MLB Once Again Making Money at the Expense of Fans

Stew Winkel@stew_winkelSenior Analyst IMarch 14, 2008

A couple of weeks ago there was a story that received relatively little attention.   The Red Sox opted out of the agreement between Major League Baseball and StubHub, and decided they were going to use Ace Ticket as their official ticket reseller.   

Of course a different name for ticket reseller is ticket scalper (or as Jerry Seinfeld would call ticker resellers, “you know, the guys, that uh, they sell the tickets for the sold-out events).

Am I the only one who is bothered that Major League Baseball has an official online ticket scalper? 

I give the Red Sox some credit for using Ace Ticket instead of StubHub, as Ace Ticket at least sets a price for the tickets to keep the cost burden under control, where StubHub prices are a free for all.  But should there be any deal with any such ticket reseller? 

On the back of Red Sox tickets, and I have to assume most tickets, is clear language that these tickets are not to be resold.  How does baseball justify placing that language on tickets and then signing deals to have a company as the official ticket scalper?

I understand reselling and buying tickets on the web is very common and it is big business.  I also know that, especially in baseball with 162 games, teams would find it highly difficult to monitor and limit the reselling of tickets.  Online ticket brokers are here, they aren’t going anywhere.  Major League Baseball probably believes if all of that is true, shouldn't baseball get theirs.

Bud Selig continues in his position simply for his ability to bring in revenue, as he is a failure in most other aspects of his job.  He sees an opportunity here to make money on both ends – first, when the tickets are originally bought from the teams, and then again by cutting this deal with StubHub.  But by making the deal, encouraging and promoting the use of StubHub, MLB is an accomplice in driving up the price of tickets and forcing the average fan to spend even more money just to get to a game.

Last October, fans complained about the lack of availability of postseason tickets.  What did MLB do to help?  Did MLB cut back on the number of tickets handed out to the stars of the pick-your-favorite Fox tv show?  Nope – it said there is nothing wrong with reselling tickets and told fans to go to StubHub.  

Face value for many tickets can be high enough.  More often than not, though, if you want to go to a game, you can’t buy tickets at face value from the teams – you have no choice but to get online at either EBay or a ticket broker.

MLB may argue that these ticket resellers give fans the opportunity to buy tickets to sold out games, and that without them, many fans would not have a chance to get to a game.

There is probably some truth in that.  Does this mean that MLB has to partner with a ticker scalper? The reselling of tickets for sold out games has been going on for as long as I have been going to games, and probably much longer.  I can't imagine Bud Selig cutting a deal with the people who have always stood outside the parks yelling, “Got two here, who needs two?”

The reason so many games are sold out and fans have to turn to online ticket brokers is because many, if not most, of the tickets bought directly from the teams are purcahsed for the sole purpose of immediately being resold online.  The Red Sox, for example, are sold out of nearly every seat to every game months before the season begins.  But go to EBay, StubHub, Ace Ticket, or any other, and one can find hundreds and hundreds of tickets to any of the 81 Fenway games.

If instead of promoting online ticket scalping, MLB tried to do something to limit it, I belive many of these tickets that are now only available on the web, would become available at face value through the team’s individual ticket offices.

And even if nothing can be done that would result in a higher-percentage of highly-sought after tickets being available at face value through the teams, that does not mean MLB should be in bed with ticket scalpers.  I find it awfully disrespectful and insulting that Major League Baseball would sign deals with these groups, promote their use, and push fans to buy tickets at prices that dwarf face value.  

At the very least, I would like to see MLB do something to force StubHub to control its prices for baseball tickets.  That I am sure is asking too much from the $14-million commissioner.   

It does not surprise me that baseball again places making record profits at the top of its priority list – and unfortunately it does not surprise me either that helping the average fan slides further and further down this list.   

Also, I guess I am not surprised that traditional media outlets did not even blink an eye at this story or really explore the impact the deal and online ticket brokers in general have on the cost to fans to get to a game.

A few years back I exchanged e-mails with a prominent writer from a major newspaper on the issue of what role, if any, baseball organizations have in trying to control the resale of tickets.  The writer did not really seem to care, and then obnoxiously wrote that essentially even if there is a problem, it didn’t effect him personally, because he “had the foresight to purchase four season tickets in 1991.”

According to this writer, there is no story here.  Traditional media outlets will trot out the same boiler-plate article every year when there is any change in the face-value price of tickets.  Same article as last year, just change the numbers. But no reason to ask a few questions, do some research, or look into whether or not baseball should be making deals with ticket scalpers.

If fans can’t get tickets to see their favorite teams – well, get season tickets or go to StubHub.  If those two options don’t work, don’t expect the media or Bud Selig to offer any help.