Monday, June 17, 2013

MLB Marketing Fail - 2014 Opening Series Sydney

Like many other Australian baseball supporters, I was excited at the announcement that the 2014 MLB Opening Series will be held in Sydney. Sydney is a 3½ hour drive away for me, but it's a trip we do fairly regularly for major events. After several days suspense, the ticketing information was released last Thursday ... and the immediate response from a number of supporters was ... seriously???

The Australian Baseball League's Facebook banner advertising the series

The prices for tickets to each game are as follows:
CategoriesPrice Range
Gold Grandstand$369.00*
Gold Concourse$369.00*
Grandstand Outfield$69.00*

*A one-off service/delivery fee from $5.10 per transaction applies. A credit/debit card processing fee from 1.95% will apply.
Understand that baseball is a minor sport in Australia. The premier attended sports league in Australia is the Australian Football League - averaging around 35,000 per game over the last decade. The comparative summer sport, the Big Bash League (Twenty20 Cricket) averages around 14,000 people per game. By contrast, the Australian Baseball League has averaged just under about 1100 people per game across it's first three seasons.

The home games for me are at Fort Nurrabundah in Canberra, which is the smallest ABL market (It's a city of 367K people.) The five other ABL teams are all in cities of over 1 million people or larger. Melbourne has 4.2 million, whilst Sydney has 4.6 million. Whilst Canberra is the smallest market, it has some of the biggest crowds, with some games reaching the ground's capacity at just over 2000 people.

By contrast, the Sydney Blue Sox in a city 12 times the size, draw crowds slightly smaller than Canberra's. Melbourne have been struggling with their crowds and would be on average a lot smaller I believe. I don't know the exact numbers but would be surprised if they're averaging 1000 per game. Keep in mind that ABL ticket prices are reasonably cheap too - I'm generally sitting behind the home team dugout for less than $20 admission.

Here is the matching ground configuration for the games at the Sydney Cricket Ground (from the website.) to put the ticket prices into context.

So, in the end, what is the point of this post? Well, first to say - good idea to try and promote baseball by bringing out some MLB teams. However ... there are two main issues.
1. The Sydney Cricket Ground is not a baseball stadium. It is a cricket ground, which is oval in shape, which is being modified to fit in a baseball game. As you can see from the field layout, the majority of the sub$100 seats are a LONG way away from the playing field. We're not just talking at the home run fence, we're talking about starting an extra 100+ feet even further back. Meanwhile, even the seats close to home plate and the dugouts are a fair distance away from the action. Whilst baseball fans in the US may be used to this distance, Australian fans are used to being much closer to the action at dedicated sporting venues. The viewing experience is going to be quite compromised, and may lead to some negative feedback after the games I suspect from people who don't realise how far away from the action they will be. Still, it's not like there are many high capacity baseball stadiums in Australia - the largest baseball dedicated stadiums can currently only hold around 4½-5000 fans, so it's not like there are a lot of alternatives. However, this leads me to the next issue.

2. Price gouging. The ticket prices are ridiculous. Remember, the Sydney Blue Sox ABL team would be lucky to get 2000 fans at $20 each. The promoters here are expecting fans to pay $69 for extremely poor seats, or more on average, $300+ to get semi-reasonable views, for what they're used to paying $20 for. The quality of baseball may be higher, but I suspect the demand is just not going to be there. Sydney is well known in Australia for being fickle at turning out to sports events. Despite being Australia's largest city, it doesn't produce the record crowds. Melbourne is seen as the sporting capital, and is known for attending sports events. In fact, the Melbourne Cricket Ground held the record for attendance at a baseball game for over 50 years (1956 until 2008.). Around 114,000 saw an exhibition game between an Australian National Team and a US Armed Services team as an exhibition game for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.If I was the promoter, I would have been pushing for the MCG, not the SCG. I know it's going to cost a lot to bring everybody out from the US to Australia, but really, that much extra? The feeling I get, rightly or wrongly, from baseball fans in Australia is that the promoters are treating this like a rock concert and are expecting the tickets to sell out in a couple of hours, without realising that baseball struggles to get fans through the gate, and that Sydney sports fans are particularly fickle about attending games.

There appears to have been a lot of criticisms raised about the prices - the Australian Baseball League has been quick to post comments on Facebook that the prices for this series are set by the promoter and that MLB and the ABL do not have any control over them. It appears to be damage control.

Whilst this series is great in theory, I can see a lot of risk. I know a number of fans from outside Sydney who were 100% gung ho that they would be going to Sydney to attend this. Now, a number of them have said - nope, too expensive. I fear that Australian fans will not support the game at these prices, and for those that do attend, there will be negative comments after the game about the value of the viewing experience that they did get. If the players are simply dots in the distance that you can't make out, does it matter that they're MLB level dots?

I still don't know if I'll be going. I'd like to, but the game is on my wife's birthday, and she's not a baseball fan. (Loathes it in fact :)). Regardless of whether I get to it or not, I hope this series has a positive effect for the game in Australia, but with the decisions that have been made, the pricing already appears to have left a bad taste in some fan's mouths, and I fear they won't be the last once the actual games have been held  ...


  1. Well said Adam. I am of the same opinion as you. I was definitely going and then I saw the ticket prices and the configeration of the stands and thought better of it. The atmosphere of a MLB game is amazing, but when you have half empty stands, it won't be the same (actually 1,000 fans at a Blue Sox game in a smaller area would be better) and it will not be a great advertisement for the game or Sydney.

    Cheers Robert

  2. Lots of reasonable points noted however I consider the series to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The ticket prices may appear high but there are numerous additional costs including modifications to the SCG to suit baseball. However, the ticket prices is a topic which appears to be a point of discussion among many fans and I hope this doesn't stop some people from attending.

  3. I'm guessing that since this is still only September that tickets are not yet on sale. Have you heard any word on changes to pricing? The A's and Mariners have opened up their season here in Japan a couple times and I don't recall prices being so outrageous. A quick search shows US prices being $92-232 for the official game in 2012, but that's at Tokyo Dome, in a country that loves baseball, the Mariners (and Ichiro), and limited-time or once-in-a-lifetime chances. I don't recall what they cost in yen at the time.

  4. I posted about 2 weeks later - admitting I was wrong. The tickets went on sale in mid-June and were pretty much sold out within 2 weeks, so they have found people willing to pay. How many of them were bought by scalpers or by companies doing package deals for Americans to come out to Australia I don't know. There always appear to be people trying to (illegally) resell their tickets on Ebay. It will be curious to see how many empty seats there are for these :sold out: games.

  5. Adam, I'm in Arizona and a partial season ticket owner of the Arizona Diamonbacks. Later this week I'll be going to my last game of the season at Chase Field in Phoenix. I'd be happy to work out an arrangement to get you some D-backs stuff in exchange for you looking out for commemorative stuff from next year's games in Australia. Contact me at my first and last name together as one word (farrellquinlan) at gmail dot com if you are interested. Let me know if you have any favorite players on the D-backs.