Saturday, April 12, 2008

All-You-Can-Eat Seats

I learned last week that the Pittsburgh Pirates are joining a growing trend across Major League Baseball (as well as other sports) by offering an All-You-Can-Eat seating section during specific games for the 2008 season. Fans purchasing a $35 advance ticket ($40 on game-day) will receive a wristband providing access to a dedicated concession stand and all the hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, salads, popcorn, peanuts, ice cream and soda they can eat.

I’m interested in the analytics behind this decision and wonder if the following conversation took place:

Marketing Executive: The fans want a winning team.

Baseball Executive: Are you kidding? Have you seen our lineup? What if we gave them unlimited hot dogs?

Marketing Executive: I’ll start working on the spreadsheet…

The seats are normally $17. At the $35 price, you’d need to stuff yourself with $18 worth of concessions in order to “break even” – not a particularly hard thing to do given current stadium prices.

Nutritionists and public-health officials oppose the plan, calling it a “recipe for obesity” as fans try to get their money’s worth by over-indulging. Team officials say they’re getting rid of tickets and making fans happy.

There are 164 seats in the All-You-Can-Eat section at the Pirates’ PNC Park. An advance sell-out would generate about $3000 more in revenue at $35 than at the regular $17 price, but expose a liability of 164 hungry fans trying things like “Let’s have a hot dog every time a Pirates reliever gives up a hit,” which – given the Bucs’ early-season performance - could result in numerous emergency shipments from Oscar Meyer to the Golden Triangle.

This doesn’t strike me (strike, get it?) as a good deal for the team, and potentially has some problems for the fans as well – this Braves fan did some analysis on Atlanta’s plans to offer a similar promotion.

Do promotions like these ever make business sense? Often they are designed to be loss-leaders, enticing customers with a lower entry price with the hope they’ll spend more later. Perhaps these Pirate fans, tired of shelling peanuts while watching their pitchers get shelled, will buy an over-priced souvenir.

Other promotions are designed to attract first-time customers and turn them into repeat customers. So those who can’t get tickets to the Penguins playoff games might say “What the heck, let’s go across the river, watch some baseball, and see if we can eat 5 trays of nachos before the 7th-inning stretch.”

What analytical techniques have you used to evaluate promotional activities – before, during, and after the promotion?

Early results in the 'Burgh are inconclusive. At last Wednesday’s game against the Cubs, 67 All-You-Can-Eat seats were sold. The total attendance was 9,735 so gluttons comprised less than 1% of the crowd. But the game lasted 15 innings, so they had a really, really long time to eat. And, in an amazing coincidence, the Cubs player with the winning RBI was center fielder Felix Pie.

At Red Sox games they play the Dropkick Murphy’s “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” when the closer enters late in the game. The Pirates may need their own version – “I’m Throwing Up in Pittsburgh” if this All-You-Can-Eat craze takes off…

Picture source: Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

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