We've entered the deadly season, as far as baseball goes. Now that the major awards have been handed out and the Marlins have ended their flirtation with relevance, we're faced with an utter drought of hot stove topics. As such, any sliver of news or imitation news-meat is leaped upon by a hungry public.
Hence, what passes for uproar on a day like Monday, when the Mets made 2013 tickets available. This marked the first year in many moons that the Mets released Opening Day tickets to the general public right off the bat, rather than issuing first dibs to the winners of some nonsensical lottery. This fan-friendly decision was offset by the fact that attending Opening Day will cost you $63 for the worst seats in the house.
The exorbitant price of entry to CitiField quickly became the subject of much hand-wringing, and not without reason. There's no real way to justify that kind of cost, even if the Mets do eventually sign David Wright and R.A. Dickey to extensions before spring training, which remain big If's. You wonder how the Mets can get away with such price gouging, with this team and in this economy.
The answer is, they probably can't.
When MLB entered into its alliance with StubHub back in 2007, it seemed an affirmation of the sport's commitment to the free market. Baseball remains the only major American sport without a salary cap, and though it has revenue sharing, the extent of its wealth redistribution pales in comparison to that of the NFL. Businessman that he is, Bud Selig recognized he couldn't put the proverbial toothpaste of online ticket reselling back in the tube. If StubHub existed, better to profit off of it than pretend it didn't exist.
Unfortunately, free markets can go down as well as up. MLB surely assumed that their arrangement with StubHub would result in big cuts from severe markups on tickets to games featuring the team's big market teams. The fact that the two teams in the sport's biggest market were about to move into brand new stadiums had much to do with this assumption.
Five years ago, MLB did not foresee a universe where the Yankees would struggle to sell out playoff games. As it turns out, thanks to StubHub, even fans of perennial postseason contenders won't pop until ticket prices plummet on the secondary market. That phenomenon is even more pronounced for teams like the Yankees and Mets, whose face value ticket prices remain far above asking prices on the league's "official partner."
These teams can print whatever price they want to on their tickets, but that ink has been rendered meaningless. Fans aren't willing to pay those prices because they've been empowered by a venue where they can set the prices themselves. It's the free market in action, really, a system that Adam Smith would sanction, were he still alive and able to determine a computer is not full of magic pixies and demons.
The Mets overreached by setting Opening Day prices so high, and they will almost certainly pay for it — or rather, not get paid for it. I have no idea what first-day sales figures amounted to, but I can't imagine fans burned up the internet to buy those tickets, not for genuine interest in attending the game and certainly not for marked-up resell down the road. When April 1 approaches and Opening Day remains a non sellout, the Mets will wind up dumping a boatload of unsold seats on StubHub and hopefully realize the new realities of the ticket market in the 21st century. Even the Mets are capable of learning a lesson every now and then.
In other words, if you wait a few months, you can probably snatch up a few tickets to Opening Day at half face value, if that. This "controversy" will fade as soon as the Mets make some actual news, or until Mitch Albom writes something stupid again, whichever comes first. I'd bet on Mitch myself.