Misleading comparisons of Dodgers, Angels

When comparing Dodger games to Angel games, local sportswriters love to cite an annual study by Team Marketing Report (TMR). This past year it showed a typical family of four would expect to spend $131.80 at Angel Stadium and a much higher $221.64 at Dodger Stadium, per the Fan Cost Index.

Most recently, Bill Dwyre brought up the study, apparently with nothing better to write about in the middle of the baseball playoffs. Bill Plaschke cited it back in July.

I don't necessarily want to be accused of being a Dodgers apologist, and I can't defend much of what went on the courtroom last September. But I have defended the Dodgers from unfair criticism in the past, and when someone like Steve Soboroff accuses the local media of "piling on" this is just one small example of what he's talking about.

While citing TMR's data, few journalists have stopped to ask if their study makes sense nor discussed whether the Fan Cost Index is the best way to measure fan spending. Having worked in professional sports, and being very familiar with the Fan Cost Index (FCI), I can tell you that it produces a number which can be easily manipulated and is highly misleading.

Arte Moreno and the Angels have done an excellent job of improving the fan experience at their ballpark, but there's a few arbitrary factors that make the Angels' FCI the fourth-lowest in baseball. On the other hand, the Dodgers could literally not change a thing and find their FCI reduced significantly.

So what is FCI and how is it calculated? Team Marketing Report's formula combines the average cost of 2 adult tickets, 2 child tickets, 2 small draft beers, 4 small soft drinks, 4 hot dogs, parking, 2 programs, and 2 caps. In reality, most fans don't purchase quite the same way, but TMR believes that families still attend baseball games the same way they did in the 1960s.

To add another quirk to the formula, TMR counts the average season ticket price, not the actual average gameday ticket price. I don't know of too many "regular" people who buy individual game tickets at the season ticket holder price, so TMR's decision to use that figure is bewildering.

The reality is that most fans purchase tickets either at a team's box office, on a team's web site, or on a third party site like StubHub.com. In the latter case, the price can vary dramatically and it can allow fans to find a great deal. In all three of the previously mentioned cases, fans have to pay annoying handling fees and/or services charges which are not factored into the TMR formula.

I'm going to go into more detail on ticket prices later on in this, but I do want to discuss some of the other components used by TMR.

According to TMR, the Angels charge just $6.99 for their "least-expensive adult-size adjustable cap." They're one of just three MLB teams with a hat under $10. On the other hand, the Dodgers cap price is listed at $16, much more in line with other MLB teams. Since TMR assumes you're going to buy two adult-sized caps (when you probably should buy kids caps, since you TMR presumes you have 2 kids), the Dodgers get docked $32 for hats while the Angels come in at under $14. That accounts for $18 of the $90 difference between the two teams.

I asked Angels VP of Marketing and Ticket Sales Robert Alvarado what type of cap the team sold for just $6.99. I found that number interesting, considering the team sells no cap under $17 on its own web site. Alvarado noted that Angels have worked with their merchandising partner AEG on a "family values" plan, which offers lower-priced and lower-quality options. All of the team's other caps cost the same amount as they do at other ballparks. I wondered if the $6.99 was actually a kids cap, but Alvarado described it as "an adjustable cap that can fit a child or an adult."

When I asked the Dodgers about their caps, VP of Communications Josh Rawitch informed that the team's merchandising partner Facility Merchandising Inc often offers caps on sale for as low as $5. However, because the standard price is $16, that's the price that gets counted in the formula.

I think it's great that the Angels have worked with AEG to provide low-cost options. But in this particular area, the formula works against the Dodgers, even when the reality has fans of both teams spending roughly the same amount of money. Both teams, it should be noted, have at least one game a year when they give away free caps.

Another area of difference comes in programs. TMR assumes the family of four will buy two of them, and the Dodgers are listed at $5 while the Angels charge $3. Yet the Dodgers actually give away a free program when you drive into the parking lot. They do sell a more expensive magazine for $5, but TMR should probably count them as having a free program like they do with six other teams. That would knock $10 off the Dodgers' FCI.

As for parking, Dwyre lauds the Angels for dropping the price of parking $10 to $8 for season ticket holders. But he fails to note in the article that the Angels raised it from $8 to $10 for individual game buyers. It is well-known that the Dodgers charge $15 for parking. However it's not as known that season ticket holders pay $10 for parking. Yet while TMR counts the season ticket holder price for tickets, they don't count it for parking.

