The Mariners restructured ticket pricing at Safeco Field and caught season-ticket holders unaware of increased prices for 2013.
Dave Hope knows there are no guarantees on the baseball field, having been a Mariners season-ticket holder the past 15 years.
But Hope expected at least one certainty off the field: that the Mariners would tell him if they were raising the cost of his tickets. Instead, to his surprise, Hope was about to make his annual renewal payment this month when he noticed he was being charged $692 more than last season for his four full-season tickets in the Terrace Club section of Safeco Field.
The hike is one of several the Mariners have quietly implemented for 2013 as part of a multifaceted price restructuring, though none of the literature sent to season-ticket holders indicates costs are going up. Full-season plans will rise as much as 6.9 percent in some sections, while 40-game weekend packages are up 3.7 to 10.6 percent in the more desirable main-level locations.
This has irked Hope and others among the team’s most loyal fans at a time the rebuilding Mariners are coming off their third consecutive last-place finish.
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“My biggest issue isn’t that they are raising the price,” said Hope, whose tickets increased 4.7 percent. “It’s that they didn’t tell anybody they were raising it. I don’t think they intended it this way, but it comes across as them being sneaky and hoping somebody doesn’t notice it.”
Hope said he spoke to about a dozen fellow season-ticket holders also unaware their seat costs had increased.
The major changes by the Mariners involve turning eight Safeco Field seating areas into four new ones called Main Level, Terrace Club Level, View Level and Bleachers — with varying prices for sections and seat rows within those areas.
As a result, just about every section of the ballpark and season-ticket plan — full-season, half-season, weekend, business and 16-game packages — had some cost increase, though a small number remain nearly unchanged and some second-deck Club Level seats down the right- and left-field lines will actually decline up to 3 percent.
Still, the majority of the seats are rising in cost.
“Nobody in any business likes to increase prices,” Mariners senior vice-president (communications) Randy Adamack said. “But we’re trying to be as affordable to the fans and run the ballclub and be able to keep up as a company.”
Adamack said the team has had two across-the-board ticket hikes the past 11 seasons and none since 2008. The team’s studies show its lower-level seats are among the top third of baseball for affordability, he added, while season-ticket holders saved between 27 percent and 44 percent off the cost of single-game tickets in 2012.
The team has yet to set prices for single-game tickets in 2013.
No intent to mislead
The Mariners recently sent out a mass email renewal letter to all of their season-ticket holders — the first time they’ve done it that way — and included protected links to information about individual accounts. But the linked information is mainly invoices for 2013, a seating and price map and payment deadlines, with no comparative information about 2012 prices or explanations of the changes.
Adamack insisted the team wasn’t trying to mislead. He said the wide-ranging scope of price changes made it difficult to address in a general fashion and compare to 2012.
“It varies from section to section,” Adamack said. “That’s why it’s difficult to show on the map.”
Instead, he added, team account representatives have managed since season’s end to reach most season-ticket holders by phone to explain changes and discuss options and pricing. In some cases, the team made the initial contact, in other cases confused ticket-holders phoned the reps wanting to know why costs changed with no warning.
Popular areas hit hardest
The biggest price hikes are in more-desired areas of the ballpark, closest to the field or home plate. But bleacher seats were also hit hard, climbing 3.6 percent for full-time plans, 7 percent for weekend, 15 percent for business and 10 and 11 percent for each of two half-season plans.
Adamack said the changes are an offshoot of the team’s “dynamic pricing” model introduced last season and used by roughly one-third of major-league teams. It involves charging fluctuating prices for certain tickets based on date, weather, quality of opponent and other factors that create a bigger demand.
In addition to creating the four newly-designated seating areas for 2013, the Mariners split two of them — Main Level and View Level — into lower and upper sections and based pricing on how close to the field the seats were. Nothing in the email to ticket-holders indicates the specific rows where splits occur between the upper levels and more expensive lower ones.
Adamack said this is because the split occurs in differing rows depending on the seat section. The closer to home plate the section is, the higher the dividing line between the upper and lower rows.
