Recent changes in season-ticket pricing have caused a small group of Pirates fans to cry foul.
Some holders of the Pirates Charter Seat Licenses say their seat licenses -- purchased for a one-time price of $2,000 per seat when PNC Park opened in 2001 -- are worthless since they no longer get a price break off the regular season ticket cost.
But the Pirates said they have acted in good faith toward those customers, offering benefits and special ticket offers over the years, and that the price break they guaranteed for only one year has lasted seven.
This story began in 2000, more than a year before PNC Park opened.
The Pirates offered fans the opportunity to buy Charter Seat Licenses, which would last as long as the Pirates played baseball in PNC Park, so long as the license holder renewed his or her season tickets every year.
Initially, the license afforded exclusivity as it was the only way for fans to have access to the PBC Club level in the upper deck of the ballpark.
But, after a few years, the demand for those tickets waned, and the Pirates started selling season tickets in the PBC Club level to non-license holders, which took away the exclusivity once offered to seat license holders.
To make amends, the Pirates offered two options to seat license holders. One option gave them the opportunity to sell back their seat licenses over a five-year period by offering reduced ticket prices -- about a $5 discount off the 2001 ticket price of a PBC Club level seat. Those individuals paid $25.07 per ticket, a discount that was worth $400 per year compared to the '01 price.
But the second option allowed license holders to keep their seat license and buy season tickets at a discount off the going rate. These individuals paid $27 per ticket -- $6 less than non-license holders, a yearly savings of $486.
That discount continued for seven years, and those who took the second option saved $3,402 per seat compared to what non-license holders were paying. But some who held onto their seat licenses expected the discount to be permanent.
In a letter the team sent to license holders in September 2004 outlining the changes, the team did not say whether the price break was permanent or temporary. The current front office, most of which was not with the team in '04, now says the discount was temporary.
Brian Warecki, senior director of communications, said the letter to fans "made it clear that the price differential ... was guaranteed for the 2005 season only," he said in an email.
Joe and John Maletta, brothers who together own four seat licenses, did not read it that way. While at one point the letter says the tickets will remain discounted "during the 2005 season," it later in the letter says "beginning in the 2005 season ... new PBC season packages will be sold at a higher rate than you will pay."
They were among a "handful" of fans who complained to the team about the recent changes, Warecki said. Team president Frank Coonelly met with the Maletta brothers -- John in person and Joe by phone -- to address their complaints.
"He basically is adamant that because it doesn't say that [the ticket discount] will continue forever, we aren't allowed to assume that," Joe Maletta said. "I don't view it that way."
He said license holders were not informed of the changes by letter.
"I've never seen such poor customer service, such a disregard for their customers," John Maletta said. "It's as if they look at us as completely replaceable and not important. Their words and their actions don't align. They say they value your business, but you see behavior that suggests otherwise."
But Warecki said the Pirates have been fair to these fans. In addition to offering discounts that "realized savings in an amount greater than their original CSL investment," license holders had been able to buy additional tickets in the PBC Club level at discounted rates and had access to VIP events.
The Malettas have been season ticket holders dating to Three Rivers Stadium. But, unless the Pirates reinstitute the price break or buy back their seat licenses at the original price, both say they will not renew this year.
Both say they have spent more than $100,000 on tickets over the past 12 years
"I'm shocked," Joe Maletta said. "I really am. Like we should be lucky that we get to give them our money is essentially how I felt by the time this whole thing was said and done."
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org , 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino.