Gouge Away

Few things in life are more annoying than the sensation that you’re being taken advantage of and you can’t do a damn thing about it. You experience emotions that individually are bad—anger, hurt, impotence—but combined feel intolerable.

Last year I wrote a column inspired by those feelings, “The $17 ticket that costs $25.” It focused on the pesky add-on costs that come any time you try to buy a ticket in advance of the game: order processing charges, so-called convenience fees, etc. Depending on the team you can root for, you can walk up game day and always know that something is available. For some of us, that’s not always an option.

Based on the response that column got, I was not alone in those feelings. In fact, that piece got more feedback than anything I have ever written for THT. So it’s only natural to do a follow up this year.

The plan is simple: go to every team’s website and pick a September game where demand should be minimal (because those are the least likely to sell out). First check what the add-on costs are at the cheapest seat available. If you’re buying the least pricey, you’re likely most concerned about cost and hence the most aggravated by these add-ons. Then, buy the best seat (re: priciest) available to see which clubs change their rates with seat price.

My snafus

Every year a problem emerges with this study. Last year for reasons unknown to man and Canadian, I couldn’t buy tickets from the Toronto website. I got around it, but was less certain on the results. This year that worked, only for a new problem to emerge. It affected the Red Sox and Yanks.

I meant to do all the research really early this year, to ensure no teams sold out on me. I actually checked all the cheap seats months ago, only to dilly-dally on the best availables. I belatedly checked those on Tuesday last week. By that time, the Yanks and Red Sox had apparently sold out.

Making it worse, I think I screwed up the Yanks’ cheapest seat. I checked on a $45 seat in spring, which isn’t the cheapest. Last year the Yanks were one of the clubs that had variable add-on costs depending on seat prices, so I don’t know how much their cheap seats cost. The Red Sox weren’t, so I should have good info on them, but not with the Yanks.

Actually, their selling out already is the most important part. That means it is literally impossible to pay face value for their tickets. When you see the add-on costs below, keep that in mind—especially when looking at the amazing fee with which the Red Sox gouge fans.

The high cost of gouging, circa 2008

OK, so who gouges the most? Well, let’s note there are two main fees: an order processing charge, and the Orwellianly-named convenience fee. (Well, to be fair they never said it was convenience for the fan.)

A few teams add on a tax (Houston, Seattle, and the White Sox. The Cubs appear to incorporate the tax into their inconvenience fee.) The Blue Jays don’t officially have an order processing charge, but they do have a second fee you can’t get around. That’ll go in the O.P. column.

Here are how the teams gouge you in their cheap seats (except the Yanks for reasons already discussed) in which CF is Convenience Fee, and OP is Order Processing:

Team         CF      OP     Tax   Total
BOX       $4.25   $7.00          $11.25
CWS       $4.75   $3.50   $0.38   $8.63
SEA       $4.25   $3.82   $0.38   $8.45
CHC       $4.59   $3.50           $8.09
LAA       $4.25   $3.80           $8.05
HOU       $3.25   $4.11   $0.54   $7.90
DET       $3.75   $4.10           $7.85
TOR       $3.75   $4.00           $7.75
BAL       $4.25   $3.50           $7.75
LAD       $3.50   $4.10           $7.60
CLE       $4.25   $3.35           $7.60
STL       $4.00   $3.50           $7.50
PHI       $3.50   $4.00           $7.50
CIN       $4.09   $3.25           $7.34
OAK       $3.25   $4.00           $7.25
DCN       $3.50   $3.50           $7.00
SDP       $3.50   $3.50           $7.00
NYM       $2.00   $4.50           $6.50
SFG       $3.00   $3.50           $6.50
MIN       $3.25   $3.25           $6.50
FLO       $3.75   $2.60           $6.35
PIT       $2.00   $3.50           $5.50
ARI       $2.00   $3.50           $5.50
COL       $2.00   $3.50           $5.50
KCR       $2.25   $3.00           $5.25
ATL       $3.00   $2.05           $5.05
TBD       $1.50   $3.25           $4.75
TEX       $2.75   $1.75           $4.50
MIL       $2.00    none           $2.00

If you’re curious, a $45 seat in Yankee Stadium costs you a $5.60 convenience fee plus $3.05 processing charge. That’s about what they charged last year for their expensive seats (the convenience fee has gone up a nickel). Their cheap seats last year had the same processing charge but a $3.90 convenience fee, so they’re likely just under $7 still.