Message from Wedge
The email to ticket-holders contains a message from Mariners manager Eric Wedge, thanking them for their loyal support and patience. “Our plan may take a little longer, but when we become one of the best teams in baseball, we plan to stay at that level,” Wedge states. “By that I mean when we head to spring training each year, everyone — fans, players, opponents — will feel the Seattle Mariners are a legitimate pennant contender.”
But some ticket-holders don’t want to pay more while waiting.
“I can’t believe they raised their prices,” said Helen Sanjume, whose 40-game weekend package of two Main Level tickets in Section 114 rose nearly 11 percent, from $2,742 to $3,032. “It took a lot of nerve.”
Sanjume and her husband drive about an hour and 45 minutes each way to games from their home near Longview. Lately, she said, the in-stadium experience has diminished because of losing Mariners teams, more empty seats and the rising costs of parking and concessions.
“I’m more disappointed in the organization than anything else,” she said. “It feels like we’re being taken advantage of, and we’re the die-hard fans. Anybody can jump on a bandwagon when things are going great. They haven’t been great for a while.”
Sanjume was also hit by a “dynamic pricing” increase this past season after the team put a premium on some Friday, Saturday and Sunday games. Full-season ticket-holders and most partial plans weren’t impacted, but those on weekend plans saw costs rise — though the team offset the hike with gift cards for in-stadium purchases for renewing ticket-holders.
The gift-card offer was not continued for 2013.
Reaction from fans
Between the “dynamic pricing” increase and the new hikes, total ticket cost for Sanjume has risen 21 percent since the end of 2011.
Unlike Hope, who is giving the team the benefit of the doubt, Sanjume said she found it “sneaky” that no direct mention of the latest increase was made in any literature.
“If they tell you, then they have to justify it,” she said. “If they don’t tell you, there’s nothing to justify. How can they justify it with the way things have gone on the field?”
Ben Tsu, a weekend-ticket holder for 11 years, said he’d have liked an explanation why his newly designated “lower level” seats in the Main Level behind first base are up nearly 11 percent. He later figured out on his own — by contacting the team’s sales office — that had he moved back just four rows, he would have been in his section’s “upper level” and paid only a 6 percent increase.
“They’ve increased prices before, but they’ve always explained it to us,” said Tsu, who opted to keep his current seat location because he’s trying to move closer to the field. “Last year, they gave us the gift credit for the (dynamic pricing) difference, though you still had to spend it on stuff at the stadium. So, the team was still making money on it.”
Tsu said the Mariners are “nickel-and-diming their season-ticket holders” while player payroll continues to drop, from $94 million at the start of 2011 to $82 million this past season.
Sanjume feels the same. “It just annoys me,” she said. “They’re saving all this money on salaries but they’re not holding down prices on seats. I realize some of their other expenses are going up, but ours are going up, too.”
Sanjume said a couple with seats next to hers finally gave them up after 15 years. “When they couldn’t go, they had to give them away,” she said. “They couldn’t sell them. Maybe they could get $5, but then what’s the point?”
Still, like Hope and Tsu, Sanjume said she plans to bite the bullet and keep supporting her team. “We just love baseball,” she said. “In spite of everything, we can’t get enough of it.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners
Note: seating locations highlighted are for illustration purposes and may not be exact
|Mariners season-ticket price increases|
|An overview of Mariners season ticket pricing changes for 2013.|
|Category||Main level||Terrace Club (infield)||View||Bleachers|
|Full season||0.3 to 6.9 percent||4.7 percent||1.3 to 2.0 percent||3.6 percent|
|Weekend||3.7 to 10.6 percent||NA||4.7 to 5.4 percent||7.0 percent|
|Business||1.8 to 8.9 percent||NA||7.5 to 10.2 percent||14.9 percent|
|Half-season, No. 1||2.9 to 9.9 percent||6.9 percent||6.8 to 7.8 percent||11.3 percent|
|Half-season, No. 2||2.5 to 9.6 percent||6.6 percent||6.2 to 6.8 percent||10.3 percent|
|Mariners season-ticket price decreases|
|Some outfield sections are cheaper.|
|Category||Terrace Club (outfield only)|
|Full season||3.0 percent|
|Half-season, No. 1||0.3 percent|
|Half-season, No. 2||0.6 percent|