Mets ticket sales are looking dire, too

mets-ticket-sales-are-looking-dire-too
Citi Field. (paul.hadsall, via flickr)
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The New York Mets welcome the Miami Marlins to Citi Field on Tuesday night, now 52 home dates into an era without Jose Reyes as their star gate attraction.

So how is it going so far? Not very well.

At first glance, it would appear that the loss of Reyes to the Marlins last winter had a negligible effect on attendance. The Mets are drawing an average of 29,159 fans per home date in 2012. That's actually up slightly from 2011, when they drew 29,044 per home date. And they saved having to pay Reyes $106 million over six years, pocketing that money instead of investing it back into the team, while Ruben Tejada has provided similar production for a small fraction of the cost at shortstop. Mets win, right?

Well, no. It's a lot more complicated than that.

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The Mets have played 52 home games so far in 2012. The arc of their season—an unexpectedly long flirtation with contention, followed by inevitable collapse, leaving a wasteland of meaningless August and September games—is eerily similar to 2011, and 2010 as well. So an apples-to-apples comparison with last season is reasonable.

Through 52 home dates in 2011, the Mets averaged 30,417 fans per game. So through the portion of the season that included some amount of postseason hope, they were about 1,258 fans per game higher than they have been in 2012 so far. And remember, that 2012 start was far better than 2011's, when they needed to first dig out of a 5-13 hole to even provide that brief window of hope.

Coincidentally, they'd played 52 home games through August 7 last season, too. And their average attendance dropped precipitously from August 7 on. Over their final 29 home games in 2011, the Mets averaged 26,583 per game, a decline of 3,834 fans per game from their first 52 game average.

An identical drop in 2012 would put the Mets on pace to draw 2,250,706 fans in 2012, a drop of 101,890 fans. If that sounds like a negligible amount, keep in mind that 250,000 fans are worth approximately $25 million to the Mets in revenue. That difference is about enough to pay Jose Reyes the $10 million he'll earn in 2012.

But even that relatively modest drop fails to take full accounting of the drop in revenue from attendance in 2012. Remember, prices were not the same in 2012 as they were in 2011; the Mets cut prices almost across the board. They've also made a large number of efforts to get fans into the park at nearly any price, from offering a buy-one, get-one ticket offer to sell out Opening Day, to a multi-game promotion selling tickets at 1962 prices, and many other similar efforts. So the money coming in isn't likely to approach last season's revenues, which resulted in the team losing $70 million.

Accordingly, the Mets are working hard to try and monetize 2013 ahead of time. Thanks to Major League Baseball's latest gift to the Mets, the 2013 All-Star Game (which the Mets, oddly, took pains to deny they'd profit from), the team has a bargaining chip in their efforts to coax fans back to the ballpark.

Accordingly, an effort last month to add season-ticket holders required both the purchase of a 2012 plan and a $250 deposit on a 2013 plan, with the right to buy All-Star Game tickets as the lure. And as the Mets put it in an e-mail to season ticket holders Monday afternoon, "The best way to experience Mets baseball and the All-Star Game is to renew your Season Tickets. You must submit payment by August 31, 2012 to lock in your 2012 Season Ticket Holder prices for the 2013 season."

The same emailed renewal notice, with a different deadline, went out last Oct. 26.

The aggressive pushing of multi-year ticket commitments to the same base of increasingly disaffected fans, not to mention the implication that ticket prices are likely to rise despite a fourth consecutive losing season (the Mets didn't respond to an email seeking clarification on whether prices will go up in 2013) suggests an ownership group eager to cannibalize what customers it has left for a short-term financial gain. It also suggests they don't expect the offseason, almost certainly a quiet one on the player-acquisition front, to provide much of a spur to sales.

(For what it's worth, the trustee for the Bernie Madoff victims, who settled with the Mets' owners, doesn't think their race to find cash ahead of debt-repayment deadlines is going to end well.)

In the meantime, one of the players the Mets lost in part because of that disappearing revenue returns to Citi Field.

I should know; the Mets have sent no fewer than 11 emails since May 7 urging me to "plan a visit" to see Jose Reyes and the Marlins.