In the midst of a season which may break MLS records for futility, with scalpers standing game after game on Hastings offering up tickets for literal pocket change, the Vancouver Whitecaps have dared to send an e-mail out to their season ticket holders saying they are raising prices for the 2012 season. The nerve! The cheek! The sheer, barefaced gall!
Of course this isn't actually a problem. Far from piling on misery for overburdened fans, the Whitecaps' 2012 season ticket prices are eminently reasonable.
With no ticket increasing by more than 3.1% on its 2011 cost, the Whitecaps are giving their customers one of the most minute increases for a second-year MLS club in recent history. Increases are not distributed equally across all price levels, and the customers who have the worst-value ticket prices in 2011 are taking a relatively light beating in 2012. Consumer price inflation in Canada was 3.1% between June 2010 and June 2011 and 2.7% in British Columbia between May 2010 and May 2011; in real money terms most sections are actually cheaper.
Most Toronto FC supporters in their second season had to endure increases of 10% to 15%; Seattle Sounders fans renewing an existing season ticket paid the same price in 2010 that they did in 2009 but new subscribers endured a 30% increase in some sections.
Vancouver's ticket prices aren't all rosy. The Philadelphia Union, to pick another expansion team, kept per-game season ticket prices steady between 2010 and 2011. Both Toronto and Seattle started with season ticket prices far lower than Vancouver, although Seattle made up that difference in most sections by year two. Still, there's no cause for fans to complain in the Whitecaps' 2012 pricing structure: the prices were hardly going to go down.
The interesting feature of the 2012 Whitecaps season ticket prices aren't the less-than-inflation increase in price: it's the way the increases are distributed.
|Section||2011 Price||2012 Price||Increase|
Ticket holders in Green sections will pay an extra $10 in the 2012 season; an increase of 3.1% on the 2011 price. Among regular-priced seats they have it worse than anybody. Second-worst are the Teal sections with a 2.6% increase: the Teals also have the second-largest dollar increase over 2011. (I'm a Teal so naturally this is an outrage, even if it's just eleven bucks.)
In a small way, the Whitecaps are trying to nudge up the much-advertised cheap seats from the inaugural 2011 season. Recognize this: the Whitecaps think their cheapest seats are a bit too cheap and are giving them some of the worst increases (in relative terms). It's the mushy middle that's escaping with price increases so small they're virtually token.
Don't think, however, that the rich are getting away with anything. The third-largest increase, and the largest among regular seats in dollar value, is the high-priced Purple section. The best seats in the house will go up by $19 and 2.0% over their 2011 prices: again, nothing extortionate, but well comparable to the proletarians in the corners. Club seats are going up by less than a percentage point each but they were already priced fairly high.
The guys who come out best are in the lumpy middle. The Aqua tickets are the worst deal at Empire Field: the worst seats in the house (not even seats; benches) with a more distant view of the field than the corners and at a significantly higher price. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Aqua seats sold poorly and were usually the tickets given away by the Whitecaps or their partners, so maybe that's why Aqua ticket holders have a relatively light price increase of five bucks or 1% of their 2011 cost. Yellow tickets are going up ten dollars: the same amount as the Green seats they're next to but only a 1.7% increase. And Blue tickets; the lower-end midfield seats on the east side of BC Place, are increasing in price by a buck.
I doubt it's coincidental that Aqua and Yellow were the two most criticized pricing levels in 2011. Aqua we've discussed: the end-zone seats were $175 more expensive than the corner because of the "perceived value" of sitting in what was expected to be a raucous supporters section, but what you got at Empire Field was an expensive steel bleacher far from the action (BC Place will have seats but the view will be no better). The difference between Aqua and Green has declined by $5: not a lot but noticeable in a season of $10 increases.
The Yellow section is at least good seating, but being located directly adjacent to the Green section meant that Yellow fans paid nearly twice the price of their Green neighbours. This was the second-biggest screwjob at Empire, and while the price difference between Green and Yellow is still the same in dollars the percentage difference between the two sections has declined.
As for why Blue tickets are getting the smallest price increase of all, one presumes the Blues aren't selling as well as other sections or the Whitecaps are concerned that fair-weather fans paying big bucks for midfield tickets won't be as enthusiastic to return.
The season ticket price chances for 2012 are virtually meaningless: so small you'll make up the increase by giving up one and a half Budweisers next year. That's not what matters. What matters is that they indicate a positive trend: a better deal for sections currently being overcharged and strictly modest increases across the board. Keep this up over two or three seasons and the Whitecaps will make a lot of friends with their fans even if the team continues to struggle.