Twins' quiet announcement didn't get past everyone
The announcement generally flew under the radar, and perhaps that was the idea: If you've got bad news to reveal, it's usually easiest to talk about it when there's a lot of background noise.
And so it was the week before last — with the Vikings generating their usual soap-opera drama, with college and prep football teeing things up, and with their own team pulling away in the standings — that the Minnesota Twins announced they're raising most ticket prices next season at Target Field.
Maybe the Twins opted to spill it on Aug. 23 for that very reason: In the midst of a pennant race that's going well, a price bump might not make much of a ripple.
But the more you think about their 2011 price increase, the more it sticks in your craw -- for a variety of reasons.
To begin with, Twins' ticket prices are already high. According to Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based sports marketing firm that tracks costs in Major League Baseball, the Twins' average ticket price this season is $31.47, seventh-highest in the majors.
Only the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, White Sox, Phillies and Mets charge more, and only the first three charge significantly more. The major league average this season is $26.74, nearly five bucks less than the Twins' average.
Higher prices are simply a fact of life when a team moves into a new stadium. Still, the Twins' average ticket price increased 45 percent this season, which is exponentially the biggest year-to-year increase in the majors.
Only one other team (the clueless Cubs, 10.1) raised prices by even 10 percent during a down economic year. On the average, major league teams raised ticket prices by 1.5 percent this season.
Again, that's largely a factor of the move to Target Field, and it's to be expected. The Twins this year moved from the worst ballpark in the majors to one of the very best: You get what you pay for, and you pay for what you get.
Still, that brings us to four sticking points -- one for each base -- about the Twins' latest price increase:
First, from 1982-2009 Minnesotans had to endure a ballpark that, at least for its last decade (and probably longer than that) was the worst in the majors. Twins fans lived through 28 years of baseball abomination in the Metrodome, and still remained loyal to their team. This is how you repay them?
Second, the 2010 Twins are drawing huge crowds. Their average home attendance through Monday is 39,742, 100.6 percent of Target Field's seating capacity, and they're on pace to draw a franchise-record 3,219,102 fans.
The Twins are making even more money than projected. But instead of thanking all those ticket-buying fans for their support, the team is going to grab even more of their money next year.
Third, Target Field was built largely because of a contribution of $350 million or so in public funds. The public paid for the majority of the new stadium that hugely elevated the value of the franchise, enabled it to draw record crowds and (probably) make record profits.
And fourth, even if the Twins were bound and determined to raise prices next season, why do it in August? At the very least, they're getting way ahead of themselves.
Overall, the Twins have had a nice year -- but this team hasn't won anything yet.
They're probably going to win the AL Central, but then it's almost certain that they're going to face either the Yankees or Rays in the first round of the playoffs -- and will probably have to beat them both to reach the World Series.
The Twins haven't been in a World Series in nearly two decades, and they've won exactly one playoff series in 19 years since their last one. This isn't a team that can justify price increases based on its postseason success.
The impending division title is certainly a positive. But win something of consequence, and then come to me and talk about price increases -- instead of doing it during the course of a season in which you've already hit your loyal fan base with by far the biggest price increase in the majors.
Maybe this is jousting against windmills.
Maybe this is simply the way things are done in professional sports.
Maybe this is supply and demand, which is the American Way.
Or, maybe it's just plain gouging. That's often the American Way, too.
And five months into their Target Field windfall, it seems as though the Twins are more than happy to do it.