Pirates to boost ticket prices next year

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In an effort to catch up to their rivals on the field, the Pirates went into the stands Tuesday, raising ticket prices for next season.

The organization's decision to increase prices, the first since 2002, was independent from the team's surprising success earlier in the season and their poor performance since the All-Star Game, leading to the likelihood of a 19th consecutive year of finishing under .500, Pirates president Frank Coonelly said.

"In order to continue to make the investments that are required to build a winning team, we have to be a competitively priced product," Mr. Coonelly said.

Because they did not raise prices for several years, Mr. Coonelly said, the organization fell behind the rest of the league, especially its National League Central division rivals. During that time, the average ticket price in the majors rose 40 percent according to the website Team Marketing Report, which publishes sports marketing and sponsorship information. Part of the reasoning behind keeping prices the same, Mr. Coonelly said, was the negative response the team received when it raised prices in 2002.

"Ticket price increases for the Pittsburgh Pirates, probably, is a more sensitive topic than other organizations given our history," Mr. Coonelly said. "We understand that and understand the reasons for it."

The average price of a Pirates ticket will increase from $15.30, the lowest in the majors this season according to Team Marketing Report, to $16.11 in 2012. The average ticket for the division rival Chicago Cubs in 2011 is $46.90; the average ticket price for the St. Louis Cardinals is $31.17 and $30.84 for the last-place Houston Astros. The average price of a 2011 ticket in Major League Baseball is $26.91.

Season-ticket prices will increase as well, but season-ticket holders still will save money. Prices for seats in the lower bowl of PNC Park will have the largest increase.

The Pirates split the sections according to rows for the 2012 season -- something they did not do this season -- and will charge more for seats closer to the front of the sections. Each level of the stadium will have two price options. Seats along the third-base line will cost $35 from the front to row Q and $33 for seats farther back. Seats on the second level will cost $55 for the first three rows and $50 for seats farther back. Single-game tickets behind the dugout will cost $45, up from $35 this season, and tickets behind home plate will cost as much as $225 next season.

The price of season tickets increased by as much as $30 per game for seats directly behind home plate, and season-ticket prices for seats in the lower infield box increased by $4 per game, from $24 to $28. Many season tickets will increase by only $1 or $2 per game, Mr. Coonelly said, and upper-deck tickets are still available for $10.

"We need to move toward the direction in where the rest of our industry is priced to remain competitive," Mr. Coonelly said. "We're committed to continuing to invest all of the resources that we generate as a Major League Baseball club into building our Major League Baseball club as a winner."

The Pirates chose to announce the pricing changes now because they recently mailed renewal forms to their season-ticket holders, Mr. Coonelly said. He said the team, which is 15-29 since the mid-July All-Star break, will use the increased revenue in a variety of areas, including the Major League Baseball draft, international signings and capital improvements to PNC Park in addition to the team's payroll.

"Some of these young exciting players who are exciting our fans on the field are becoming more and more expensive," Mr. Coonelly said. "In order to be able to retain those players, I'm going to need to do my job of continuing to generate more revenue for the ballclub so that we can afford those players and others."

Although their $45 million payroll ranks near the bottom of the league, the Pirates have spent more money than any other team -- $52 million -- on the draft in the past five seasons, according to the publication Baseball America. They gave No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole an $8 million bonus and second-round pick Josh Bell $5 million in addition to paying 2010 first-round pick pitcher Jameson Taillon $6.5 million. They also recently re-signed outfielder Jose Tabata to a six-year, $15 million contract extension.

Ticket sales represent one of many revenue streams for the Pirates. They also make money from concessions and merchandise sales. They earn money from television contracts, including a $3 billion deal Major League Baseball signed with Fox and Turner Sports in 2006 that gives each team about $22.3 million annually, according to Sports Business Journal. The Pirates also receive money via revenue sharing, where teams pay a percentage of their local revenues to Major League Baseball, and a luxury tax, in which high-spending teams pay a percentage of their payroll above a fixed amount. Major League Baseball redistributes that money to teams with lower payrolls.

Revenue this season, Mr. Coonelly said, exceeded expectations because of the attendance spike when the Pirates were near the top of the division. They were 53-47 and led the NL Central on July 25, but were 181/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee entering Tuesday's game against the Astros. At no point did the Pirates feel unable to spend on the major league team because of the low ticket prices, he said.

Incremental increases in the coming years, Mr. Coonelly said, are likely.

"We need to move towards the industry average and we can't do that by making adjustments every 10 years," he said.

Correction/Clarification: (Published September 1, 2011) The Pirates do not earn revenue from stadium parking. A story Wednesday about the team raising ticket prices incorrectly stated otherwise.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com .


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