The following is from Jesse Lawrence of TiqIQ.
When the Yankees announced that they’d be eliminating print-at-home tickets entirely last month, the media jumped on the story as the latest example of greed in big sports. Beyond the click-driving headlines, however, the real story is as much about the shift toward mobile buying as it is a dollar grab. It’s also a change that has the potential to benefit consumers in meaningful ways.
In full disclosure, my company, TiqIQ, has a horse in this race. In fact, we have two. In the pursuit of providing fans full market transparency, we analyze and sell tickets from primary platforms like Ticketmaster, Eventbrite and Spectra, as well as from the secondary market. Our secondary market includes feeds directly from brokers as well as other sources, including the Yankees Ticket Exchange. Over the last five years, that focus on both sides of the marketplace has given us a unique perspective across thousands of events and millions of tickets. While each league and event has it’s own unique primary-secondary dynamic, on the whole we’ve found that the primary and secondary markets have the best deals roughly in equal measure. For the Yankees, and most of baseball, however, it’s a slightly different picture.
Last year none of the 30 Major League teams sold out of their season. While the Yankees ranked 4th in the league attendance, they only filled up Yankee stadium at 80% of capacity over the course of the season. For baseball, that’s like hitting .300, but it still equates to about 10,000 unsold tickets…for every game. This compares to the approximately 5,000 secondary market tickets available for each Yankees home game. For the 2015 season, we analyzed 51 games, one-month ahead of the game. We looked at games that we felt were a representative sample of all demand profiles across four price categories—100s, 200s, 300s and 400s. The data showed that, overall, primary was cheaper 59.5% of the time. For 300 level seats, primary was cheaper in 39 of the 51 games. For 100-level seats, the Secondary market had a better deal 51% of the time. The full analysis with 2015 and 2016 can be viewed here.
For this season, we’re again tracking the difference between the primary and secondary market for Yankees tickets across 51 games. This year, we expanded to five price tiers for some more granularity. So far, the secondary market has a slight edge, and is cheaper 53% the time. For higher demand games against teams like the Red Sox, Mets, Giants and Dodgers, though, primary has the better deal in almost twice as often as the secondary market. For the two Red Sox Series we tracked, primary has a better deal 89% of time. That will likely change as the events get closer in date, as the secondary market almost always drops in the days and week leading up to the event. May is a good example of that, as the primary market is cheaper only 36% of the time. For young and old ticket buyers alike, however, that’s not information that is or has been readily accessible in the buying process. A search in Google for ‘Yankees Tickets’ returns 16 results on the coveted first page of results. The Yankees or Major League Baseball power six of those sites. Simple math says that the team is completely absent from more than half of the ticket buying options in at least one prominent buying ecosystem. In the context of apps, the picture is even worse for teams. A search for ‘Yankees tickets’ in Apple’s app store returns 9 results, eight of which have nothing to do with the team itself or their primary inventory.
Over the last two decades years, that kind of under-representation in the market has been driven by a combination of bad technology and bad business decisions. Sixteen years after Stubhub was founded, that may be beginning to change. Last week, Ticketmaster launched their checkout into another app for the first time. Their partner, Bands in Town, has between five and ten million app installs in Google Play alone and ranks second for a search on ‘music tickets’ in the App store. In the months and years to come, this distributed model will find it’s way into sports. From a marketplace perspective, that could be a very good thing for buyers, as it has the opportunity to reduce purchase friction for the 40% of primary inventory that goes unsold every year.
Over the last five years at TiqIQ, we’ve seen traffic go from 70% desktop to 70% mobile and app. It’s a trend that is only picking up velocity and when the marketplace speaks that loudly, businesses have no choice but to respond. As they did in 2013 with their secondary ticket exchange, the Yankees have responded first and loudly in an effort to move things away from the status quo. They’ll suffer first-mover criticism, but others will follow their lead. Regardless of those lashings, the Boss would surely take some pleasure in knowing that the rival Red Sox are launching their own ticket exchange this season, three years after the Yankees did the same.
Regardless of the pace at which teams move, in the long run, it seems to be only a matter of when and how, not if, they’ll regain control of their ticket buying ecosystem. The recent dismissal of Stubhub’s lawsuit against Ticketmaster and the Golden State Warriors is further evidence of that inevitability. As that happens, it’s critical that teams don’t abuse their rediscovered power. If managed properly, though, the Yankees decision and the shift it represents may usher in a much-needed simplification of the ticket market. In addition to the opportunity for a more complete view of the marketplace, it also has the potential to turn ticketing into something it’s hasn’t been since the Cubs last won a world series: a product that works well enough for fans to give it almost no thought at all.