Pirates' season ticket sales increase leads MLB

The Pirates throw a party every year for first-year season-ticket holders — rookies, as the team calls them — as a way to say thanks and build a stronger bond between the business and its customers.

This year the party was so big the Pirates had to move it outside.

More than 1,000 people reserved a spot for the shindig held Tuesday before a game against the Baltimore Orioles, as representatives of a 40 percent growth in the Pirates’ season ticket base compared to last season. This week, the Pirates learned they had the largest percentage growth in season ticket holders of any Major League Baseball team this year.

The Pirates are proud of their achievement. But Drew Cloud, the team’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, knows that kind of growth also will test the ticket sales team.

“If you look at this from a business perspective, this is a vulnerable group of customers,” said Mr. Cloud, a Pittsburgh native who joined the club in April. “They’re giving you a test drive.”

And just like any would-be car buyer, season ticket-holders have a list of needs and wants.

At the top of that list, usually, is wins. And though the Pirates — who were 18-26 Wednesday — aren’t necessarily playing the best baseball, Mr. Cloud believes they will field a good team moving forward.

“We think the team will be very competitive, and as long as this team is competitive, that’s a great asset,” he said.

It’s not just season ticket sales where the Pirates have excelled. According to StubHub, an online ticket vendor owned by eBay, Pirates ticket sales were up 109 percent at the start of the season, compared to the start of the 2013 season.

StubHub measures demand in page views, sales volume and sales price, and StubHub spokeswoman Alison Salcedo said demand for the Pirates was up across the board heading into this season.

“It’s a really great time if you’re rooting for the Pirates, who haven’t been quite as successful in 20 years,” said Ms. Salcedo.

According to Forbes, the team generated $204 million in revenue in 2013, up from $169 million in 2012. The Pirates, relying on a bigger season ticket base, expect even more sellouts in 2014, an indication that those revenue figures could continue to climb.

It hasn’t been easy to build that kind of interest. A long stretch of losing seasons spoiled fan enthusiasm and soured season ticket sales. Recent success has bolstered both.

A winning season and a playoff appearance in 2014 brought fans back to the team. The Pirates, as many teams have done in the past, gave fans who purchased season ticket plans for the following season playoff ticket priority over the general public.

Greg and Kristen Vida of Dubois, Pa., took advantage of that offer, though the couple had considered buying season tickets long before that. “He has been the biggest Pirates fan for his whole life — forever,” Ms. Vida said.

The Vidas bought a 20-game season ticket plan and plan to renew the following season.

Larry Ridgway, who lives near California Borough, also bought a 20-game ticket package this season, spurred by the team’s recent winning ways. “It seemed like they started doing a lot better these last couple years,” he said.

He was not thrilled with the team’s off-season personnel moves — “I wish they would have got some hitters,” he said — but he likely will consider renewing his ticket plan.

“It’s fun anyway,” he said.

Mr. Cloud said his goal is to create a community of ticket holders who will consider the added value of season tickets in addition to the team’s win-loss record. Individual account managers can help customers tailor experiences and incentives to each fan’s interests.

For example, a season-ticket holder who uses the ticket plan to entertain clients might receive a business-related perk. A family could receive autographed merchandise for kids.

“People that were strictly driven by team performance,” Mr. Cloud said, “we have to give them reasons to stay with us if they don’t like the way the team is headed.”

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino.

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