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Mets Introduce Dynamic Pricing in 2012; World Still on Axis

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If you've had your fill of the Mets' ticket-buying announcement chatter to this point, please bear with me just a bit longer.

It's hard enough making sense of the team's season ticket announcement for 2012 and why the deadline for said tickets is so damned soon, but the more interesting facet to this story is the one affecting a growing percentage of the baseball population out there -- individual ticket buyers. Ticket sales are trending downward across MLB even if the league meagerly bucked that trend in 2011, and that'll trigger the paranoia about the NFL claiming what presences in the America sports hierarchy baseball has left and WHY AREN'T YOU BUYING MORE TICKETS, YOU FOOL?!?

Fewer of you are buying season tickets, but you're still going to games. You're buying individual tickets if you're not ponying up for a package. And the new dynamic pricing framework being implemented by the Mets will catch you completely off-guard if you're not prepared come next Spring.

Let's preface this by saying that the implementation of dynamic pricing by the Mets is not an necessarily attempt to screw you out of more money. It's not good or bad. It doesn't necessarily favor wealthy or casual fans over working-class or die-hard supporters overall. It just is, with the same pluses and minuses as any other ticket-buying protocol you've experienced.

What do you need to know? For starters, dynamic pricing is how airlines price their tickets. They set a price and let pre-defined variables (of which you will likely never know the number of emphasis) trend the ticket price up or down in real time. That means the price for tickets in the Promenade you see one day may not be the price you see the next day, the next hour, or even the next page refresh pending the variables in play. So if you're presuming Opening Day tickets will remain the same price for the first hour they're on sale, you likely presume wrong.

Tuesday's press release announcing the implementation of dynamic pricing revealed that "the Mets will not price single game tickets in Season Ticket Holder areas below the Season Ticket Holder discounted prices." However, Dave Howard, the Mets Executive Vice President of Business Operations, clarified during the blogger conference call Tuesday evening that "There won't be a ceiling. The market will decide what the price is on the upside." So that means ticket prices will fall only so far, but the sky's the limit on how high they can go.

This also affects walk-up purchases -- or, as I like to think of them, the only way to bypass some of the transaction fees that get lumped on online or phone purchases. Dynamic pricing of all individual tickets (whether online, at the ballpark, a clubhouse shop, or another primary retailer) will be live as long as online ticket sales are available for a particular game. Online ticket sales occur up until two hours prior to the game. So if you intend to buy walk-up tickets to a game, you will not know exactly how much money to bring with you until two hours before first pitch.

Before you get all up in arms by the realization that things are about to get weird, please keep in mind that this may benefit you if A) the Mets stink, or B) you're now more proactive about your purchase. The ticket resellers make their money on fees rather than the cost of a ticket itself, so StubHub will still be there to get you dirt-cheap tickets just as sure as Orbitz or Expedia are there for airline ticket sales. This brave new world just asks a bit more legwork from your part.

If one thing irks me about the dynamic pricing model, it's this: It's less democratic than the alternative. Yes, yes... capitalism is good and all that, but up until the announcement, you knew exactly what it would cost to get a baseball experience.

The Mets mucked that up a bit by introducing variable pricing a few years back and made it worse by building a small moat around the truly premium seats at Citi Field, but any fan knew that if they could come up with no more than $25 and be rewarded with a walkup purchase of a ticket to a regular season game that would yield Pedro Martinez versus John Smoltz, or Mike Piazza setting the home run record for catchers, or the Mets winning the NL East crown for the first time in 18 years.

And now the Mets are on to you. They, like the San Francisco Giants and others, are literally making you pay an unknown premium for the spontaneity that makes baseball such a brilliant game to follow. It won't happen often and it won't be as bad as you think, but it will happen -- and only to make a profit that some critics believe may not be significant enough to make it worthwhile. The cynic in me expects nothing less, but it doesn't make it any easier to digest when social stratification enables a casual fan to attend Opening Day at the expense of a die hard who got to the ticket first but was priced out by the system in action.

In the end, it's going to be fine. Other teams like the Giants or the NHL's Dallas Stars get by just fine with dynamic pricing and without a fan base protesting vehemently against the system. If you're like me and just buy tickets without rhyme or reason solely to be in the presence of Major League Baseball as produced by your New York Mets, there'll be enough ways to game the system and get bang for your buck. 

But I leave you with this thought that I wrote about dynamic pricing in 2009 that's as true today as it was then:

It's not that you won't be able to afford some games. It's that there will be fewer games that one might consider ideal to splurge. One can only stand so many games against the Nationals, right?

How much dynamic pricing will affect you depends on your answer.