Amidst all the excitement around a potential playoff team, the Pirates' front office has more to think about than simply adding players at the MLB trade deadline. With such a successful team, the very real possibility exists for a ticket price increase for 2012.
Be honest, you knew it was coming, right? The team hasn't raised prices since its curious decision to do so after their 62-100 2001 season. Not only were parts of the public in an uproar about financing a new stadium, but then the Buccos had the audacity to raise prices to see a team that hadn't been on the winning side of .500 in a decade.
Now, the franchise that's gone the longest in Major League Baseball without a ticket hike appears ready to raise prices once again. On Monday, Frank Coonelly spoke to a panel of bloggers about the issue.
We've talked every year I've been here about the fact that we need to have a more competitive ticket price in Pittsburgh ... As a result of nine consecutive years of having no ticket increase while the rest of the industry, and particularly our market comparables, have increased their tickets several times during that period, we're way behind the industry ... in terms of ticket price, so that even if our attendance is above our market comparable attendance, we're still well behind in terms of gate receipts.
I won't complain too loudly if that happens. Unlike that 2002 increase, the Pirates have a legitimate right to increase ticket rates this time around. The team has been competitive, and the Bucs have been spending money internationally and through the draft, even if they aren't yet spending much on big-league payroll. If the payroll increases during the offseason (and I expect it will), a ticket price increase would make even more sense.
Still, though, imagine the splash the Pirates would make by leaving ticket prices where they are for one more year. All the goodwill that's been built up over the last few months would be incredible. Instead of selling out only weekend series, weekday games against good teams could approach that level as well.
Picture the scene - Frank Coonelly steps in front of the podium after the season and issues the following statement:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we're proud of the progress we've made on the field this season. While we didn't accomplish our goal of winning a World Series, it's clear we're headed in the right direction. Our scouts have done a tremendous job of stockpiling our farm system and we've been able to put a winning product on the field in 2011. We're going to continue to add resources that will soon give Pittsburgh another champion.
"Due to the considerable sacrifice our fans have made over the years to see a largely last-place franchise, we're ready to reciprocate that generosity. The Pirates will not be raising ticket prices in 2012 [insert appropriately-timed shocked expression on the faces of media members present here]. While an increase will occur in 2013, we feel that fans who have shelled out money for ticket plans over the past 20 years are entitled to a break."
Sure, this may be unrealistic, but it's something the Pirates should do. When you've sold a crappy product for years, the first reaction shouldn't be to charge more as soon as you've begun to make it better. And along those lines, let's not get carried away. One good season does not an improved franchise make. The Pirates are headed in the right direction, but it's pretty clear that the team is overachieving a bit. Further, with series upcoming against the Cardinals, Braves, and Phillies over the next few weeks, a .500 record for even this year is far from a guarantee. If next year comes around and Pittsburgh is far behind in the standings at the midway point, while not being back to square one, the front office will know it still has plenty of work to do.
So say the Bucs are determined to raise ticket prices anyway. Then what? A very real compromise would be to offer a break to fans purchasing ticket plans while raising prices for individual 2012 tickets. Full and partial ticket sales should increase dramatically if fans are given 2011 rates on 2012 plans.
The Pirates have built up nearly two decades of ill will and a final year of holding ticket prices firm would go a long way to rebuilding the relationship between fans and management.