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As opening day approaches, the state of baseball in 2016

As fans anxiously await the start of the Major League Baseball season on Sunday, they may find this year that getting into the stadium will have some new twists. Baseball ticketing is undergoing major changes this season.

An increasing number of teams are considering changes to how they accept tickets. In February, the New York Yankees announced the team will no longer accept print-at-home tickets, instead requiring fans to use a traditional paper ticket or an e-ticket on their phone.

The Yankees say the change is to fight against the increase in counterfeit tickets, but it also makes it increasingly challenging to buy from secondary markets like StubHub and TiqIQ where fans traditionally use the print-at-home option. As a result, fans will land at the Yankees Ticket Exchange, a site run for the Yankees directly by Ticketmaster.

"It's interesting, because it really forces fans to interact more with the Yankees ecosystem," said Jesse Lawrence, CEO of TiqIQ. "We don't make nearly as much money when we sell a primary ticket as we do a secondary ticket."

Red Sox Replay

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox are taking control of their online ticket resale market as well. A new service, Red Sox Replay, will allow buyers and sellers to transfer tickets digitally, eliminating the need for printing out tickets. "The Red Sox are owning the secondary market, which is meaningful, because they have the second-most expensive tickets on the market," said Lawrence.

On whether these changes are a good or bad thing for the consumer, fans will have to wait and see, but Lawrence said it will give consumers more options and could have an impact on pricing. "What I think happens, is the overall pricing goes down because there is access to more inventory," he said.

Lawrence also expects these ticketing changes to become a bigger trend among big-market baseball teams. With more dollars at stake, and an average of 3 million tickets to sell every year, the incentive is there. Critics argue this could lead to price manipulation. Instead of prices being determined by supply and demand, teams can create their own price floor.

"It's critical and really incumbent on teams to make sure they manage this responsibly and don't take advantage of the situation where they do have more control of the marketplace," said Lawrence.

The Yankees and Red Sox did not immediately comment.

Meanwhile, as the 2016 season kicks off, the secondary market shows the average ticket to attend a Major League Baseball game is $81, according to TiqIQ. That is down slightly (2 percent) compared to this time last year. The average ticket for the big opening day draw between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals is now just more than $300.

A young fan enters Fenway Park in Boston.
Getty Images
A young fan enters Fenway Park in Boston.

MLB will start the season in strong standing. A result of major media deals, the average club is now worth $1.3 billion, up 7 percent from a year ago and 59 percent higher than 2014, according to Forbes. The league says its revenue alone, excluding teams, was $9 billion in 2015, including TV deals, sponsorships and sales from its digital arm.

The Yankees find themselves in the top spot for the 19th consecutive year. The Bronx Bombers' value has skyrocketed to $3.4 billion. To put that in perspective, that's about the same size as the market caps for GameStop or Legg Mason. Among all sports teams, the Yankees are one of the most valuable franchises in the world.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Red Sox also saw modest increases with their values estimated to be $2.5 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively. Among the biggest gainers? The Houston Astros. The team saw a 38 percent increase in value, attributed to a rich new cable deal.

Maybe it's not all about the money though. First baseman Eric Hosmer said his Royals winning the World Series proved that payroll isn't everything. "I think it's something we proved last year. ... No matter what the payroll is, no matter what any other teams are doing spending wise, it's still possible for any team to go out there and win a championship."

Peanuts, cracker jacks, and Nutella-stuffed fried rice balls with cinnamon sugar

Every year teams keep ratcheting up the variety of their food offerings. The traditional basics like popcorn and beer have been taken over by new options like a Ybor dog, porcini mushroom doughnuts, or mission-style lamb tacos.

These are just some of the many new menu items at baseball stadiums managed by Centerplate. The company operates concessions at ballparks for the San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners.

"This will be my 23rd opening day," said Steve Dominguez, who at the age of 39, is an industry lifer. Dominguez is the Centerplate general manager in Seattle. He pointed out that the Centerplate relationship with the Mariners is a profit-sharing agreement, which "brings a better experience for the guests."

He said the team and Centerplate are "working for the same common goal," because both entities share the same risk. It's not just a traditional percentage payment that would normally happen. "It's one of the best dynamics I've had."

The Royals' Hosmer had his own personal story about crazy stadium food. "At every stadium, you can ask one of the clubhouse guys to get you something if a stadium is famous for it. ... I remember being in New York always hearing about how good the hot dogs were there and how big they were. It's something I always wanted to experience trying out at Yankee Stadium. That's something I had one of the guys go up and get for me. It's just a tradition, eating a hot dog in Yankee Stadium."

When asked if it affected his performance in the game that day, he said: "I'm not sure it did. But I don't think it mattered to me at that point when I was chowing down on it."