Selling baseball tickets should be easy — especially if it is before the start of the season and fancy revenue management schemes haven’t kicked in.
But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (hereafter, simply the Angels since they have the stupidest, most awkward name in the majors) managed to screw it up. Here is how the Orange County Register put it (Angels fans wait all day, leave disappointed, Mar 6).
Many fans who waited all day Tuesday trying to get tickets for Angels games this season were told to come back Wednesday, after the box office could not handle the crowds.
Wrapped in blankets and wearing jackets against the chill, more than 1,000 people began standing in line as early as 6:30 a.m. Tuesday to redeem ticket vouchers to see the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play at Angel Stadium this season.
Angels staff stopped handing out wristbands early in the day, and began telling some people with wristbands to go home as early as noon. …
Angels staff began handing out some 1,800 wristbands at 6:30 a.m. that would enable fans to trade pre-purchased vouchers for tickets to upcoming games for the 2012 season.
By noon, several hundred people were lined up halfway around the stadium waiting for their turn to exchange multi-ticket plan vouchers for the chance to see a revitalized Angels lineup on the diamond starting in April.
In the video below, fans discuss their customer service experience.
So what exactly went wrong?
First, the Angels were dealing with an appealing but somewhat complicated product. Specifically, this is was part of the fulfillment for discounted ticket plans. The Halos sold vouchers at discounted prices that allowed purchasers from a set of games. Here is what a voucher looks like:
Effectively, these let Angels fans to put together their own partial ticket plan. Even better they could get four tickets when friends are supposed to be in town in July but only two seats for a game earlier in the season. As I said, this is an attractive offer. The Cubs offer partial ticket plans where there is a limited range of choice to flesh out a nine-game package but you have to buy the same number of tickets for all nine games.
With that background, we can get to the second, third, and fourth things that went wrong. Number two would be that the Angels singed Albert Pujols. This is not per se a problem and I do not want to get into the discussion of whether one player is worth a quarter of a million dollars. But the Pujols signing has already done one thing Angels management was hoping for: sparked fan interest and goosed ticket sales. According to the LA Times (Angels’ ticketing fiasco is latest case of bad customer service, Mar 11), about 7,000 people bought vouchers.
The third problem is some suspect process design choices. Specifically, they insist that these be redeemed in person — the phone or the Internet is not an option. To be fair, this may be a difficult thing to do within a standard ticketing website since just how someone holding, say, ten vouchers wants to use them likely depends on what quality of seat is available for different games (only a limited number of seats are offered for each game). While allowing people to go back and forth between different options might be hard to code, it also means that the transactions in person are going to be time-consuming. From the Times article:
Angels Communications Vice President Tim Mead pointed out that the line moved slowly because people reaching the box office took their sweet time picking out seats and games. “This wasn’t a quick transaction,” he said. “Basically, it’s shopping.”
Now for the fourth problem. The Angels managed expectations poorly, effectively creating a Black Friday atmosphere. From another LA Times article (Angels are a tougher ticket this year, Mar 6):
“Due to the increased demand for Angels tickets,” said a letter sent to voucher holders Feb. 27, “we anticipate extremely tight availability on many of our games this season and we encourage you to redeem your vouchers early once your opportunity begins on March 6.”
The team website has following information that runs from passive aggressive to outright threatening.
- Expect VERY LIMITED to ZERO availability if you plan on redeeming your voucher on the day of the event. Please visit the Ticket Window in advance of your game selection for redemptions. Our ticket window hours are Monday-Saturday 9 am-5:30 pm and (Sunday 9 am- 5:30 pm only during Sunday home games).
- Vouchers must be redeemed in person. No phone or on-line redemptions are available.
- Due to the length in time to transact voucher redemptions at the stadium, we are experiencing long lines and wait times up to 3-4 hours. Please plan your visit to the stadium ticket window over the next 2 weeks accordingly. We anticipate ticket lines returning to regular transaction times after March 25.
- Regular price ticket availability has no bearing on the amount of seats allocated for voucher redemptions per game and per seating levels. Once allocations are exhausted, we will not release additional seating for vouchers and request that you choose an alternate date.
So the Angels may have only themselves to blame. However, in many ways they should have had a manageable. They knew how many people needed to come get tickets. Heck, they even knew how many vouchers each of these people held. I bet they could even guess which games were going to be in high demand. They just needed to staff up to meet demand. Instead (according to the OC Register), they had only two windows open at 9:00 AM even though they knew how many bracelets had been passed out. According the “Tougher Ticket” story, the team claims that they were unable to staff up to meet demand.
Alvarado said that typically during the off-season the Angels staff one to two ticket windows on a weekday. “And that’s very manageable. We had as many as seven windows open today so we anticipated some of this.”
He said opening more windows was not just a matter of calling in extra staff when lines started to form.
“A lot of our ticket sellers aren’t full-time employees,” he said. “They have other jobs and are usually available to us on Saturdays or in the evenings. So it’s not just a matter of calling them up and bringing them in.”
(There is another side to that story. The “Ticketing Fiasco” story reports that a union rep for the ticket sellers said that it would be easy to call in more staff. It also reports that the Angels may not have the best relationship with their unionized workers.)
There are also some things that the Angels could do to regulate to just how people show up. As we wrote about last year, the Cubs use a random priority scheme when their single game tickets go on sale. That eliminates exactly this kind of foolishness. People will not show up early if they know they won’t get served. It appears that the Angels are now thinking along these lines (from “Tougher Ticket”):
Alvarado said that in the future the Angels will consider making game and seat-choosing an online option. “We just hadn’t needed do that before,” he said, noting that last year on the first day of voucher redemption about 75 people got tickets. “We might also disperse the demand in a better way, stagger days by seniority, on what date someone purchased their plan. There are different ways to do things.”
Two final points. First, there is an interesting modeling problem here. Consumers have to trade off their waiting costs with their desire to get the right tickets. If everyone anticipates more people trying to get their seats on the first day, then those with strong preferences over games should feel more compelled to go while those who just want to see a game should select seats later. That is, while all the waiting is inefficient, it should lead to an efficient allocation of tickets in that those who have a high cost of mismatch gets tickets. One caveat on this is that casual fans don’t buy tickets months out. That is, those with strong preferences are likely over-represented.
Finally, the “Ticketing Fiasco” story is really worth reading since it focuses more on how the team is, or is not, dealing with this service failure.
The worst thing is that Angels executives still don’t get that they committed a huge blunder. When I spoke with the front office last week, they were not exactly apologetic. They weren’t merely defensive. They were truculently defensive. At one point in our conversation, Angels President John Carpino intimated that I was taking this matter personally because my wife had been inconvenienced, as though no one who hasn’t lived through the experience can imagine the frustration of being forced to waste nine hours acquiring 10 baseball tickets.
Carpino also took something of a “whadja expect?” position. He observed that the vouchers provide for discounts of as much as 40% over face value per seat, as though for that kind of a deal anyone should be happy to give up two days of gainful employment.