Before the season started, Major League Baseball warned that there could be a drop in ticket sales at stadiums this summer because of the recession. Those fears appear to be justified. There were large swaths of empty seats at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium during the first games at those respective stadiums, and now comes word that the nearly six year sellout streak at Fenway Park is at risk.
The Red Sox are starting an ad campaign this week because they still have tickets available to home games, an unusual situation for a team that's sold every ticket since May 2003. For baseball, this is the canary in the economic coal mine.
The Mets and Yankees increased their ticket prices exponentially when they moved into their new stadiums and their failure to sell out was predictable. The Red Sox, however, froze ticket prices, have fewer seats to sell and a rabid fan base that never seems to get enough of the team. Most franchises don't have those things working for them, which should make baseball executives around the country very nervous.
The easiest thing, theoretically, would be cutting prices to sell the tickets. That won't fly with the people who have already purchased tickets, though, and giving refunds to those buyers would likely impact the team's bottom line more than the revenue gained from selling the remaining seats. How that would all add up once you factor in the cost of the new marketing campaign is less clear, however.
It doesn't help that the campaign is a particularly cynical one. Geoff Klapisch, a media and marketing professor at Boston University, spoke to the Boston Globe about the ads, which highlight great moments in Sox history.
"They want to remind their core audience of reasons to be loyal to their team, especially now when people are being careful financially," Klapisch said.
The team could have cut prices before the season, instead of freezing them, and then both sides are making sacrificies. Loyalty is a two-way street, something the Red Sox and other teams are going to need to think about when setting ticket prices in the future.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.