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Monday, March 8, 2004

A spectrum of response to ticket price increases

A few recent articles show the odd place that ticket price holds in the minds of audiences, and the internal calculus that helps them make decisions. In one, there's some shock and awe about the Boston Symphony's ticket increases on the eve of James Levine's arrival as conductor. In another, fans grumble but accept another increase in Red Sox spring training game prices.

Regarding the BSO increase, one patron said this:

'I've already talked the budget situation over with my wife,' said Richard Boisvert, whose 16-concert, Friday afternoon package will increase 60 percent, from $400 to $640. 'I'm not renewing next year.'

A spring training fan of the Red Sox had a slightly different response:

'No matter what, people will always attend Red Sox games. There’s something about the Boston Red Sox. It doesn’t really matter what the prices of the tickets are.'

Of course, there are fans for both organizations that took the other side of the argument, and thankfully, each article poses the opposite view (although the BSO article shows slightly less enthusiasm for the home team). In the spring training article, college administrator Anne-Marie Kenney has this to say against the increase:

'I think it is sad and unfortunate,' Kenney wrote in an e-mail. 'As someone who enjoys baseball, it has significantly reduced the number of games I can attend each year. My hope in coming down was to see as many games as possible, but the cost is a factor.

Both organizations justify the increase based on how it will support the core of their work. The symphony talks about the new revenue helping to 'maintain our artistic standards as one of the great orchestras in the world.' The Minnesota Twins (another team in the spring training story) explains that higher ticket prices help them 'to maintain and compete and to have a competitive team on the field.' Both also talk about how ticket prices were stable for many years before this shift.

It just goes to show how relative the price/value calculations are in the minds of audiences and fans...and how complex. There's something in their math about the personal value an event or activity provides them, and the comparable dollar price that's worth. There's something about the number of events they can afford at the new price, given their availability and allocation of money. And there's something quite powerful in their comparison to how much they paid last year.

In both baseball and symphonies, ticket revenue are just a portion of the total income that support the activity (in baseball, the balance is made in television rights, merchandising, corporate sponsorship, and consessions; in symphony, the bulk is made up in contributions). So both fans are technically receiving a subsidized rate.

So why is a price increase for one organization a shock and a disgrace, while the other is a force of nature?

posted on Monday, March 8, 2004 | permalink