Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak, or Hamburg as the Case May Be

Every August, when NFL exhibition games begin, there is a flurry of negative commentary, some of it actually from the victims of the crime, that season ticket-holders get ripped off by being forced to pay full regular season prices for two exhibition games that all fans know are merely extra-intense practice sessions.

There are some fans, just as there are some sportswriters, who pay close attention to the performances of the bottom fourth of the roster guys in the fourth quarters of these blindfolded skirmishes, but in each case, these are people operating under the delusion they have what it takes to be assistant coaches. But most ticket holders resent what they're forced to pay for exhibition games. They don't see it as a crime, since it isn't, but as an onerous surcharge, much like the baggage fees charged by airlines. It is accepted as a necessity for getting into the real games, but nobody likes paying more for something than it's worth.

I wonder why teams don't try the exact opposite marketing approach. Say a season ticket package at Gillette Stadium costs $100 per game for 10 games, eight real and two exhibitions. (We use this imaginary figure because I am not good at math). That's $1000. What if long ago the Pats had marketed the very same package this way: We sell you eight regular season game tickets for $125 each AND we throw in two exhibition game tickets to the same seats absolutely free! A surcharge would instead be seen as a form of rebate! There's nothing more consumer-friendly than the word "free."

It is surely too late for any settled NFL franchise to try this gimmick now. People get used to things, and human nature being what it is, the change would be criticized as a big ticket price increase even though the cost to the customer would be exactly the same. But when some team finally pulls up stakes and heads for Los Angeles, they really ought to give this idea a shot, in the interest of marketing science.


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