As demand for Mariners tickets falls, the offseason looms large for a team that needs to right itself. The impending hiring of a new general manager will be critical.
Inside sports business
Mariners president Kevin Mather recently made the point of how important his upcoming general manager hire will be by saying he “can’t afford to lose an offseason right now.’’
Indeed, winter momentum generated by ballclubs can have an impact on ticket sales for the ensuing regular season. Those working for professional sports teams often describe a “one-year lag” in how on-field results from the previous season affect current attendance.
A contending team one year can experience a significant attendance increase the next because of fans buying tickets in advance over the winter. That’s mainly how the sub-.500 Mariners have seen Safeco Field attendance rise to an average of 27,464 fans per game this season compared to 25,485 during a much better campaign a year ago.
Likewise, poor on-field performance often isn’t reflected in attendance until the next season, when fans avoid buying tickets ahead of time. That’s why building momentum heading into the offseason — when the bulk of advance ticket sales occur — is so important.
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Increasingly sophisticated computer software now allows us to gauge that momentum by measuring demand for tickets as a season progresses. TickPick LLC, a New York-based online secondary ticket marketplace, tracks the average “street” price of tickets being listed for sale by brokers and individuals nationwide at any given time.
And as you’d expect, the value of Mariners tickets has declined significantly since the 2015 season began. In fact, you can pinpoint early May as when Mariners fans slowly started giving up on the team.
The season opened with the average street price of Mariners tickets listed at $90, well beyond the $76 for the 2014 opener. Prices climbed as the team flirted with .500, peaking at $109 on May 5.
But by then, the Mariners were in the midst of losing six of their final seven road games to fall eight games out of the division lead.
They were still very much in the wild-card race, with playoff odds (according to Baseball Prospectus), down from a season-opening 52 percent but still a manageable 31 percent.
M’s plummeting prices
The average price for Mariners tickets on the secondary market has dropped this season, along with the team’s record and playoff chances (all information for the morning of game).
The damage was done, however. By their first home series against Oakland following the trip, the list price of Mariners tickets plunged 11 percent to $97.
A steady decline ensued. Even when the team fought back to .500 by May 27, ticket list prices were down to $93 as Seattle opened a disastrous 11-game homestand. The Mariners went 2-9, lowering playoff odds to 20 percent and sending ticket prices below $90. By the time the team returned from the road for its next home game on June 17, prices had dropped below $80.
That date also marked the first time prices had been lower than the corresponding point a year earlier, when they were at $81.
“The summer months are usually when you’d see numbers start to spike,’’ says TickPick marketing director Jackson Riso, who compiled the numbers. “That’s when the weather warms up and you have more fans wanting to go see a game.’’
Instead, street demand for Mariners tickets kept declining. By the All-Star break in mid-July, the team’s playoff odds were in single digits and average ticket prices had plummeted below $70.
They dipped below $60 by the July 31 trade deadline and under $50 by mid-August.
Before last Wednesday’s conclusion of the team’s latest homestand, the average asking price for a ticket was $38 — down 65 percent from its May 5 high.
The average list price on that date a year ago was $63. Two years ago, it was $33 for a team that finished with 91 losses.
So, right now, the Mariners are trending closer to 2013 in terms of momentum and fan interest as the season closes. And that could deeply impact next season’s attendance.
That doesn’t mean all hope is gone, however.
Riso notes that teams can also generate offseason momentum with key player additions and even — wait for it — a new manager or general manager. A new GM wouldn’t necessarily foster the same optimism we saw here last winter, or after Robinson Cano was signed in December 2013.
But it might help regain part of that lost momentum.
Which brings us back to Mather and getting it right with Jack Zduriencik’s replacement as GM. Ownership is locked into several long-term player contracts and a payroll well beyond $100 million. Sources say they want a GM who can work a fairly quick turnaround.
Any more false starts on the field next season and attendance could revert to the 21,000 averages of a few years ago. There isn’t enough demand for Mariners tickets heading into this winter to count on advance sales offsetting any more disappointments in 2016.
So, the new GM needs to generate some hype and sustain it.
Mather and the Mariners already lost the regular season some time ago. As noted, they can’t afford to lose the offseason as well.