Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anatomy of a Rain Delay - Revenues at the Ballpark

I had circled today's date on the calendar weeks ago. A midweek after baseball game during my kids' summer vacation?  I was looking forward to taking the afternoon off, picking up some tickets and beers and taking the kids to see the Red Sox play the Seattle Mariners at the Fens.

But then the rains came.  First a little drizzle on Sunday.  Then downpours on Monday.  That's ok I thought to myself, my lawn and flowers are getting some much needed water and the obnoxious water restriction sign nailed up a couple of houses down might come down.  But then it continued to rain on Tuesday.  So much so that the Red Sox called the game moments before the first pitch.  When I saw the weather report for Wednesday, I begrudgingly reconsidered my decision.  I didn't want to sit in the rain and even more importantly, I didn't want to haul the five of us into Boston, just to find out that the game is postponed.  Unfortunately, I've been on the wrong side of these game decisions and that's okay, but to subject the kids to a game that may or may not be played?  Bloodbath.  It did get me to thinking though, particularly after listening to some sports radio this afternoon.  What is it with the Red Sox and rain?

A couple of things that maybe you didn't know...

1.  Until the first pitch, the umpires may delay the game until weather permits (I don't know what that means either, I guess it means until the last Mary stops complaining about getting wet).  But the home team can decide at any time before the first pitch to call the game.  What inevitably happens is that throughout the day, weathermen make half hearted predictions that the weather will clear up (or hold off, depending on what is needed) in time for the game, to lure patrons to Fenway.  Since the doors open up at a little after 5pm for a 7pm start, that means that at least half of the ticketholders will come to Fenway no matter what its doing outside.  Incidentally, once the game starts, only the umpires can postpone a game or call it final before 9 innings.

2.  Terry Francona said it best himself after a rain shortened game against the Twins in 2009 - although I might be reading between the lines here.  Rain delays and rain shortened games are manipulated by the Red Sox front office to maximize revenues because otherwise it could mean "some lost revenue" for the ball club.  This lost revenue takes the shape of the enormous amount of concessions that are consumed at Fenway on a regular game day.  Over a million dollars in concessions, and that doesn't even include beer and other alcoholic drinks!  Presuming that only 50% of the fans show up to a game that is about to be postponed, pretending that the game will be played, Aramark and Larry Lucchino will net about $500,000 (after overhead) more than they otherwise would have if the game were played.  Remember the ticket is the only non-sunk cost for a ticketholder, because almost everything else is consumed on game day, only to have to be replaced at the next game the ticketholder goes to.

3.  Red Sox Rainout Information.  According to the rainout policy on the Red Sox official website, if a ticketholder has tickets to a game that is rained out, and the game is rescheduled, there are no refunds; that ticketholder has to go to the rescheduled game or lose the value of his or her tickets.  If the game isn't rescheduled, then you will get similarly-priced tickets to another game.  Interestingly, what the policy doesn't go on to say is that the ticketholder will get their money back if the game is not rescheduled AND there aren't similar tickets to distribute (such as at the end of the year).   

4.  Social Media Strikes Again.  Now back to that sports radio show I was listening to this afternoon.  Mike Felger - whose whole schtick is to be a contrarian and a little cynical about both players and ownership - took a minor story about John Henry's wife tweeting some time before the game was actually called that the game was being postponed and ran with it.  While normally I disagree with his positions (while still finding him entertaining), I can't help but agree with him on this one.  Do you think that Linda Pizzuti was instrumental in the decision to call the game?  Of course not! She surely got the information before we did, but I'm also sure that Larry Lucchino didn't go from a conference call with MLB to call Linda and told her not to bother showing up.  So whether that tweet was half an hour, fifteen minutes or even an hour before the game was called, the decision was made at least half an hour before she was told - maybe more. 

In retrospect, the easiest thing to do to make money is to do nothing at all.  Make sure "friendlies" get their information about the rain, but otherwise, let's make some money!  I don't blame the Red Sox, mind you.  But try telling kids that the game they've been looking forward to won't be played.  What I did learn is that maybe I should start following Linda on Twitter to get my Red Sox news.

Some folks, like Jim Chandley at the Democratic Fanatic want us to give big business the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their own rain out policies.  Like I said, not with three excitable kids who don't understand that when it's a little wet their heroes don't play baseball.

"Hey Dad!  Can we go to the game next Friday?"

"Wait, let me check the weather forecast."

Photo courtesy of Taunton Daily Gazette.

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