One of the reasons why Angel Stadium parking is lower is because of Arte Moreno's commitment to fan experience. But another reason is competition. There are several competing lots within walking distance of Angel Stadium, some that only charge $5 for parking, so it behooves the team to keep parking prices low. On the other hand, there aren't too many other lots near Dodger Stadium, so the team naturally charges more. And one would expect to pay more to park just north of Downtown LA than they would in the middle of Orange County.

Now, I hate paying $15 for parking, as does everyone else. However, I've come to accept that's the going rate for parking for LA sporting events, and I don't believe the Dodgers are out of line. I've never read an LA Times article complaining about the price of parking at STAPLES Center and LA Live, nor do they talk about what a pain it is to park at the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl. Heck, it even costs $15 to park at Home Depot Center for a Galaxy game, but that's never been covered. I'd like to see some of the local sports writers try going out anywhere cool in LA on a Saturday night and not have to pay too much for parking. The local media has simply chosen to hold the Dodgers to a higher standard.

When Arte Moreno became the Angels owner, he memorably announced that he'd lower beer prices. Today, the Angels offer a 14-oz beer for $4.50, the second-cheapest figure on the TMR study. The Dodgers charge $6 for a 16-oz beer, which is their smallest. Again, TMR assumes a fan will buy two beers, so the Angels get counted for $9 while the Dodgers get counted for $12. Yet the Dodger fan is drinking two more ounces per beer. Should the Dodgers offer a cheaper 14-oz beer option? That could be debated, but it should be noted that TMR is comparing prices on products that it counts as equal, yet are actually different.

The same could be noted for hot dogs. Both the Dodgers and Angels offer an array of scrumptious grilled hot dogs, bratwursts, and sausages that all cost roughly the same amount of money. Yet the Angels also offer a cheap $3 hot dog made by Wienershnitzel that is small and steamed. Conversely, the Dodgers concessionaire chooses not to go that route, and its cheapest hot dog is a bigger $5 grilled Dodger Dog from Farmer John. Should the Dodgers offer a smaller and lower-quality hot dog in addition to the Dodger Dog? Perhaps. But again, TMR is giving the Angels credit for $12 for hot dogs and the Dodgers credit for $20 (since they assume you'll buy four), when the products are actually different.

The same issues also exist in soda where the Dodgers charge $3.50 for a 16-oz drink, whereas the Angels charge $3 for a 14-oz drink. That's $14 vs. $12 in the formula, but 12-oz difference is not factored in, even though the cost per ounce is almost the same.

It also should be noted that teams don't actually control their own concession prices and food items. The Angels have to negotiate their concession prices with Aramark while the Dodgers work with Levy Restaurants. Sometimes teams can't drop concession prices even when they want to, because the concessionaire is ultimately in control. Neither the Dodgers nor the Angels would tell me the revenue breakdown of their concession deals. However, I've heard of teams making as little as 25% and as much as 50% off their concessions. If I had to guess, I'd say both the Dodgers and Angels are in the 40-50% range, meaning that for every $5 hot dog you buy at either stadium, the team is probably receiving between $2 and $2.50 of your money.

All of this brings us back to ticket prices, which again, is skewed in the formula. The Angels average ticket price is listed at $18.93, but if you look at their web site, you won't find too many tickets under $18 on there. (http://mlb.mlb.com/ana/ballpark/seating.jsp) The Angels partially benefit from some "Buy 2, Get 2 Free" season ticket packages that effectively cut some prices in half in the formula. But again, that's only available for season ticket holders, not the average individual game buyer.

The Dodgers also have some "Buy 2, Get 2 Free" packages, but their average ticket price is listed at $29.66. Why are the Dodgers so much higher? Well, there's two factors that count against the Dodgers in the formula.

The first is minor, but worth noting. The Dodgers have an All-You-Can-Eat section in the Right Field Pavilion. They charge $27 for a season ticket for most of the seats in that area, but it includes an unlimited number of free hot dogs, soft drinks, and nachos. The Left Field Pavilion costs only $10 for a seat, and doesn't come with free food, but the view is effectively identical. So in the TMR formula, the Dodgers are noted as having several thousand $27 seats, when in reality they're actually $10 seats.

