When to Buy World Series Tickets

What a World Series! I can’t wait to see the Phillies try to break “the curse of Billy Penn,” which has prevented any major Philly sports franchise from winning anything since 1983.

That’s right, not a single sporting success across the four major sports franchises over 25 years, which adds up to a century-long accumulated losing streak.

I suspect that there are a few of us who are thinking of trying to buy World Series tickets; and for most of us, this means visiting the secondary market. Fortunately, a timely research paper by Duke’s Andrew Sweeting offers some pretty useful advice.

Sweeting has meticulously crunched the data on baseball ticket sales for 2007 on StubHub.com, and he cross-checked his analysis with data from another (anonymized) online source. He documents a rather striking fact: the prices of baseball tickets tend to fall through time.

So here’s my advice: If you are looking to buy World Series tickets, you should wait until a day or two before the game. In fact, as the graph below shows, this may yield savings of 25 percent, or more!

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You might be concerned that this result simply reflects all the better tickets being sold early. But Sweeting’s dataset (of over three million ticket sales!) contains such amazing detail that the chart reflects comparisons among tickets within the same game, section, and row.

In fact, Sweeting’s biggest concern in my giving this advice is that his data cover only regular season games, while different patterns may apply to the post-season. But the economic forces behind Sweeting’s law probably apply even more strongly to the World Series. He argues that regular season-ticket prices are higher in advance of game day because people have to make plans in advance, which increases demand.

It seems likely that a greater share of the World Series crowd will be traveling to Philly for the game, and these folks will be especially keen to purchase game tickets before investing in airline tickets. As such, expect today’s ticket prices to be sky-high as these folks make their plans — and hopefully prices will start falling over the next few days.

I’ve only ever been to one World Series game — in 2002 when my stepfather George Parsons and I waited until the last minute and nabbed tickets for Game 5 for under $200.

Similar tickets had been over $500 a week prior. Given that experience, you know I will be looking for some last-minute deals later this week.

Attending a World Series game is a pretty special event, and I will always remember October 24, 2002, as a special night of father and son bonding. In our case, it was helped by the fact that we were cheering for the San Francisco Giants (I was teaching at Stanford at the time, so they were the local team) as they pounded the Angels, 16-4. Unfortunately, they lost the next two games on the road.

Perhaps an understanding of Sweeting’s law can help put a special night like this in the reach of a few more fans.


Jason

I think this data may not apply to playoff games, or, at least, it may change because of the shorter window for purchasing tickets. I attended one of the ALCS games in Tampa, and we bought tickets on StubHub about 3 days before the game. Prices went higher as game time got closer for (I assume) two reasons:

1) There was more information for the sellers - most initially priced tickets at 50-100% markup and then realized they could get more.

2) Tickets became more scarce.

Obviously, the price then drops again when it gets within a few hours of game time and there are more barriers to entry for buyers - you have to travel to the stadium, pick up tickets, etc.

FC

That prices fall (at least do not increase) is an equilibrium outcome. If they were to rise as game day approached, there would be opportunities for intertemporal arbitrage. Someone could buy them early at a low price and resell them for a profit on game day.

Gabe

I do not know if Sweeting has ever tried to sell tickets on Stubhub, but it gives you the option to have your tickets decline in price if you would like. I.e. if your tickets start at $100/ticket, then you can choose to have your tickets decline $5 (or any other number) per day for five days or however many days you want to before the event. This study is obviously capturing that noise from that feature.

Josh

So if enough people read this and wait until the last minute to purchase tickets, then the demand will be much higher eliminating the advantage everyone seeks.

justin

One of the writers at ESPN had an article a few years back about the optimal time to buy a superbowl ticket. The answer? Just after kickoff, when ticket prices are less than face, but most of the game is left.

Jason

"Sweeting's law" has been known for a long time. What he is seeing happen is the pricing of risk into the asset. You see this effect in all assets with a time horizon. Tickets just happen to have a very abrupt horizon, so the effect is more pronounced. Anywhere there are abrupt cutoffs, you should see this effect. An institutionalized case of this is flying on standby. It is a much more riskier way to fly for the passenger (what they risk is time) but cheaper than buying the tickets ahead of time.

Tickets have a cutoff point after which their return (or utility) drops to near zero for both parties. After the game has been played, the show shown, and the flight has flown, the tickets have effectively no value. The closer the potential buyer and potential seller get to that cutoff point, the less likely that a transaction will occur, therefore the more risky it is to hold that asset for sale.

Why does the return get more risky? Because risk of selling an asset with a fixed expiration date is chance/time/time passed (conceptually, not literally). For example: Lets say the tickets at current price have a 10% chance of being sold per day and we have ten days to sell it. In this case, it is easier to calculate the odds of it *not* being sold each day, which equals .9^9(or 1*.9^10) = 0.3486. Since the total odds must equal 1, the odds of the ticket being sold in the remaining 10 days is: 0.6514 or 65.14%. If we get to five days left without selling, our odds of selling the ticket has dropped to 40.95%. As we get closer to the cutoff date, our odds of selling the ticket in the remaining time approach 0 and our risk of holding the tickets accelerates higher. The only things the seller can really do to entice a buyer are: call attention to the offer and cut prices.

