Toronto Blue Jays News

Blue Jays Ballpark Pass: Gone? Or Evolving?

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It looks like the Blue Jays Ballpark Pass – sometimes described as the best deal in all baseball – will not be renewed for 2016.

Background

The pass started as a Toronto Star-sponsored promotion in the late 1990s.  At that point, attendance had been dropping steadily since the glory days of the 4 million plus in back-to-back 1992/1993 World Series wins, and the Jays were struggling to fill the Dome.  The Fanpass (as it was then called) allowed holders to come to 80 home games a year (excluding the home opener) for a minimal fee (something like $99 for all 80 games).  This price may seem overly generous, but it was also astute:  empty seats earn no income, and while the ~$1 per game did not contribute much to revenue, the Dome-priced beers, hotdogs and souvenirs did.  And increased attendance was almost certainly beneficial for advertising sales rates.

The Jays did another clever thing:  they made the tickets transferable.  This allowed fanpass holders to share their tickets with friends and family who might not otherwise have gone to the games (For years now, I have shared my extra games with the security guards and cleaners in my apartment building.  Their income is limited, making even inexpensive tickets a luxury hard to justify.  For many of them, my tickets were their first Jays game!)

Every year, the Jays announced in November whether the passes would be renewed for the following year.  And for every year up to 2015, the decision was made to renew them again – though of late, no new passes have been issued (only existing passholders could renew).

And now it appears that the run is over.

Or is it?

Several MLB teams have experimented with similar passes recently.  But in each case, the passes are more targeted, and cover fewer games (at a higher per-game cost)  Is it possible that the Jays are not completely discontinuing the Ballpark Pass, but instead changing it to something more focused?

Let’s have a look at what other teams have done.

Chicago White Sox  – Ballpark Pass

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The Sox used several passes in 2015.  The

first two were at the beginning of the season.

The first was an 11-game bundle at $29 which guaranteed a seat for any Monday–Thursday home game during the season’s first two months. The second was a 21-game plan priced at $49, which provides a seat for most Friday-Sat home games as well.  Seats would be different for each game, and would be in the Upper Corners, Outfield Reserved or Lower Corners of U.S. Cellular Field. (The equivalent of 113/130 field level seats, 54x or 50x corners, or 10x or 13x outfield at the Rogers Centre)

These passes appeared to sell well.  At least well enough that, later in the season, the Sox introduced a third pass.  For $79, fans would get a ticket for 22 of the teams final 23 home games in August and September.

The Sox introduced these packages based (presumably?) on an analysis of ticket sales patterns. Early season ticket sales, other than opening day and certain tribute days, were historically lower than mid-season games.  And in 2015, the Sox were not doing well later in the season, which made the August/September packages easier to understand.

Cincinnati Reds – Reds April Pass

Cincinnati faced a problem similar to Chicago in that early season games historically drew fewer fans than later in the season.  They accordingly introduced the Reds April Pass, which gave fans a ticket to each of 10 home game in April, including opening night,  for $70.  Like the Blue Jays’ Ballpark Pass, this pass guaranteed the holder the same seats for all ten games, all in the Upper View Level of Great American Ballpark (the equivalent of the top half of the 500 level at the RC).

Oakland A’s – Ballpark Pass

Oakland had an unusual pass in 2015, in that it covered all 13 home games in the month of July.  Technically, the pass only guaranteed standing-room-only access.  However, if there were available seating inventory (which there almost always was), those Ballpark Pass fans were allowed to sit in seats assigned a few hours before the first pitch. Those seating sections including Plaza Reserved, Plaza Outfield, Plaza Infield, and Field Reserved – the equivalent of some pretty good 200-500 series tickets at the RC.

The Oakland pass was exclusively available on mobile devices.  No card or paper tickets were sent, and the assigned seats were sent to subscribers through a dedicated Baseball Pass app.  It was announced as, in part, an initiative to attract mobile-generation ticket buyers.  These tickets were not tradeable or transferable in any way.

And just for fun – the MLB Lifetime Pass

Not that any of us are likely to get one of these in the near future, but …

The ultimate baseball pass is MLB’s Lifetime Pass.  It gives free admission to any MLB game in any city, for life.  It is given (automatically) to any player, manager, coach or umpire with at least eight years of MLB experience. Full-time front office personnel, including general managers, marketing and public relations officials, receive it after 25 years of service.  The thing is, though, that it can only be used by the player or exec themselves plus one guest.  So someone like Jose Bautista, who earned the card in 2013, won’t really be able to get use of his card until he retires – which will hopefully not be any time soon!

Next: 5 LH relievers for the Blue Jays to consider in free agency

So what would a new-and-improved Blue Jays Ballpark Pass look like?

Based on what other clubs have done, what characteristics would you expect the next generation of Blue Jays Pass to have?

  1. The pass would likely only cover less attractive games.  It could be based on the calendar (games in April, for example) or dates (Monday-Thursday nights only), or (perhaps more likely?) it could be designed to not include those games designated as “premium”.
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  2. Rather than assigning specific seats, the pass could work on a “best seats available” basis.  This not only makes the passholders happy, as they might occasionally get premium seats, but it ensures that no seats are wasted by having them assigned to passholders who do not show up.
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  3. The system would likely be entirely electronic and mobile based, similar to the Oakland pass.  Fans would buy the pass online and download an app.  Before each game, the fan might indicate whether he was coming (or not), and at some point before gametime the team would notify the passholder of his seats for that game.  Entry would be by direct scan of the mobile phone screen.
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  4. The app could also be used, as in Oakland, for other purposes.  Such as ordering and paying for food to be delivered to your seat, or replying to team surveys, or even lottery-type draws among passholders for souvenirs, seat upgrades or other prizes.
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  5. The pass could either be for an unlimited number of games that meet the criteria (non-premium games Monday-Wednesday night, for example) or it could be for a limited number of such games.  Different passes could be sold, as with the White Sox example, providing different levels of restrictions for different prices.

The bottom line?  Even though our old friend the Ballpark Pass seems to be heading for retirement, don’t be too surprised if the Jays experiment with a variation in 2016.  And hey, Mark – if you are looking for a beta tester of the new-and-improved, you have my number!

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