Riddle me this: what the hell’s an order processing fee anyway? What do they have to process exactly? This is handled electronically and automatically. They do have to put the tickets were you tell them (whether it is Will Call or mail or whatnot) but: 1) that don’t cost teams $2-3 a ticket, and most importantly 2) they have other separate fees to handle that stuff anyways.

For example, as stated above the chart the Jays have no order processing fee. They merely charge you $4 to pick up at Will Call or $5 to mail to you, or $2.50 to print at home. I could have put $2.50 in the above chart for the Jays except that almost every single team in baseball also charges you a separate cost to print at home.

Actually, I nearly made home printing part of this study. I didn’t because all teams aside from Toronto have options that let you get the tickets for free some way or another. It takes a lot of gall to charge fans for that, though. Hell, they aren’t even providing you with the printer ink. Exactly half the teams charge $2.50 for that service. No teams are more expensive. Only a handful let you do it for free. (See references & resources at the end of the column to compare home print costs for all teams.)

Try—if you dare—to imagine a system so convoluted and inefficient that the Red Sox would actually be justified in billing fans $7 a ticket in order to process an order. And remember, they sell out. That over-charge ain’t an option.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Perhaps even more annoying is the convenience fee; in part it’s that damningly inaccurate name. It’s also frequently the more expensive half. And last but not least, really giving lie to the notion that these costs have anything to do with the service offered, it’s the convenience fee that changes based on seat price.

Gouging by sections

All teams have a set rate for order processing, but most teams will gun up the convenience fee. The pricier seats come with a pricier gouge.

I checked on this last week, but the best available wasn’t always the best seats. The priciest left at Wrigley Field, for example, were $24. Others still had the most expensive ones available (fear not Reds fans—you can still purchase a $230 seat to see your team play the Pirates). That can skew the comparisons. Based on what I got, here are the results:

Team       Best   Cheap     Dif
SFG      $15.25   $3.00  $12.25
LAD      $11.50   $3.50   $8.00
NYM       $5.50   $2.00   $3.50
TBD       $5.00   $1.50   $3.50
DCN       $6.75   $3.50   $3.25
OAK       $6.25   $3.25   $3.00
ARI       $5.00   $2.00   $3.00
COL       $5.00   $2.00   $3.00
FLO       $6.00   $3.75   $2.25
TEX       $5.00   $2.75   $2.25
LAA       $6.25   $4.25   $2.00
PIT       $4.00   $2.00   $2.00
MIL       $4.00   $2.00   $2.00
ATL       $4.75   $3.00   $1.75
DET       $5.25   $3.75   $1.50
TOR       $5.25   $3.75   $1.50
BAL       $5.75   $4.25   $1.50
KCR       $3.75   $2.25   $1.50
HOU       $4.50   $3.25   $1.25
SDP       $4.75   $3.50   $1.25
SEA       $5.00   $4.25   $0.75
MIN       $4.00   $3.25   $0.75
CLE       $4.50   $4.25   $0.25
PHI       $3.75   $3.50   $0.25
CWS       $4.75   $4.75    same
CHC       $4.59   $4.59    same
STL       $4.00   $4.00    same
CIN       $4.09   $4.09    same

Though both Chicago teams didn’t have the real best seats still available, I’m pretty sure neither actually changes this fee based on section.

Zeus’s pimples, the Giants run up the prices! They did last year too, but only up $11.25, not $15.25. Did someone forget to tell the marketing department they didn’t resign Barry Bonds this year?

As noted, the Yanks probably gun their convenience fees by about $1.70, which is normal. The Red Sox didn’t raise their convenience fee at all last year, and given how much they normally charge, I doubt they do this year as well. Why bother? Including the processing charge, their $11.25 overall surcharge is still higher than all but the Dodgers and Giants.

Last year nine teams had the same flat rate. This year only five do, assuming that’s true of Boston. The four who fell are the Brewers (the only team without a processing fee), Phillies, Twins and Blue Jays. Some of those teams are on the bottom of this list.

That brings up another question: which clubs have increased their fan-screwing prices by the most since last year?

