going 25-137. At the end of the season, the front office debated raising ticket prices.

"Our floor seats were $75. The league average was $800," DiPaoli recalled. "So we said, 'Is it the right time• No, but it's never going to be the right time.' And we raised the prices."

Pirates owner Bob Nutting said the ticket-price disparity between the Pirates and almost every other team in the majors puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

"We will never lose sight of the fans who support us. We'll make sure we deliver value," Nutting said. "At the same time we absolutely cannot fall further behind, simply from a revenue standpoint."

Additional Information:

Sizing up seat costs

Here's how the Pirates' average ticket price stacks up against the rest of Major League Baseball:

2010: Pirates price • $15.39 (28th); MLB average price ? $26.74

2009: $15.39 (29); $26.64

2008: $17.07 (27); $25.43

2007: $17.07 (26); $22.77

2006: $17.07 (25); $22.21

Source: Team Marketing Report




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