Ticket Fees Are Bullshit

The New York Mets are playing a home game against the Florida Marlins on Tuesday, April the 28th. There are plenty of good seats available, but I’m not interested in those. Good seats at a ballgame are a luxury that my friends and I cannot afford. Nosebleeds have been the order of the day for all but rare occasions in my sportsgoing life. Good seats are reserved for rare gifts from corporate contacts or semi-retired acquaintances ready to rip through their retirement funds. The most expensive ticket I’ve ever bought was for a Yankees/Indians matchup at the Stadium last year for sixty-five bucks...in the upper deck. A similar seat in the new stadium goes for twice that amount, now. But this article isn’t a rant about the high price of seats at sporting events. It’s about fees.

Section 514 at the Mets’ new ballpark is in the upper deck, right behind home plate. It’s high up, but I love sitting on a direct line with the pitcher and the catcher at ballgames. There’s a lot less ambiguity about the location of a pitch. Seats for the Marlins game in section 514 are going for $15. A bargain in this day and age. On the Mets’ website, I searched for seats in 514, found a pair, and was ready to go to checkout, ready to send the Mets $45 for my two $15 seats. Then I remembered I know math.

The extra charges for the two seats I wished to buy total $15, as much as one ticket by itself, with no more than the word “fees” given as explanation. There was a $5 per ticket fee assessed at the top of the web page, and another $5 total fee added at the bottom. Curious to see if there was any more substantial explanation after the checkout process was begun, I chose a delivery method for the tickets and proceeded to checkout. Then I noticed that the total price for the two tickets had risen to $47.50. The delivery method I chose for the tickets, downloading a pdf and printing them at home, carried a $2.50 charge. I logged off.

In total, the fees for the two tickets I wanted to purchase had now risen to $17.50. During this entire process, I had engaged no live person, and had taken it upon myself, had I purchased the tickets, to print them at home at my own expense, yet the Mets, and Major League Baseball, were ready and willing to charge me $17.50 for essentially doing all the work. My reaction to this is visceral. It is real. I feel like I have been dragged into a confidence game, the kind designed to just keep picking away at your wallet until there is nothing left. Honestly, an $8.75 fee per ticket, more than half the price of a ticket itself, is beyond exorbitant. It is highway robbery. I emailed the Mets at tickets@mets.mlb.com for an explanation of fees, and received a list of the per ticket fee based on price of the ticket (up to $15 a ticket for $300 premium seats, 5% of face value, whereas the per ticket fee for cheap seats can be as much as 40% of face value, not including per order and printing fees). What I didn’t receive was an actual explanation, i.e., what the fees are for.

Of course, the fees are for making money, but no one will admit as much. The per ticket fee is a convenience charge, meant to offset the cost of maintaining the ticket purchasing infrastructure (developing and running the website and database, paying ticket office staff, etc.). The per order fee is for the processing of the order itself. These two fees are meant to ensure that the entire price of the ticket goes to the team, and that none of the face value is expended before the ticketholder walks through the gate. As far as business practices go, it makes sense. However, as presented to the general public, it is disingenuous. The tickets I wanted to buy had a face value of $15, but in reality, they cost $23.75. Making a ticketholder absorb the cost of purchasing a ticket is fine. After all, no one needs to go to a ballgame or a concert, but don’t pretend that cost is not part of the ticket price.

In addition, there is no reason for scaled fees. Buying a $300 seat is no more convenient than buying a $15 seat, yet the fees are higher for the premium ticket. It would be nice to think of this as progressive taxation, but it’s not. It’s just a reflection of how much cost the Mets feel its more affluent fans will be willing to absorb.

Such practices are deceptive. They lure in potential buyers with a false price and then hit them with a true number after they have, in effect, become a captive audience, and are less likely to walk away from the purchase. This isn’t just a problem with the Mets or the MLB, but with all sporting and entertainment events where there is phone or online purchasing.

Also, the cost of the fees themselves is high. The fee for one of my tickets was $8.75 total. If I had purchased one premium seat, the fee would have been $22.50. If I had purchased only one of the cheapest seats I could for that game, it would have been $11.50, that higher cost reflected in the per order fee, which would be offset by buying multiple tickets. Thinking in generalities, the Mets ballpark has a capacity of approximately 45,000. Over 81 home games, that works out to a potential yearly attendance of 3,645,000. If the average per ticket fee for online or phone purchases worked out to around $8, and all tickets were purchased using those methods, the Mets would take in around $29,160,000 in fees alone. To say that would more than cover the costs of processing ticket orders and maintaining the purchasing infrastructure is an understatement.

Ticket fees are bullshit.