Ticket Prices and Team Quality

The Kansas City Royals have raised ticket prices for next season by 15%. This announcement comes on the heels of another not-so stellar season. It also comes after taxpayers in Jackson County* approved a tax increase to help pay for renovations to Royals Stadium. So given that background, it’s no surprise that Royals senior vice president of business operations Kevin Uhlich has trotted out that good ol’ war horse:

Dayton Moore’s mission is to make this into a contending team again. We haven’t been to the playoffs in 22 years. To get back there, we needed to improve our international presence, our scouting, add minor-league teams. This requires money, and frankly, we couldn’t do that with our present budget.”

We sports economists are skeptical about such claims about the connection between ticket prices and player/scouting/etc. payroll. A more likely claim is that there is correlation between ticket prices and payroll, but no causal relationship. Both are driven by an increase in demand for the game. This increase pushes up ticket prices and it increases the demand for players etc. which, in turn, drives their salaries upward.

Colleagues Ken Park, Soonhwan Lee, and I have a paper that we are revising that looks at the long-run elasticity of ticket demand of individual baseball teams using an attendance time-series demand model for several Major League Baseball teams (rough draft here. I hope to have a revised draft up soon). We estimate the Kansas City Royals have a long-run elasticity of demand of 1.46. If so, then without an increase in the demand for tickets, an increase ticket prices generates less revenue for the team, not more.

So something doesn’t add up. Could it be that Kansas City is simply seeing a surge in demand for their games, a surge that seems to be league-wide for the most part, even given how poorly the Royals have played over the recent past (0.426 WPCT in 2007, 0.383 in 2006, and 0.346 in 2005 along with last-place finishes in the AL Central in each of those years)? They drew less than 18,000 fans per game in 2005 and 2006 but almost 20,000 fans per game in 2007. Could it be that they are simply adjusting their prices towards some equilibrium in response to a demand shift?

*Jon Meyers noted in the comments that it was the voters of Jackson County, Mo. that passed the tax increase to renovate Kaufmann Stadium, not Johnson County. I have made the correction and I thank Jon for noting my mistake.