The second reason for the Dodgers' higher average ticket price has to do with clientele and demand. Quite simply, there are more corporations, law firms, and other big spenders willing to buy expensive seats in Los Angeles than in Orange County. I don't think that's a bad thing. Every team needs rich companies to buy pricey seats in order to be a sustainable organization. If the Dodgers can get a law firm to buy four field level season tickets at $85 a seat, then good for them. It's not an affront on the average fan and the Angels do the same thing. There's just more money to be spent in LA than in Anaheim. (Keep in mind, that premium seating is not counted in the TMR formula, but there's still pleny of expensive seats that are counted. TMR doesn't break down corporate-owned seats vs. individual seats, which they probably should if they're trying to look at the cost for the "average fan.")

For many sections in the ballpark, both Dodger and Angel Stadium have similar ticket pricing. If you want to sit in the last row behind home plate, then it will cost $12 in the Top Deck at Dodger Stadium and $20 at the View MVP section at Angel Stadium. If you want to sit in the Left Field Pavilion (for a regular game, not season ticket), then it will cost you $18 at Dodger Stadium and $16 at Angel Stadium. We could go down the line, but when you compare similar seats at both stadiums, the prices are not overwhelmingly different.

Personally, if it were up to me, I would recommend both teams move more toward a dynamic pricing method, similar to what the Giants use. The reality is that every game has a different demand, depending on the day of the week, the opponent, and the home team's record that season. Dynamic pricing more accurately assesses the true value of a seat given all those extenuating circumstances. I think most MLB teams are moving slowly in that direction, but for now, many teams treat most games equally.

In Dwyre's column, he lauds the Angels for having 80% of their 2011 season ticket prices be either "frozen or reduced." However, the Dodgers have also frozen or reduced 80% of their 2011 season ticket prices, yet they were criticized for raising the prices on Top Deck season tickets from $4 to $6 a game. The main reason for this though came because ticket brokers were hoarding cheap Top Deck seats, making the section "sold out" when the average fan wanted to buy walkup tickets and increasing the no-show rate up there. Ironically, raising the season price, makes Dodger individual game tickets more affordable for most "average fans," but no one ever likes to miss an opportunity to criticize a team for raising ticket prices.

There's been a popular narrative recently that the McCourts are overcharging Dodgers fans so that they can continue a lavish lifestyle. Again, I can't defend much of anything that happened in the divorce trial. But I can honestly say that the Dodgers are not doing anything outrageous with their ticket, concession, and parking prices. They are more or less in line with other teams, and are honestly what you'd expect from a major market team.

If someone wants to use Team Marketing Report to "prove" that the Dodgers are overcharging fans, then I would hope this article has shown you that the formula is heavily flawed and doesn't tell the whole story. The Angels should be commended for providing a host of low-cost options, and having met Arte Moreno, I believe he's one of the two or three best owners in baseball. But Dodgers management is not the evil devil that some would have you believe.

* * *

On a completely separate note, I do want to bring up a quick point about payroll. For all the hand-wringing about the Dodgers not spending enough money on players, it's easy to forget that the World Series is being played between two teams with lower payrolls than the Dodgers, according to Cot's Contract. In fact, six of baseball's eight playoff teams spent less on players than the Dodgers this season.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The Dodgers had a payroll that was high enough to compete for the World Series. The problem wasn't that the Dodgers didn't spend enough, it was that they weren't efficient enough with their spending. If they had a stronger minor league system and better organizational depth, then they would have been able to trade for bigger names or replace some of their injured and struggling players more effectively. By the way, the Angels had virtually the same problem this season.

A recent Bill Shaikin column was headlined "Dodgers could learn from Phillies' open wallet." Learn what exactly? How to lose in the National League Championship Series? The Dodgers have already learned how to do that. Despite the Phillies giving up a ton of prospects and cash to have an all-world pitching staff with Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, they actually were worse in the postseason than when they won the World Series with a rotation of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton.

Shaikin's article was written a day after an unknown named Colby Lewis shut down the Yankees to get the Texas Rangers into the World Series, a year after he pitched in Japan. And I'm writing this article the day after an unknown named Madison Bumgarner pitched eight scoreless innings to put the Giants within a game of winning a championship.

If my job were to cover Major League Baseball for a living, then I would probably be thinking more deeply about how teams put together championship pitching staffs.

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