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The Pujols “convenience fee”?

Over at The Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe wrote an excellent, but highly depressing article entitled “The cost of gouging”. The subject is a ripoff we all have encountered with regularity – the confusing and frustrating add-on costs affixed to ticket purchases.

Jaffe researched “order processing charges” and the stick-in-your-eye-named “convenience fees” charged by Major League Baseball clubs for ticket transactions made online or via telephone. Some clubs even assess a surcharge depending on how you want to pick up your ticket. In his work, Jaffe chose the least expensive tickets for comparison.

In these challenging economic times, over half of the 30 MLB clubs either held the line on “gouging fees” from 2008 (seven teams) or actually decreased them (nine) compared to last season, but not the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals tied the Baltimore Orioles for the eighth-highest such fees across Major League Baseball at $8.00 per ticket, up 50 cents from 2008. Half of that is convenience fee and half is labeled order processing.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Milwaukee Brewers charge just $2.00 per ticket for order processing and that is it. No bogus “convenience fee” that is just another way to rip off the ticket-buying public.

What really got my blood boiling was Jaffe’s report that the add-on charges are generally not constant. In other words, as you move up the ticket price spectrum, the fees usually increase, too.

Think about that. How could it cost more to process a $100 ticket compared to a $30 ticket? For whom is $100 more convenient? In addition, these gaps are generally growing wider each year.

In this case, the Cardinals receive a nod, as they are one of just four MLB clubs that hold “gouging fees” at the same level despite the price of the ticket, according to THT.

Another recent article, at The New York Times, noted the San Francisco Giants are experimenting with dynamic ticket pricing. This concept is not unlike the one used by airlines, where prices are lowered or raised regularly based on changes in demand – potentially right up until game time.

As a result, like in air travel, every fan may have paid a different price for his or her seat compared to the person sitting next to them. Not surprisingly, the Giants feel they can bring in more money this way.

Clubs are driven to be even more creative since their in-house ticket reselling services were forcibly submerged when MLB signed a five-year exclusive deal with StubHub, a unit of eBay, last year.

For example, the Giants had DPTW, “Double Play Ticket Window”, while the Cardinals called their service “Prime Seat Club”. Now all sanctioned MLB ticket reselling is administered from one place – at the top.

While Bud Selig catches a lot of heat in some quarters, including here, this is yet another reminder of the rarity of him missing an opportunity to grab a piece of the financial pie.

A final observation made by Jaffe was also about the Giants. Their declining ticket surcharges caused me to pause and consider “What if?”

“If you’re curious, San Fran used to be able to charge huge extra fees when Barry Bonds was around,” Jaffe observed.

Of course, the Cardinals currently have under contract the services of Bonds’ heir apparent as the best player in the National League and all of MLB, Albert Pujols. No later than following the 2011 season, Pujols will receive a new multi-year deal – one that may surpass any other in terms of years and dollars.

It has been assumed by many that the Cardinals will cover the increased cost of Pujols’ new contract by cutting payroll through not signing veterans as well as by deploying more lower-cost replacement players developed through an improving farm system.

While that may or may not be the case, even if it is, what if it isn’t enough?

What if the Cardinals also decide to hit fans directly for some or all of the increased cost of keeping Pujols by jacking up their “gouging fees” as the Giants did at the height of Bonds’ popularity?

Would you be angry enough to go Howard Beale or would you be willing to pay two or three bucks more per ticket to help keep Albert in St. Louis?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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