Dynamic pricing boosting revenue

By Etheria Modacure

It’s the end of the season, and the San Francisco Giants are in the thick of a pennant race. The last series of the year is at home, and it’s against a team trailing the Giant by three games. Most teams would have looked at this last series before the season started when ticket prices were made and decisions for that game had been accepted.

The front office expects around 34,000 fans to show up for the last series of the season, and the old method of setting a base price for each game would have normally been implemented in this situation.

This ticketing strategy has been the model for all professional sport teams since general admission to sporting events was axed. Now, a company called Qcue helps teams with dynamic pricing, a system that analyzes what each team should charge for tickets based on previous games, its opponent, the weather, the market demand and other variables.

Russ Stanley, vice president of ticket sales and marketing for the Giants, used dynamic pricing last season for 2,000 seats at the ballpark, which priced tickets according to market demand. It was a success, and he told his ownership group about the technology.

The owners were pleased to hear the good news and allowed Stanley to use the software for all 42,000 seats at AT&T Park for the 2010 season.

The software isn’t limited to Major League Baseball. A few NBA teams such as the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic use dynamic pricing as well. In the NHL, the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers have implemented the software into their ticketing strategies.

Stanley said dynamic pricing is a helpful tool that accurately prices tickets and increases revenue for a team.

“We felt if [the Giants] were more accurately priced with our tickets on the upside, or more importantly the downside when you have a bad year, we could actually sell more tickets,” Stanley said.

Qcue—which has deals with the Dallas Stars, Giants, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers,Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz—has become the leading software-based dynamic pricing solution for these teams, according to Qcue CEO Barry Kahn.

“Organizations have seen how well dynamic pricing has worked for teams like the Giants who have realized significant revenue upside,” Kahn said in a statement regarding why dynamic pricing has become so valuable among professional sports teams.

The Giants finished in third place in the National League West with an 88-74 record in 2009.

This season, however, the team won the division on the last day of the regular season.

Stanley said the last series between the Giants and the San Diego Padres sold out two weeks in advance because fans were able to buy tickets at the price set by the market. Both teams came into the series with the Padres trailing the Giants by three games. With the success of the Giants this season, Stanley said skeptics could point to the fact the team sold more tickets because of its playoff appearance.

“You can say we sold more tickets because the team was better,” Stanley said. “But we generated more revenue because we were more accurately priced with our ticket sales.”

Accurately pricing tickets is the main component of the dynamic pricing strategy. Similar to airlines and hotels, when a consumer purchases a ticket six months in advance, he or she can get the best price possible as opposed to buying a ticket the day before an event.

Colin Faulkner, senior vice president of marketing for the Dallas Stars, and Stanley agree the best method for fans is to buy early and often.

“Russ and I talk and our message is similar: The earlier you buy, the better deal you’re going to get,” Faulkner said.

The Chicago White Sox experimented with dynamic pricing for their final seven games this season against the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, according to a press release by Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Brooks Boyer.

Selected seats for the White Sox’s final home series against the Indians were priced as low as $15. The White Sox became the third MLB team to try this software behind the Giants and the Houston Astros according to the press release.

“We want to provide the best values we can for White Sox fans and bring even more fans out to U.S. Cellular Field through greater day-to-day ticket price flexibility,” Boyer said.

Faulkner and Stanley noted this strategy will not upset season ticket holders because neither team will set prices below what season ticket holders paid for each game.

“Our main goal in this [strategy] was to protect our season ticket holders,” Faulkner said. “They’re our most valuable customers.”

Tickets usually increase 50 cents to $3 before each game. Stanley suggests fans buy their tickets a series or two in advance, given that baseball teams play other teams in a three- or four-game series twice a week.

Hockey teams usually play three or four times a week, and Stanley and Faulkner said the slowest days for the Giants and the Stars are usually between Tuesday and Thursdays. For the Giants, the dynamic pricing software is based on the previous night’s game and is determined by the opposing team’s record, the opposing pitcher’s fame and the marketing value of the other team.

Stanley referred to Memorial Day when Giants ace Tim Lincecum faced Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez and tickets went up substantially because of the pitching matchup.

Faulkner said the increased revenue a team receives from dynamic pricing benefits fans more than the team because of what the extra money can do for the organization.

“Our goal is to maximize revenue and get into that cycle where you can spend money on better players that make your team better and makes people want to [come to a game],” Faulkner said.

The Stars don’t want just one fan who pays a lot of money to be the only person in the arena, according to Faulkner, because there is a balance between maximizing revenue and maximizing people in the arena.

Hockey in Texas is a hard sell to fans accustomed to football and basketball, and Faulkner said the team acknowledges that with their dynamic pricing strategy.

“We’re not football in Texas or hockey in Canada,” Faulkner said “We’re hockey in Texas and we’ve got to work hard to come up with new things.”

Fans shouldn’t be worried that a ticket may increase to $20, according to Faulkner.The Stars started dynamically pricing the upper deck of the American Airlines Center last season and will include the Club Level this season, a total of approximately 9,000 seats.

Representatives for the Sacramento Kings, White Sox, Giants and Stars agree this isn’t a perfect system, but “this is better than throwing darts at the wall and guessing,” as Faulkner put it.

Most professional sports teams have packages where fans can buy tickets deemed “premium” or “gold,” which means the team will be facing an opposing team with recognizable players.

With three teams already using dynamic pricing, Stanley believes all 30 MLB teams will begin to use this strategy within the next five years.

“Within 3–5 years, every [MLB team will be] doing this, especially in baseball because we have so many games and so much inventory and you’ve got to be nimble,” Stanley said.“All games are not created equally. A team comes in for three days, and every one of those games are different, so why would you charge the same price?”