So why aren't there hordes of buyers to snatch up these discounted tickets? One reason is because people are naturally risk adverse, so demand over time is not constant. There is (in most cases) a finite supply of tickets. The longer you wait before buying a ticket, the fewer tickets that will be available. The fewer tickets available, the less likely he is going to be able to find a seller in the time remaining. The other reason is limited opportunity. People have other constraints on their time and can't always be there in order to get the best price, nor count on having time to engage in search for a seller. This is why people buy early, rather than wait for the last minute. So the pool of buyers gets ever smaller as the remaining time approaches zero.

Both buyer and seller get more eager to transact as the cutoff time approaches. As there is very poor information on the number of buyers remaining at any given price (normally), the sellers are at an information disadvantage as the time remaining dwindles. So the sellers cut prices to increase their possible pool of buyers. This is why the ticket price drops as the cutoff point gets near rather than eager buyers driving up the price or the price staying constant.

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tom

25 years, that's nothing. I live outside Cleveland. The Brown's last won in the 60s, the Indians in the 50s, the Cavs never. What a bunch of East coast whiners.

daprezjer

BTW, the even steeper drop off before 3 days is caused in part by tickets that have to be mailed, making the effective cut off date approximately three days prior.

whoanellie

My experience says this is true - I was surprised how cheap I was able to get good seats for Game 5 of the ALCS in 2006 less than a week before the game - although my deal was moot since the Tigers won it in 4 and my money was refunded.

Any research if games 5 & 6 are any cheaper because they may not be played? The same could be said for game 7, but if played is the "deciding" game so any deals are unlikely...?

NO Scalpers!

Aren't ticket scalpers a pseudo Cartel? From what I remember about my limited economic studies (Econ 101 & 2), was that a Cartel artificially sets high prices by controlling supply. My econ professor said that cartels do not work, because one member of the cartel will ultimately cheat and release too much supply into the market and break the agreement with other suppliers. I have ever since hearing that believe it.

In the sports ticket market, the break in the agreement happens after the game starts, and all "bets" are off. I attended Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS (bought my tickets online through the Yankees), and noticed many empty seats during the game in the upper deck - the game was "sold out". Was that an example of the Cartel working the way they intended? The effectively turned a 55k seat stadium into a 50k or even 45k seat stadium and arbitrarily set a high price for the game.

Am I missing something, or should professional ticket brokers be eliminated and sports teams should do more to prevent this cartel from existing?

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jacob

i have empiracal evidence to support that related to college football games tickets purchased 30 minutes before the game (at least for purchasing single tickets).

mfw13

I'll add to what MBAProf noted. Way back in 1985, my friends and I were able to buy Super Bowl tickets on the 30-yard-line for face value from the box office at Stanford Stadium fifteen minutes after kick-off that had been held for Miami Dolphins fans who never showed up.

Many venues still release unclaimed Will Call tickets for resale 15 or 30 minutes after an event starts.

Ann Wong

When to buy World Series tickets for us was LAST YEAR. I gave my son (then a freshman at UPenn) season tickets for the Phillies, and then purchased him post-season tix which we had first dibs on when they won the division. Of course, the Phillies were out in the first round. Frustrated and hurting financially, I did not give the same gift last Christmas. Phooey, rats, and darn! I will e-mail him this article - last time I checked the cheapest SRO ticket was $510!

Rich Wilson

#6 Because it was originally sponsored by a newspaper with "World" in the name.

And because most Americans assume that their professional championship team is the 'world champion'. Case in point, ask any American who the Basketball world champions are.

mbaprof

Having a ticket in advance has "value" as part of the total experience of attending a game. Being able to invite people, relax with a beer, etc is important.

For the 04 and 07 Series I bought tickets right before the game outside Fenway and via Craigslist. I got in relatively inexpensively but it was a lot of work and their was definate risk of not getting in at all. One of the reasons ticket prices drop at the end is that potential buyers give up and leave.

If you are willing to wait until gametime or thereafter, you should check the ticket windows. For the post season a large number of tickets are held back for teams and sponsors that get released at set intervals.

Kirilius

Why is it called "World"?

frankenduf

does scalping end @ gametime?- or are there uber cheap patrons who look to get in @ the 5th inning?!

amit

this isn't a striking fact. anyone that buys or sells scalper tickets knows this.

mt

dear Tyler:

Olympic Champions = US

World Champions = Spain

"World" Champions = Celtics

padraic

I bought scalped tickets at Fenway 2004. I found tickets to be at $1200 about 1 hour pregame - too expensive for me. I waited until just before the anthem and got 2 tickets for $600 each