Perfect Storm Leaves Seats Available for Opener

If you’re a Tribe fan of a certain age, you remember the games being broadcast on Channel 43. You also remember the broadcasters intoning before the game, looking out over acres of empty stands, “Plenty of good seats are available.”

I got an email today – a week after Opening Day tickets went on sale – about how seats still remain. That’s almost unheard of. There are a lot of people who believe the game will ultimately sell out, although if you’d asked me last week – before we found out that three cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Cuyahoga County – I probably would have too; now I’m not so sure.

There is no shortage of theories as to why ticket sales lag, chief among them that the Indians’ indifference to the free agent market has dampened enthusiasm for the team. I’m not sure how much stock I put in that theory, though. For decades, the Indians were the dregs of the American League East, and had no problem drawing even larger crowds to Cleveland Stadium.

I think weather has more to do with it than enthusiasm, but I think cost has more to do with it than weather. The opener this year is March 26, the earliest it’s ever been in Cleveland. March in Cleveland is a dicey proposition. It could be sunny and 60. It could be 30 and sleeting. Fans might be willing to take a chance on the weather – but not necessarily at premium prices, which is what the team is asking them to do.

Thanks to variable pricing, ticket prices for the opener are twice as expensive as they are for even the next game. In theory, it’s an example of the basic law of supply and demand. It’s been a long time since I took microeconomics at Youngstown State, but it goes something like this: For opening day, there’s an increased demand with a finite supply. Therefore, people are willing to pay more for the tickets. But twice as much is a tall order – given the weather, and given the fact that Cleveland remains one of the poorest cities in the country. (That’s one of the things that the chattering class never takes into account – or wants to – when it scolds fans for not going to the game. Although Major League Baseball is still the least expensive of the four major league sports, it’s still a hefty investment, and poverty in the Cleveland area is a widespread problem.)

But it’s not going away. The Indians started experimenting with variable pricing in 2003 with 10 “showcase” games, and in a story that year in the New York Times, Bob DiBiasio laid it out: “If we maximize our showcase games, we’ll realize over $1 million in additional ticket revenue.”

Sometimes, less really is more. But it appears this year, that might no longer be the case.

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