Today, the Vancouver Whitecaps filled up a slow news week, to the eternal gratitude of bloggers everwhere. They announced their season ticket structure for the 2013 MLS season.
Last year, the Whitecaps' season ticket prices were pretty much more of the same, with larger increases for sections that sold well and small to non-existent increases for sections that sold poorly. This season, however, despite improved fortunes on the field and continued good crowds the club has gone a little deeper. The old Aqua section, he of infamous "perceived value" behind either goal, has been eliminated: in the east stands, Aqua and Teal are being merged under the Teal name and at that price point, while in the west stands Aqua and Teal are all "White"; a designated supporters section again at the old Teal price.
The Whitecaps are also throwing more promotional considerations at fans than we're used to. Supporters in university will be eligible for special, discounted season tickets in either the Teal or White (supporters) sections at a mere $199, a discount of over 50%. They're also pushing customized nine-game packages. Most importantly to this site's readership, early-bird season ticket buyers will enjoy a discount of 12%, valid between September 22 and October 3; a discount that would push any section below the 2011 season ticket price.
This is all well and good and seems set to appease the hardcore fan who knows long in advance that he's going to be back on board for 2013. It is also coupled with a real price increase across the cheaper sections. Early birds will save money, but those buying later are out a real percentage.
|Section||2011 Price||2012 Price||2013 Price||Increase|
Last season, only one section (Green) increased in real dollars. All other sections went up by less than the rate of inflation.
This year is different. Most sections will see price increases significantly greater than the rate of inflation (1.1% in British Columbia and 1.5% in Vancouver from July 2011 to July 2012). Green is, once again, hardest hit, taking a 6.1% increase from 2012 to 2013. The hit will be soothed, however, by the fact that many patrons of the Green section have always been students and they'll be moving behind the goal with $130 savings in their pockets from last season.
Those seated in the 2012 Teal sections will also take a hit of 4.7%, coming off a 2.6% increase last season. We're still talking about an increase of $20; just over a buck per game. For any fan who was able to pay $429 last year it shouldn't be a significant hit, and any "bad optics" will be made up for by the 12% early bird discount.
The most expensive club seats are getting a serious increase of over 10%. But that will impact only a tiny minority of fans; if you're one of that minority, where did you get your money and can I please have some? The "low-end" club seats are remaining steady, as they did last year: the cheapest club seat in the house has seen a combined price increase since 2011 of eight bucks.
The rest of the stadium wins, even before the early bird discount. Purple, with a 1.1% increase, is right on the provincial and slightly below the civic rate of inflation, and now that they're at the magical $999 price point they can almost count on a stable price for 2014. The Yellow and Blue sections are seeing no increase whatsoever; Blue is still only $1 over their 2011 prices. Those few brave souls who once bought season tickets in Aqua are really in the money, as they will save $50 on their season tickets even before the 12% discount.
Nothing in this pricing structure is a shock. The old Aqua station was always the "here there be dragons" of BC Place; empty except on marquee nights or when fans from other sections moved over to get some room, packed with giveaways and Groupons. The only surprise is that the Whitecaps took pleasantly decisive action by eliminating Aqua altogether rather than repeating what they did in 2012 and staggering the price increases.
Paul Barber's infamous "perceived value" of seats behind the goal being pricier than the corners is almost dead, and the only remnant is the fact that Green prices are still cheaper than new Teal/White tickets. Even there for the second straight year Green has gotten a larger percentage price increase.
What we see is an increase in prices where demand is strong (Green and Teal), a decrease where demand was moribund (Aqua), and stability where demand fluctuates. Hardcore fans, who are a minority of the crowd but perhaps the loudest part, should be encouraged by still-small price increases and utterly delighted by an early bird discount that will see them pay less than they did in 2011. Even those who miss out on the discount still aren't getting screwed and I anticipate continued strong sales in Green, Teal, and White into 2013.
Moreover, for students the Whitecaps might now be a hot ticket. The $199 package deserves more press than it gets; the Whitecaps are losing former full-price season ticket holders on this deal and will hope to make up for it with volume and with fans remaining season ticket holders once they graduate. If these fans are pushed into the former Aqua seats, there's a good chance of the atmosphere in the southwest and northwest corners finally starting to spread over the Aqua desert. This is good for both the fans and the front office.
As a fan and a season ticket holder, I am pleased as punch with this pricing structure. It imposes no onerous price increases and eliminates the biggest flaw from 2011 and 2012 at a stroke. It isn't a knee-jerk populist or a short-sighted cash grab: it ups prices where demand looked good and kept them stable or reduced them where demand looked poor. And determined supporters will save money from their loyalty; a probably unnecessary but certainly welcome gesture.