SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Walk-up homer: MLB’s gains fueled by single-game sales

Strong walk-up and single-game advance ticket sales have driven MLB’s unexpected surge in attendance this season, helped further by strong pennant races, improved analytics and best-practices sharing among teams.

MLB’s attendance was up 7.4 percent, to 31,011 a game, through last Wednesday, about twice the increase projected for 2012 by league executives before Opening Day. Baseball is on pace to post its largest attendance since 2008 and perhaps challenge the league record of 79.5 million set in 2007.

“There are a lot of powerful factors at play, and this summer thus far seems to be the summer of baseball,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive. “Teams have grown very adept at selling tickets. They’re really good, and only getting better.”

Online ticket sales are up 24 percent so far this year, according to MLBAM. Many teams also are reporting double-digit percentage boosts in offline walk-up and advance ticket sales, and several clubs have posted single-game facility records for walk-up ticket sales.

MLB just ended its 2012 interleague schedule with an attendance of 8.74 million for the 252 AL-NL games, third-highest total in the 16-year history of the format.

Some credit for the gains can be traced to late 2010, when MLB formed the Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee as a means to formalize and expand best-practices sharing as well as address a key league issue from a more holistic perspective. Several efforts have emerged out of the panel, including the new FanPass brand for the sport’s efforts in digital ticketing, as well as continued study of MLB’s future role in secondary ticketing.

For many clubs, however, the 2012 season represents the first full opportunity to see significant returns on what they have learned from the committee, as well as from the fast-growing field of ticketing analytics.

“We’re all doing a better job in the industry of yield management. And for us, it’s only really just now that we’re at 100 percent of the capabilities of our [customer relations management] system that we’ve installed,” said Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing and a member of the MLB ticketing committee. “The result is we’re doing more direct marketing and direct sales than we ever have been.”

Among the factors helping MLB attendance: The re-emergence of long-struggling teams like Baltimore.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Several other factors have been credited for MLB’s surge at the turnstiles, including the new postseason format that creates two additional wild-card berths, and surprising pennant races that have seen long-struggling teams such as Washington, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the thick in the playoff hunt.

Dynamic ticket pricing, now employed by more than half of MLB clubs, has given team executives expansive new views into day-by-day consumer demand. Even a team such as the Minnesota Twins, losers of 99 games last year and in the AL Central cellar again this year, has seen a marked increase in walk-up ticket sales — in part because of its work with Indianapolis-based Digonex to monitor and adjust single-game prices.

“Our walk-up has been strong, particularly since school let out,” said Twins President Dave St. Peter. “We had a bit of an issue in the first year of Target Field [in 2010] where people thought there weren’t tickets available. We now have tickets available, there’s a greater understanding of that in our market, and we’re doing better getting to fans with the right kinds of offers.”

The new Marlins Park in Miami also has been a driver of the league’s overall attendance boost, but the Marlins’ increase of about 450,000 still represents less than 20 percent of the league’s overall jump so far.

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