How to time the season ticket market like a stock pro

Tue Apr 3, 2012 8:25am EDT

A New York Yankees fan shows his tickets to the first regular season MLB baseball game between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians at the new Yankee Stadium in New York April 16, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

A New York Yankees fan shows his tickets to the first regular season MLB baseball game between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians at the new Yankee Stadium in New York April 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

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(Reuters) - With the baseball season starting and fans already talking about football lineups, buyers are looking for ticket opportunities the way investors analyze stock performance for undervalued funds.

Fittingly, the season ticket market for most professional sports is as volatile as the S&P 500. Analysts - and they do exist in the sports ticket marketplace - say that timing is everything. This means that while you may be out of luck for NBA tickets, now's your chance to play the market right for baseball tickets, and you should already be thinking ahead for football.

If you're a baseball fan in Seattle, you can jump onto the Mariner's site and order up a range of different season ticket packages for up to about $7,300 for a pair of seats to the team's 81 home games.

Often, it's the performance of a team that will affect the availability of a season's worth of ticket. But, as demonstrated in cities like Boston and Green Bay, teams can be a hot ticket when they're playing well and even when they're not.

"It's like any other commodity - based on supply and demand," says Chris Matcovich, director of data and communications for ticket aggregator TiqIQ. The New York-based company resells tickets and analyzes the market.

What he sees is a big trading marketplace, where you can watch season ticket holders dumping their seats on the cheap when their team's fortunes have fallen or collect a tidy profit when a new star comes to town or the team is on a run.

When Tim Tebow became the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos this past football season, for instance, the average price for a Broncos home game ticket rose 17.6 percent, Matcovich says.

Indianapolis Colts tickets that started the season at $160 apiece fell to $90 on the secondary market as the team managed to win only two of its 16 games. He said there was no immediate movement of New York Jets tickets after Tebow was traded there.

Matcovich offers this advice for those considering season tickets: "If you think that a team is going to be successful over the course of a season or they're going to make the playoffs (or will spend a lot of money in the off season), you'd want to buy early and get the seat that you want. If they're in rebuilding mode or not going to be competitive - it's better to wait and see if other types of ticket packages are out - or get single games on the secondary market."

Consider, also, the following pluses and minuses:

The pluses: Better customer service, immunity from so-called dynamic pricing (when single ticket prices rise with demand) and first crack at playoff tickets.

"The playoff piece is a kicker," says Jonathan Norman, a sports marketing executive with GMR Marketing in Wisconsin. "It's a big part of why people want to buy season tickets."

Teams that have more tickets to sell and those that work hard to retain the ones they have are upping their game to build interest in ticket packages.

"Teams are becoming very sophisticated with how they engage their season ticket base," Norman adds.

As an example, a team representative will know the date of a ticket holder's child's birthday, and surprise them with a visit from the team mascot and their name on the scoreboard during a game. Teams also host special events for season ticket holders.

The minuses: Getting stuck with tickets for games you don't really want to go to (or can't), selling your tickets at a loss on the secondary market because not that many others want to go either. Such is the case with the New Jersey Nets, Matcovich says, where plenty of tickets can be had for $3 and a ninth row seat for a game against the Philadelphia 76ers with a face value in excess of $100 is going for $15.

The personal service is a big plus, says Gerasimos Manolatos, 27, who works in marketing for a technology company in New York. Even at a cost of $4,000 for Knicks tickets for a shortened season due to a lockout, he was glad to have the season's package when the excitement over Jeremy Lin peaked a month or two ago. That not only pushed up the price of a single-game ticket, which he was insulated from, but it also sharply drove up the demand on the secondary market, which he could profit from. "It's an interesting time to be a fan," he says.

Norman, the sports marketing executive, said Major League Baseball's partnership with StubHub Inc has created a safe and vigorous marketplace for season ticket holders to sell their tickets to other fans. That's important, he says, because "there are very few season ticket holders who can attend all 81 home games."

Other options are sharing the season with friends or buying partial season blocks that some teams offer. Sharing baseball tickets in particular can be a fun exercise, Norman says, including having a "draft" in which those sharing the tickets each choose a game in order.

Since one person's name is usually associated with the tickets, those sharing should also consider formalizing an agreement about the relationship so that a spat or a change in financial fortunes doesn't jeopardize the tickets and who gets to use them.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba law firm Pitblado Llp has a handy and potentially intimidating checklist for season ticket sharing (link.reuters.com/rus47s) that covers a wide range of possibilities those sharing tickets could encounter - from whether you should have a formal agreement, to when all parties need to pay, to how to what happens if someone doesn't pay.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker Gladstone and Andrew Hay)

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