The inflation of gouging

For this, we’ll stick with the cheap seats because those are the most price-conscious shoppers out there. As a result, I can’t throw in the Yanks, but that still leaves me with 29 others from which to pick. Best as I can tell, the Yanks only increased prices by a nickel. Actually, I’m tossing out Toronto as well because of the problem last year. My hunch is that they either have the same overall fee or minimal changes.

This will look at full fee: convenience, processing and tax. Results:

Team        2007    2008    Dif
SEA       $6.86   $8.45   $1.59
LAA       $6.55   $8.05   $1.50
CLE       $6.10   $7.60   $1.50
SDP       $5.50   $7.00   $1.50
SFG       $5.25   $6.50   $1.25
STL       $6.50   $7.50   $1.00
BAL       $7.00   $7.75   $0.75
HOU       $7.31   $7.90   $0.59
LAD       $7.05   $7.60   $0.55
CIN       $6.84   $7.34   $0.50
CWS       $8.36   $8.63   $0.27
BOX      $11.00  $11.25   $0.25
DET       $7.60   $7.85   $0.25
MIN       $6.25   $6.50   $0.25
KCR       $5.00   $5.25   $0.25
ATL       $4.80   $5.05   $0.25
CHC       $8.09   $8.09   $0.00
PHI       $7.50   $7.50   $0.00
OAK       $7.25   $7.25   $0.00
DCN       $7.00   $7.00   $0.00
NYM       $6.50   $6.50   $0.00
FLO       $6.35   $6.35   $0.00
ARI       $5.50   $5.50   $0.00
PIT       $5.50   $5.50   $0.00
TBD       $4.75   $4.75   $0.00
TEX       $4.50   $4.50   $0.00
MIL       $3.25   $2.00  ($1.25)
COL       $5.50   $3.50  ($2.00)

I’m surprised more teams didn’t increase. Only a half-dozen went up by a buck, but that includes the worst team in baseball and a squad that’s been the worst in the NL much of the year. Way to go, Seattle and San Diego. ‘Attaway to treat your loyal fans!

What is absolutely stunning is that two teams reduced these prices. And not just any teams, but two squads that had some of the best justification to gun them up. The Rockies won the pennant, for Pete’s sake. The Brewers finally had a winning season and possess a core of great young talent.

God bless the Brewers, devil take the Mariners

If there’s one team I’ve learned to respect from looking at these prices the last two years, it’s the Milwaukee Brewers. They do something very rare in pro sports; they treat their fans with respect. They’d rather grow a fan base than gouge one. Not only are they the only team to not have a processing charge, but also they have the lowest convenience fee in MLB.

On the one hand, as a Cubs fan I don’t like seeing them move forward because it jeopardizes my team’s chances. But I can switch off that part of my brain for a second. Taking a less parochial view, they are the most root-for-able squad out there. They develop from within, do a great job evaluating talent and serve as a model to properly deal with fans. Hang your head high, Brewers fans—you root for a club to be envied.

Mariners fans, start making Molotov cocktails. It isn’t bad enough they had to put together the worst team in baseball. They also hit you with the third-highest gouging fees, the highest among teams that haven’t won it all in the last three seasons. And oh yeah, they lead the league in biggest uptick in these costs since last year. Hey, gotta pay that Carlos Silva contract somehow. From my own experience, they have the most expensive ballpark food out there. That’s coming from someone who has been to nine parks in the last nine years. They are the anti-Brewers.

References & Resources
I visited all 30 teams websites for this. To be clear, I never ordered these tickets; I bailed out once I got the info I needed. Random comment that I feel the need to point out. All teams have their security clearance you have to go through when ordering tickets online. Sometimes you have to write out particular words into a box. With the Marlins, the words of the day were “Edwards” and “over.” I found that amusing.

The following teams charge $2.50 to home print: Cubs, Astros, Braves, Marlins, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, Yankees, Jays, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, A’s, Angels, Mariners and Rangers. That’s 16 in all. The Orioles are the only team to charge $2.25. A handful charge $2.00: Brewers, Reds, Indians and Twins. In total, that’s 21 so far. At $1.75 you got: Cards, Pirates and Nationals. I forgot to write anything down for the Mets, Rays and Phillies. The only teams I noted no home print fees for are the D-backs, Padres and Rockies.

When I note Seattle’s ballpark food prices, that’s in comparison to Milwaukee, Toronto, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Minnesota, St. Louis and both Chicago parks.

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