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Volume 23 No. 17
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Ballpark Pass products reaching younger fans

The A’s Ballpark Pass offering sold so well that the team capped sales after just a week and created a waiting list.
For years, Major League Baseball and other major sports properties have fought against Netflix for the attention of fans, particularly younger ones. But Netflix’s monthly subscription pricing model is now serving as an inspiration for one of the biggest shifts ever in baseball ticketing.

Twenty-two of MLB’s 30 clubs now offer some type of Ballpark Pass product that either provides access to all home games for a flat, recurring monthly fee, or a set number of games for a heavily discounted price.

First introduced in early 2015 by a small handful of clubs — the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s — the mobile-based passes have swept across the league. More than 500,000 tickets have been sold through Ballpark Pass products so far this year, roughly five times the amount at a comparable point last year, and 2 1/2 times 2016’s final tally, according to MLB Advanced Media.

The A’s have MLB’s second-worst attendance overall so far this season. But their 2017 Ballpark Pass offer of $19.99 per month for standing-room access to each home game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum proved so popular the club capped sales after just a week and formed a waiting list.

And even more encouraging to the league, the Ballpark Pass products have been predominantly purchased by highly sought-after younger consumers. The most popular age range for a Ballpark Pass buyer this season is 26-27 (see chart), followed by seven other two-year clusters all under the age of 40.

“This has been a really important development to create a new entry-level ticket product in the sport, particularly for fans who haven’t previously engaged with us,” said Mark Plutzer, MLBAM vice president of ticketing.

Ballpark Pass Purchasers

Most popular age clusters for Ballpark Pass

Rank Age
1 26-27
2 24-25
3 30-31
4 32-33
5 34-35
6 28-29
7 (tie) 22-23
7 (tie) 36-37

Source: MLBAM

Individual club activations around the Ballpark Pass have varied, but the core concept involves using MLBAM’s Ballpark mobile application and providing access to games in either standing-room areas or seats that are not yet assigned until a fan indicates they want to attend a particular game. Many of the teams offering monthly passes have an auto-renewing charge to purchasers’ credit cards, similar to how Netflix, Spotify or other digital subscription products typically work.

The Ballpark Pass products initially were dominated by lower-attendance teams seeking to experiment with the technology and sell some lower-demand ticket inventory. But even higher-attendance clubs such as St. Louis and San Francisco have since joined in as well.

“So much of commerce is happening now on a subscription basis that it isn’t surprising that it’s now translating to baseball,” said Joe Strohm, St. Louis Cardinals vice president of ticket sales. The club has sold more than 2,000 of its Ballpark Passes, offering standing-room access to Busch Stadium for $29.99 per month. More than 90 percent of initial purchasers have renewed, and the average utilization rate for each fan is two to three games per month, all figures that are in line with many other clubs.

“We’re still learning, but for us, this is all about, ‘How do we attract a new customer?’” Strohm said.

The product also is serving as something of a hedge against pace-of-play issues that continue to trouble MLB, particularly in urban ballparks where purchasers can stop at a game after work, stay a few innings and then leave with no change from their previous ticket spend.

Ballpark Pass hasn’t typically intersected with traditional ticket sales, as it doesn’t offer postseason access or in most cases a seat at all.

“We haven’t seen pushback from our season-ticket base,” Strohm said. “This is a very different product from any other packages, and we are marketing it as such.”

But Plutzer said there will be continued experimentation and a potential blending of this product with a higher-end one such as luxury club access.

“Is there a way to put this together with a more corporate product where there is monthly access to some type of club?,” Plutzer said. “We don’t know yet, but there are some potential areas where we can take this concept.”

The eight teams that haven’t yet created a Ballpark Pass product are primarily constricted on standing-room areas or haven’t figured out the specific logistics of a local offer. But the product is likely to continue to grow across the sport.

“We really feel this program has the ability to complement our core product offerings for years to come while attracting a new audience to the ballpark,” said Steve Fanelli, A’s vice president of sales and service.