Red Sox Accomplish Goal of Slowing ‘Escalating’ Ticket Prices

The Red Sox’ announcement Tuesday that the majority of their tickets will remain the same price in 2011 continues the organization’s effort to meet the demands, needs and resources of its fans.

The slowing of the once-steady price increases has coincided with the culmination of the Fenway Park renovations — a 10-year, $285 million facelift that will be complete before Opening Day — to provide the average ticket-buyer more for his/her dollar than in years past, when large bumps in price were more difficult to swallow.

“The overall message is that we are taking steps to continue to arrest the growth of ticket prices at Fenway,” said Red Sox executive vice president/COO Sam Kennedy. “It is a pretty concerted effort by owners to slow down the escalating prices. … We’re trying to be very sensitive to families.”

Tickets in 17 different seating categories will remain the same as they were in 2010. This leaves roughly 70 percent of the inventory unchanged. Seats in three other categories inhabited largely by season ticket holders will see increases of between $3 and $5. Nearly 5,000 seats in those three pricier categories remain static.

Overall, the average ticket increase of just 2 percent represents the smallest price hike for the organization in the last 16 years. Prices were frozen across the board for the 2009 season, meaning that two of the last three years have fueled this slow-growth process.

Each season’s price changes are made after several steps, notably an analysis of the secondary market, which includes online ticket brokers and the like. That portion of the industry has become a large enough entity to influence teams’ decision-making process.

“We spend a lot of time over the course of the year examining what the true market value of our pricing structure is and we have historically not priced our tickets at the full market value,” Kennedy said. “We know that our tickets command a higher price on the secondary market but we’ve affirmatively made the decision that our ticket prices need to remain affordable.”

Also important to the process is a series of sessions with fans, during which the paying customer can provide feedback to the organization. A listening tour which visits each of the six New England states finished up last week at Fenway Park. Also, “Tell it to the Red Sox” sessions are held quarterly with fans who want a voice.

“Buyers are invited in to give us their reaction to a number of issues and ticketing is always on the list,” Kennedy added.

The concern is understandable.

After a 4.1 percent overall increase before the 2010 season, Red Sox’ tickets averaged $52.32, roughly twice the MLB average. The average “premium ticket” price at Fenway Park was a shade over $100, much closer to the league norm.

Seats in that second category will be the only ones affected by the small hikes this time around in what Kennedy refers to as the “Robin Hood Theory” of pricing. This scenario sees corporations and sponsors facing slightly higher rates but leaves the bulk of the paying audience unaffected from year to year.

The announcement comes one week after the organization laid out its plans for the final phase of the 10-year Fenway Park renovation plan. Among the new features which will greet fans in 2011 is a series of three HD video scoreboards in the outfield, improvements to the concourse and new seats for several sections in the lower bowl.

The continued demands for ballpark upgrades, together with the need to field a team that can compete in the best division in the game and with a financially high-powered rival, has made the gradual price hikes necessary. The alternative might involve a less-inspiring product on the field, an end to the 631-game sellout streak and perhaps renewed discussion of the end of Fenway Park.

“You have to consider the fact that we’ve really rescaled the house at Fenway Park over the last 10 years,” Kennedy added. “We’ve preserved the low end of our tickets, we have increased the premium areas. …The families and average fans have the ability to buy affordable tickets at Fenway.”

The renovations are expected to make the ballpark last at least another 30 years. While the market and need to compete will always dictate a fluctuation in ticket prices, the organizational goal of avoiding any major surges was accomplished this time around.

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