The Upside of an Awful Season: Cheaper Major League Baseball Tickets

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A bad season for a pro sports franchise results in disappointed fans, empty seats in the ballpark, and lost revenues due to slumping merchandise sales and playoff games the team never gets to host. Team owners also try to avoid putting a horrendous team on the field because then it’ll look especially bad if they jack up ticket prices for the next season.

Now that several Major League Baseball teams have announced ticket prices for 2013, we can see there is a slight upside to a team failing to meet fan expectations: Rather than add insult to injury by raising prices, owners are keeping the costs of seats at the stadium flat, for the most part. In some instances, they’re doing the unthinkable and lowering them.

After a 101-loss season, that’s what the Chicago Cubs are doing. ESPN cited data indicating that the Cubs’ 2012 fan attendance total of 2,882,756 was the largest ever for a team that lost 100 games or more. Even so, Cubs ownership apparently doesn’t want to push its luck by boosting ticket prices into the stratosphere for next season.

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Instead, the average ticket price at Wrigley Field is being lowered 2% to $44.61, down from the 2012 average of $45.83. The reduction comes mostly due to a 10% decrease in the price of bleacher seats.

Colin Faulkner, the team’s VP of ticket sales, told the Chicago Tribune that the decision to lower some ticket prices—some season ticket holder packages will go up too—came after consulting reams of data and getting input from fans:

“We use a lot of analytics and talk to the fans, listen to their feedback,” Faulkner said. “They’ve been patient with us, and we try to listen to them.”

Cubs GM Theo Epstein also promised that fans are “going to get better value down the road than they’re getting right now” for tickets at Wrigley Field. The team Epstein left a year ago, meanwhile, is also coping with the aftermath of a disappointing season.

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The Boston Red Sox, after the worst season in half a century, have decided it would be unwise to raise ticket prices next year. In a statement excerpted by the Boston Globe, team president Larry Lucchino explained:

It was abundantly clear this year that we should hold the line on ticket prices …

Over the past few years, we have fallen short of our goals to play postseason baseball. Through it all, fans have shown their deep loyalty and support, for which we are all grateful.

Our commitment to winning is as strong as it has ever been, and we look forward to the challenge of bringing our fans the winning and entertaining baseball team they richly deserve.

The key word here may be “richly”: The Red Sox had the highest average ticket prices in the league in 2012 ($53.38), and, despite the abundance of empty seats at Fenway Park during the regular season, team owners have claimed an extraordinarily long sellout streak.

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The Philadelphia Phillies, who were projected to win the National League East by many writers at the start of the 2012 season, wound up with an underwhelming .500 record. The team has decided that average ticket prices will remain the same for next season, but even this move may draw some anger, or at least confusion, among fans. That’s because the Phillies are instituting a “modified pricing structure,” in which the team is raising ticket prices for 10 home games, while lowering ticket prices for 10 others.

The Philadelphia Inquirer explained that tickets for in-demand matchups—such as the two games at Citizens Bank Park against the Red Sox—will be more expensive during the 2013 season. At the same time, home games versus teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins will be cheaper.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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