Giants Quadruple Price of Cheap Seats as Playoffs Drive Demand

As director of ticket sales for the San Francisco Giants, Russ Stanley roots for his team to win all its games. Almost.

Like his counterparts in Atlanta and San Diego, Stanley says he wants his club to reach the Major League Baseball playoffs that begin next week. They just want their teams to qualify on the last possible day, allowing the race for postseason spots to spur fan interest.

Close races for the National League West title and the NL wild-card spot have pushed ticket sales higher. In San Francisco, where the Giants adjust ticket prices a few times a week, the playoff race has helped boost the price of their lowest-cost seats by as much as 300 percent.

“I guess financially it is better to go all the way down to the last game,” Stanley said in an interview at the Giants’ AT&T Park. “Our hearts are in our stomachs, we’re pacing watching these games.”

A seat in the left-field upper deck for tomorrow night’s game between the San Diego Padres and the host Giants cost $5 at the start of this season and $5.75 on Aug. 1. That was before the Giants and Padres became locked in a battle for the NL West title, with a showdown this weekend in San Francisco. The Giants lead the Padres by two games.

The same ticket now has a face value of $20.

A ticket in the Field Club behind home plate for that game started the season at $68. It cost $92 on Aug. 1, $121 a week later, $145 on Sept. 4 and $175 now, Stanley said.

Dynamic Pricing

The Giants’ dynamic ticket pricing system allows Stanley, the team’s managing vice president for ticket sales and services, to adjust the tab daily. It rises or falls based on supply and demand, which is determined by weather, pitching matchups, day of the week -- and, of course, the game’s potential playoff effect. The Giants are the only team among the playoff contenders with dynamic pricing.

Before the season, Stanley said, the Giants expected a crowd of 30,000-35,000 for each of the three games this weekend. The playoff race has helped increase demand to about 42,000, the ballpark’s capacity.

“Sometimes you get lucky,” Stanley said. “Nine times out of 10, the Padres on the last weekend of the season is a bad thing. The Oct. 1 game started as one of our lowest-demand games. Now it’s as hot as opening day.”

Stanley said dynamic pricing is providing a 7 percent to 8 percent increase in revenue per seat over the course of this season for the Giants. Major League Baseball had revenue of $6.6 billion last year.

American League

The playoff teams already have been determined in the American League. The Minnesota Twins are the Central Division champions and the Texas Rangers won in the AL West. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, who are battling for the AL East crown, captured the other two postseason spots -- one will be division winner, the other will get a wild card that goes to each league’s second-place team with the best record.

The Rays (94-64) lead the Yankees (94-65) by a half-game in the division race.

Neither the Yankees nor Rays experienced much of an effect on ticket sales as they approached the playoffs. The Yankees finished their home schedule with a major league- leading average of 46,491 fans per game for a total season attendance of 3.8 million. The Rays rank 22nd of the 30 major league teams, drawing an average of 23,025 fans. There were 12,446 fans at the Rays’ home game three nights ago against Baltimore, and 17,891 at 36,973-seat Tropicana Field when they clinched a playoff spot two nights ago.

Reds and Phillies

In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds won the Central title and the Philadelphia Phillies used an 11-game winning streak to pull away from Atlanta and take the NL East crown. Atlanta leads San Diego by 1 1/2 games in the battle for the wild card.

The Phillies had tickets remaining at the end of August for late-season games at Citizens Bank Park, which seats 43,600 and can fit 1,500-2,000 fans in standing room. They were tied with Atlanta for first place in the NL East in mid-September before pulling away.

“Obviously, what the team has done in the last 20 games has catapulted it into another level,” John Weber, the team’s vice president for sales and ticket operations, said in a telephone interview. “The demand for tickets has increased 10-fold. The demand outstrips the supply.” The Phillies played their final home game on Sept. 26.

Atlanta Change

The Braves are approaching sales of 2.5 million, up about 100,000 from 2009. The final weekend was a tough sell last year for the team, which finished third in the NL East.

“We’re doing very, very well in sales for the final weekend this season,” Derek Schiller, the team’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, said in a phone interview. The Braves finish the season at home against Philadelphia.

The playoff races have been good for ticket resellers as well. At StubHub, a ticket resale website owned by EBay Inc., the volume of sales and the prices paid have increased in cities with teams battling for playoff spots.

Spokesman Glenn Lehrman said the company gets a 15 percent commission from sellers and 10 percent from buyers, based on the price paid to StubHub for the ticket.

Spotlight on Playoffs

Not including Yankees games, traditionally the biggest sellers on StubHub, eight of his company’s 10 biggest games by volume in the last two weeks of the season have involved teams fighting for a postseason spot, Lehrman said. Prices paid for tickets to those games have steadily increased, he said.

“We’re doing 50 percent of our business probably within three days of an event,” he said in a telephone interview.

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