White Sox test new ticket plan

CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox are the latest sports team to experiment with "dynamic pricing" for single-game tickets.

The Sox are planning to offer variable-based pricing on a select number of tickets next year, joining the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and several NBA and NHL teams.

The team is experimenting with the idea over its last seven home games this season, with 750 seats spread around several sections being dedicated as dynamic-priced seats.

Only two of the remaining home games had pre-sales over 20,000, as of Friday, according to White Sox Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Brooks Boyer, so the team decided to try out the idea this season rather than wait until 2011.

The White Sox have been working with Austin, Texas-based software consulting firm Qcue to implement this pricing strategy. Qcue pioneered this idea for sports teams, inventing a software engine that takes in a variety of factors including team performance, giveaways, weather, starting pitchers, and possible milestones to create market-based ticket prices.

"This is like secondary ticketing," Boyer said. "At first, four or five teams do it, and then everyone follows. It's not something that's revolutionary. Airlines have been pricing tickets this way for years."

The team can check Qcue's recommendations every morning, or before every homestand, and decide how to price tickets based on certain factors. Prices don't have huge fluctuations, but can go up or down several dollars. Teams don't have to take the recommendations.

San Francisco made waves in the industry when they first started utilizing this technology. The Giants started with 500 variable-priced tickets in 2008, and then expanded to 2,000 seats in 2009 to every area of their park where single-game tickets are sold in 2010.

Qcue is expanding to the NBA this season, with the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz offering dynamic-priced tickets. They started talking to Qcue last season.

The White Sox are averaging 27,342 per game, which puts them at 17th in the majors. Last season they averaged 28,199.

"We were thrown on the pay-no-mind list in April and May and that affects our big months of June, July and August," Boyer said. "You need your team to carry you in September and unfortunately, we're out of it.

"Typically one of our highest-drawing tickets is the Red Sox, and this series will feel more like we're playing the Royals."

The team already uses four different pricing tiers to differentiate games: premier, prime, regular, and Monday. The Red Sox games fall into the premier category, with the idea that the team would still be in playoff contention.
None of the dynamically priced seats for the series, that runs Monday through Thursday, are in sections that include season-ticket holders. The Sox are experimenting in the upper deck, the corner of the club level and lower levels by the foul poles. Tickets will be priced as low as $15 for the final series against Cleveland beginning Friday.

"We don't want a situation where someone with a $40 season ticket is sitting next to someone who paid $25," Boyer said.

While White Sox fans get a deal right now, tickets can go up for major pitching matchups, important games or milestones.

"We're not talking about a huge or significant amount of tickets on a per-game basis," Boyer said. "This does favor the fans when a game is not in the highest of demand, as you pay less than what you would pay if you walked up to the box office."

While fans will have the chance to get lower-priced tickets through this plan, Boyer said overall ticket prices likely will have another small increase next season.

"We've had a ticket price philosophy where [we] have made small, incremental jumps year after year," Boyer said, "whether it was after we won the World Series or after 2007. I anticipate us sticking to the same philosophy moving forward."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.