Yankees suddenly hate free agency? When it comes to fans’ rights and price fixing, yup

Yankees tickets for sale on StubHub
Yankees tickets for sale on StubHub

If you hate the Yankees, there’s a great new reasons to hate them even more. And if you love the Yankees, well, you might end up hating them soon.

No team has ever embraced the workers of the free market more than the Yankees, with its endless stream of high-priced free-agent acquisitions.  But when its fans want to act like free agents, the team has suddenly embraced socialist market controls like price fixing.

In what can only be described as anti-American, anti-competitive, and just plain greedy, that Yankees are using a technology gimmick to prevent fans from buying and selling their tickets on the secondary market — unless the Yankees get a cut. And the Yankees get to fix the prices.

The Yankees announced this week that the team will no longer be accepting download-and-print tickets, which is the only practical method for buying day-of tickets at sites like StubHub.com. The team says it’s trying to stop fraud. It’s lying.  It’s trying to stop people from selling tickets below face value, as often happens on sites like StubHub when games are undesirable.

But something even more fundamental is going on. In my experience, most of the time, tickets on StubHub are cheaper than tickets sold by the Yankees on Ticketmaster. And there is much better selection. Secondary market sites are just truer markets.  And they don’t include the “price floor” that the Yankees (and many pro sports teams) enforce on their own secondary exchanges to prevent prices from dipping much below their face value.

Keep resale prices artificially high encourages people to skip the secondary market and buy unsold game tickets instead. You can see why the Yanks want this, but it’s terrible for consumers.  I believe it’s illegal, too; I think we’ll find out soon. The New York Attorney General just released a report on the broken ticket sales market and revealed a coming multi-state enforcement action against price floors in the NFL.

That makes the timing of this announcement very curious.

“It’s as bad as it sounds because it gives Ticketmaster and the Yankees a huge competitive advantage over other resale websites, where cheaper tickets may be available,” said “Chris Grimm, founder of FanFreedom.org. “Ultimately, fans benefit when there are choices and competition in the secondary market. This is just the latest in a series of policies enacted by the Yankees and Ticketmaster to monopolize the secondary market for Yankees’ tickets and raise prices for fans.”

Lonn Trost, Yankees chief operating officer, addressed the controversy on New York radio Thursday and only made things worse by saying something that’s just not true — an error, or another lie.  The techno-maneuver the Yankees are pulling involves eliminating print-at-home tickets in favor of mobile tickets.  This actually is a good step to control fraud.  But since StubHub’s business is largely built on print-at-home, the Yankees have dealt a near death-blow to the competition.

Trost denied this, saying that StubHub could offer mobile tickets, too.  It can’t.

Well, it could, if the Yankees and Ticketmaster granted Stubhub access to the servers it would need to verify mobile tickets. The Yankees aren’t doing that.  So yes, the Yankees are saying you can only resell tickets using a certain technology, and they aren’t giving others access to the technology.

“StubHub’s ability to offer mobile ticketing is controlled by how the original ticket seller delivers tickets,” Grimm said. “If Ticketmaster allowed other resale platforms to verify tickets with their server, and they could certainly charge a fee for doing this, then yes, StubHub could offer the same mobile solution. Since they do not, fans that have become accustomed to purchasing instant download PDFs on resale sites are in for a rude awakening when their only options are to purchase paper tickets through StubHub and wait for delivery or pay higher prices on TicketExchange.”

StubHub users can still buy and sell Yankees tickets, by the way. But to do so, the original ticket will have to change hands. Tickets can be left will-call style at a StubHub office near the stadium, or they can be mailed.  In other words, to avoid this closed marketplace, fans must use 1980s methods.

On the radio, Trost also said he was trying to protect full-price ticket purchasers from the unseemly experience of sitting next to someone at a game who didn’t pay full price for a ticket.  You know, something that happens on every flight every day.

The Yankees couldn’t be more tone deaf on this story.  And I can’t imagine this decision won’t backfire.  NYAG Eric Schneiderman has more incentive than ever to jump on the price floor issue. Even worse, the new Yankees Stadium has been plagued by the invisible fan problem since it opened (empty seats in the lower, expensive sections that look terrible on television). That problem is going to get much worse. StubHub actually put fans in the seats for low-interest games. The Yankees are in for a rude awakening about that.

There is an easy way to avoid the problem of too-cheap tickets: increase the original value proposition. Make the team more interesting, and lower prices.  The Yankees could fix the product.  It’s chosen to fix the market instead. Sad.

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About Bob Sullivan 1319 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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