In the 2018 MLB season, 13 major league baseball teams saw attendance increases despite a difficult season of lousy spring weather and the most postponements since 1989. However, overall MLB attendance was down and ticket revenue suffered. Like many corporations, major league baseball is trying to understand new consumer trends, particularly those influenced by Millennials and Generation Z.
“If we expect this group to just go to a game, sit down and watch, we’re really missing the boat,” said Dave Butler, Chief Executive with ticketing company Paciolan. “Our task as an industry is to create additional ways and forums to allow this audience increased social engagement.”
Understanding Preferences Of Younger Sports Fans May Help MLB Ticket Sales
In 2018 Statista estimated that more than 14 million households in the U.S. were “very interested” in major league baseball, but among Millennials and Generation Z, attendance is waning. In a recent survey of 500 Millennials, reasons for the loss of interest included 53% who find the cost of attending baseball games prohibitive and 3% who said “games just aren’t fun.” The same survey illustrated the priority Millennials and Generation Z place on stadium concessions and overall experience. Although the baseball game itself may be enjoyable, the surrounding entertainment also needs to be considered worthwhile.
There are a number of changes the MLB is making to keep younger fans engaged. Some of them are within the game itself, and other changes are a response to the need for a broader entertainment experience which offers more value for younger fans. This willingness to change because of who their fans could be has led MLB to implement a variety of ticket options to address cost and experiential concerns, including subscription services, memberships and added benefits.
MLB Teams Coast To Coast Are Deploying New Ticket Buying Schemes
Loyalty program experts Clarus Commerce recently described the new ticketing and subscription initiatives as a desire from MLB to “to enhance their relationships with fans and elevate engagement levels.” Among the options being offered:
1. Subscription Passes
Capitalizing on the subscription trend, which is very popular with younger generations, has been a smart move for various baseball clubs. When the St. Louis Cardinals launched their subscription program Budweiser Ballpark Pass in 2017, the team sold over 1,000 passes during the first week. For younger fans who are concerned about price, the monthly cost of $29.99 comes out to less than $3 per game if a user goes to all 80 games. A strategic partnership with Budweiser aligns with Busch Stadium’s new Budweiser Terrace, one of the location options ticket holders have for viewing the games.
The Mets recently launched a similar program, Amazin’ Mets Pass. Both the Cardinals and the Mets offer auto-renewal, and true to the broader entertainment-focused interests of the targeted audience, don’t provide assigned seats, but rather a chance to view games from various socializing venues in the park, where they can take in the full ballpark experience. Chris Zaber, Mets Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales, said the subscription program targets Millennials and “unconventional audiences. Even if you come to three games a month, it’s a great deal.”
Similar deals include the Astros September Pass, which is only for certain games in September, but still offers a huge discount.
2. Membership Programs
There is some overlap with MLB memberships and subscriptions services, but key characteristics of memberships include the option for assigned seating and additional benefits like swag, on-field access and concessions discounts. The Baltimore Orioles Birdland Memberships have three tiers of options for ticket buyers, offering ticket packages from 13 to 81 games. Some of the perks include dancing with the Oriole Bird on the dugout and batting practice on the field.
The Oakland A’s Access Pass is a mix of assigned seating and upgrade options, a monthly auto-renewal, plus a bevy of various rewards and access. The flexibility of the plan is its selling point, which has been very popular. The A’s Access Pass drew 7,000 new customers, and renewals in 2019 are at 95%. Chris Giles, Chief Operating Officer for the Oakland A’s, attributes the success of the program to a “much better business model” than standard season ticket packages.
3. Additional Ticketing Options That May Appeal To Younger Consumers
Low-cost, low-commitment, standing-room-only tickets are being deployed by the Yankees via their Pinstripe Pass. A $15 ticket covers admission to the stadium and a free drink. Likened to a food tour stop or bar crawl, the Pinstripe Pass is well-suited to MLB fans looking for a low barrier to entry.
Targeting Native Mobile Users Is A Part Of MLB Marketing Strategy
All of the “pass” programs require use of the MLB app, where tickets are bought and accessible digitally only on iPhones or Androids. Accessing younger generations of native tech users through mobile is both practical and savvy marketing. (28% of Millennials identify as only using smartphones, and approximately half of Generation Z and Millennials report using their phones to make payments, with three in five finding mobile payments easier and faster than traditional methods.)
Understanding the specific wants, needs and behaviors of a segment of your potential audience can create opportunities for new goods and services, and ultimately increased revenue and brand engagement. Play ball!
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