In my non-baseball life, I am fairly obsessed with soccer. But I couldn’t help thinking of the Mets while reading an article, Just The Ticket, in the August 2011 issue of the English import soccer magazine When Saturday Comes.
Hartlepool United, a League One club (third tier in the English pyramid), found itself struggling to sell tickets after four poor seasons in a row. Ticket sales fell by a third. The club also suffered due to the more-successful clubs Newcastle and Sunderland right nearby. (Sound familiar yet, Mets fans?)
Their solution was to introduce tiered pricing for tickets based on number of season tickets sold. Writes Adam Williams:
“Season-ticket prices would be based on the number sold…seeing ticket prices reduced as sales targets were hit. Selling 3,000 tickets would mean prices set at 200 pounds (less than half the cost of the previous season) with the ultimate aim of selling over 4,000 tickets at just 100 pounds each.”
In Hartlepool United’s case, the success was overwhelming. Fans from all over the world actually chipped in, even if they couldn’t attend more than a couple of matches, to both bring down the price of tickets for a struggling community and provide more revenue to their favorite team. Similar successes were had by other teams such as Huddersfield Town and Bradford City.
The idea, in short, trades on the extent to which a fan base considers itself a community within itself.
To me, this idea has never made more sense for the Mets than it does now. There’s obviously something that the entire fanbase wants, and that is to re-sign Jose Reyes. We’ve seen popular movements begin about this independent of the ballclub.
And Fred Wilpon is no longer claiming that the team is just fine financially, instead telling Sports Illustrated this year that the Mets are “bleeding money”. Fans are less interested in spending money on tickets for a lesser product, especially when prices are still relatively high for most seats.
What I’d propose: have Dave Howard run the numbers, and determine exactly how much extra revenue it would take to retain Jose Reyes (building in a buffer for a team coming along and offering him more money than Carl Crawford- say, 10 years, 200 million, just to be extra safe. Compare that with what is reasonable to expect next season. Ticket prices are going to come down, anyway, so bringing them down while amortizing it over the entire stadium wouldn’t necessarily change much of the plan going forward.
But here’s the tricky part: Fred Wilpon needs to come forward and say something along these lines.
“I have watched Jose Reyes blossom into the player we hoped he would be from the moment we signed him over a decade ago. I said he wouldn’t get Carl Crawford money. And I was wrong.
“But he has become a free agent at the most perilous time in this team’s financial history. We need your help. We have lowered our ticket prices to X. If we sell out our entire stadium at these new, reduced prices, we can enter negotiations with Jose Reyes confident that we will not be outbid.
“If you come together to help us in our time of need, we can see to it that the most exciting player in New York Mets history finishes his career as a New York Met.”
Think of it: if the fans come together to save Jose Reyes, they can feel uniformly a part of something. The Mets can even send out a bumper sticker reading “I Saved Jose”, or a certificate like a War Bond from World War II. The Mets would have a full house, or close to it, every night. If you don’t think fans would respond to this kind of transparency, you haven’t been paying attention to the approval ratings Sandy Alderson enjoys with a .500 team.
A full stadium wouldn’t just mean extra ticket revenue; it would mean extra concessions, more sponsors excited to be part of giveaways- it redounds to the team’s benefit in a thousand ways. The press for such an outpouring would be unbelievably positive. And this would be predicated on extra, currently unanticipated revenue, so it wouldn’t change anything else Sandy Alderson had planned. It would just add a beloved, star in-prime shortstop to those plans.
And if the fans couldn’t come up with the extra revenue, the Wilpons could simply explain that the real reason Jose Reyes wasn’t a Met anymore wasn’t a failure of ownership to appreciate him. It was Bernie Madoff.
In a perfect world, the team would continuously update the number of tickets sold, and perhaps even the size of the contract it could therefore offer Reyes. That could backfire if the Yankees decide to just wait out the Mets and then add a dollar to their offer. But they can do that anyway, and if the (to use eBay terms) reserve price climbs higher and higher, it could actually scare away a ton of teams.
Lets’s face it: no one is going to buy the idea that the Mets were just being prudent if/when they finish second in the Jose Reyes Sweepstakes this winter. How’d that work out, PR-wise, when they tried it with Vladimir Guerrero back in 2003? And Vlad wasn’t the most exciting player in team history.
So that is my modest proposal. Start the 2012 ticket sales drive now, and make it the bake sale that will inspire a fan base to bring back Jose Reyes.
It worked for Hartlepool United, and they didn’t even have a free agent shortstop.