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April 21, 2004

Fixing The Fan Cost Index

A More Realistic View

by Doug Pappas

Each year just before Opening Day, Team Marketing Report (TMR) releases the "Fan Cost Index" (FCI). According to TMR, the FCI "tracks the cost of attendance for a family of four." This year, TMR says this hypothetical family's day at the ballpark would cost an average of $155.52. The price would range from $108.83 in Montreal to $263.09 in Boston.

If this sounds high, you're right. TMR defines the FCI to include two average-priced adult tickets and two average-priced children's tickets--but also two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular hot dogs, two programs, two of the least expensive adult-sized adjustable caps, and parking for one car. In short, while it might reflect how much a family that decides on the spur of the moment to go to their one game of the season might spend, it far overstates the cost for most fans, who can easily eat before the game, sit in the cheap seats and skip the souvenir caps.

One of the biggest weaknesses in the FCI is its use of "average-priced tickets" as a benchmark. By using the price paid by season-ticket holders for a particular seat, even if the price is higher when the seat is sold on a per-game basis, the FCI understates the cost of tickets for the average fan. Moreover, in many markets the "average-priced ticket" is irrelevant to the actual options available for casual fans attending a game on short notice, who must either buy from scalpers or wind up in the cheap seats. Last year 10 clubs sold fewer than half their available tickets, while the Giants, Cubs and Red Sox played to over 90% of capacity.

This problem must be examined on a club-by-club basis. I'll be doing that in future weeks, but the rest of this article will concentrate on ways of tweaking the FCI formula to make it more realistic.

For example, the souvenir caps TMR believes its hypothetical family would buy can simply be deleted from the equation. This change alone reduces the FCI by $25/family. The FCI's treatment of concession prices also produces misleading results by taking no account of portion sizes. As the FCI table on the TMR Web site makes clear, the size of a "small beer" or "small soda" can vary from one park to another by as much as 100%. "Two small beers" cost the same in Boston as in Minnesota, but the Twins fan gets 48 ounces of brew for his $11, the Red Sox fan, just 28. On a hunch, I suspect the New Englanders may buy an extra beer or two over the course of the game...

To make the FCI more meaningful, I've recomputed four versions. The first, Adjusted FCI (AFCI), is TMR's original formula, adjusted (1) to eliminate the souvenir caps, and (2) to report the cost of beer and soft drinks based on a standard portion size of 16 ounces. Though it doesn't address the "average price" issue, I think this is a more meaningful version of what TMR is purporting to measure.

The next three versions calculate the FCI for three other groups of patrons BP readers may recognize:

  • The Frugal Family (FF), who plan ahead to avoid spending as much as Team Marketing Report thinks they should. They eat before the game and bring their own in-game refreshments in a small container. FFFCI components: two average-priced adult tickets, two average-priced children's tickets, one program, parking for one car.

  • The Weeknight Warriors (WW), four friends who meet after work for a night out at the park. They eat and drink more than TMR's hypothetical family, but skip the merchandise. WWFCI components: four average-priced adult tickets, parking for one car, plus 32 ounces of beer and two hot dogs per person. Divide this number by four to get the per-person cost.

  • The Corporate Guests (CG), also known as Weeknight Warriors using their company's season tickets. CGFCI components: parking for one car, 32 ounces of beer and two hot dogs per person. Again, divide by four to get the per-person cost.

            AFCI      FFFCI     WWFCI     CGFCI
Anaheim     $114.14   $ 78.50   $138.40   $ 72.00
Arizona     $110.06   $ 77.92   $140.92   $ 70.00
Atlanta     $117.74   $ 80.04   $156.04   $ 86.00
Baltimore   $133.68   $102.24   $151.02   $ 60.78
Boston      $231.08   $189.08   $266.37   $103.29
Chi Cubs    $171.73   $134.80   $189.80   $ 76.00
Chi WSox    $135.53   $100.24   $158.24   $ 72.00
Cincinnati  $118.68   $ 84.68   $138.68   $ 66.00
Cleveland   $126.87   $ 94.16   $152.02   $ 70.86
Colorado    $112.90   $ 72.40   $135.40   $ 75.00
Detroit     $118.00   $ 86.60   $139.60   $ 68.00
Florida     $ 94.95   $ 58.88   $115.72   $ 64.60
Houston     $149.95   $105.52   $185.52   $ 94.00
KC          $100.16   $ 66.68   $119.01   $ 65.33
LA          $121.88   $ 81.68   $152.48   $ 84.80
Milwaukee   $107.61   $ 75.44   $131.44   $ 64.00
Minnesota   $ 97.81   $ 66.68   $117.01   $ 59.33
Montreal    $ 83.91   $ 55.51   $107.64   $ 64.36
NY Mets     $151.39   $109.68   $179.78   $ 84.10
NY Yanks    $152.74   $113.24   $177.44   $ 78.00
Oakland     $126.39   $ 83.96   $152.67   $ 86.71
Phila       $155.30   $119.32   $173.84   $ 69.52
Pittsburgh  $113.32   $ 82.32   $127.32   $ 59.00
Seattle     $155.04   $116.04   $182.04   $ 86.00
SD          $134.64   $ 95.64   $154.64   $ 69.00
SF          $156.54   $111.40   $188.97   $102.57
St. Louis   $139.51   $103.44   $165.04   $ 70.00
Tampa Bay   $126.28   $ 82.28   $145.28   $ 78.00
Texas       $108.72   $ 77.32   $123.92   $ 59.60
Toronto     $120.67   $ 90.38   $145.58   $ 74.10

AVERAGE     $129.57   $ 93.20   $153.73   $ 74.43

Put another way, the FFFCI measures the most basic expenses, while the CGFCI measures concession prices and the WWFCI measures both. Comparing a club's FFFCI to its CGFCI reveals which clubs rely more heavily on concessions for their money (Atlanta, Colorado, Florida, Los Angeles, Montreal), and which get most of their money at the gate (Baltimore, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Philadelphia, St. Louis).

Starting next week, I'll turn my attention to the "average ticket price" issue. Using the information from team Web pages and MLB.com's online ticket service, I'll see just what seats are actually available at each major league stadium for hypothetical customers: a family of four that wants the best available seats, a family of four that wants "generic casual fan" seats, an individual who wants the best available single seat, and that BP standby, the student who'll buy the cheapest available ticket and "upgrade himself" once inside. I'll report, division by division, on what I was able to find for each of these hypothetical customers and what discount packages are available from each club.

First up: the AL East, where the Red Sox play to over 100% of capacity and the Devil Rays can't crack 30%.

Related Content:  The Who,  Tickets

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