Karl Marx claimed to have found the three laws of capitalist development: the constant accumulation of capital, the increasing concentration of capital, and the increasing misery of the proletariat. Substitute proletariat with Mariners fan for the past decade, and Marx, although writing on the state of affairs in Germany, has hit the nose pretty hard on the state of affairs for the Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners have seen a very steady decline in attendance every year for the past decade, save in 2007 when the Mariners surprisingly were contending until the end of summer. This of course results in less cash coming into the coffers of the ownership, and with every year passing and players getting costlier in the baseball world, it is hard - nearly impossible - to maintain a contending level payroll without people in the seats to pay for it.
On April 18th, 2012 it was probably a typical Seattle spring evening with endless grey across the sky, most likely a slight drizzle. Not enough to get you wet, just enough to get you annoyed. On April 18th, 2012 the Seattle Mariners hit a new low in attendance at Safeco Field, drawing a pathetic 11,343 fans to the game. Safeco Field seats upwards of 48,000 plus. On April 18th, 2012 the Mariners filled less than 25% of the stadium.
In truth, it isn't hard at all to see why attendance is plummeting. The Mariners have been one of the worst teams in the league for many years. The Mariners have been one of the worst offensive clubs in the league for years. The Mariners have been one of the most boring teams to watch in the league for years.
Yet, the Mariners have been turning a profit all this time. A lot of this can be owed to technology, and the shrewd and somewhat silent adoption of dynamic ticket prices this year, joining 17 of the 30 teams in the league using some sort of the system.
Dynamic ticketing is a pretty simple concept. Tickets all start out at the same price, and as demand increases for certain games in certain sections, those tickets start to rise to correspond with demand. For example, at the beginning of the year, tickets up the left field line on the 100 Level on Friday night to the upcoming Boston Red Sox series cost roughly $35 each. Now, those same tickets run for $65 each. Later this week, they might even cost more as more tickets are purchased.
In a business mind, it makes complete sense to adopt such a system. Weekend series with the Red Sox are big sellers as Red Sox Nation crawls out of the woodwork in every town. But the dynamic ticket pricing takes advantage of one of the very minimal last bastions of support the Mariners have - those willing to put their faith into the team with some sort of season ticket holding support every year.
Season ticket holders do not enjoy the benefits of dynamic ticketing. Season ticket holders get the price they paid for the ticket if they wish to trade it in, forcing them to the secondary market to truly get what the "current" price of the ticket now is. And on the flip side, the dynamic ticket pricing is supposed to reflect interest in the game, and yet there still has to be a bottom end. On April 18th, 2012, the Seattle Mariners filled less than 25% of the stadium and tickets remained the exact same price. On Friday June 9th, the Mariners will probably come close to selling out the stadium and ticket prices will have risen across the board anywhere from 25 - 100%.
For the Mariners, this is a conundrum, and one the team might be pushing slightly too far. It is no secret that weather in Seattle during the spring years of the season is far from pleasant. And there is probably a direct scientific correlation with maximum amount of fun had at a baseball game relative to amount of sun-rays received by body. Despite the roof, for two months of the season the Mariners generally play in bad weather. Often times, the first two months of the season is already tough on the Mariners as far as attendance numbers go.
As the Mariners are starting to package together what is looking to be another losing season, it becomes a question of how long and how many people will continue to faithfully plant their rears in the cold and grey for three hours at a time. Although hope might be slightly on the way with a semi-coherent youth movement, the Mariners will not be contending next year, and may not even be in the year after. The Mariners attendance figures will probably continue to fall until the team puts together a winning season, and even then the success of that winning season will probably take until the next year to put more bodies in the seats.
So with it, the team is content to milk as much money as possible from those willing to pay for it. The Mariners introduced the $5 ticket increase on "premium" teams like the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Cubs. Tickets for weekend games throughout the summer also cost $5 more. And that is just the baseline for tickets.
You can't blame the Mariners for trying though. The Seattle Mariners, like all other baseball teams, are still a business, with investments by owners seeking to maximize the return on their investment. Capitalism is capitalism, all throughout society. So although it may seem nice to see the Mark Cubans of the world, or the Steinbrenner families doing whatever it takes to win, the meat of the matter is that the Mariners ownership group is doing what all people who own businesses try to do - make money. The ultimate logical battle of the sports fan is to balance this irrational emotional attachment with the reality of the business side of things.
Many of those individuals paying to see the homecoming of Tim Lincecum, or paying to see the Red Sox at Safeco, there is a good chance that is their one Mariners game of the year. Come April 18th 2013, those fans are probably not going to be at the game, and the first time Safeco Field fails to draw 10,000 fans becomes a very distinct possibility.
For any and all things Mariners related, head over to the invaluable Lookout Landing.