When single game football tickets go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, for the first time, they will be priced dynamically. Last Monday, Cal athletics announced a partnership with Qcue (pronounced QQ), a sports pricing software provider, for football and men’s basketball tickets.
Despite its positive connotations, dynamic essentially means that the prices can and will change — and not necessarily for the better. According to Ashwin Puri, Cal’s associate athletic director for sales, marketing and service, Cal does not expect to lower prices at all. So far, some tickets are already more expensive.
Cal athletics has never had variable or dynamic pricing before, Puri said. In years past, single game ticket prices would go on sale and, aside from promotions and deals, prices would remain stagnant. Similarly, the starting price for each game was the same. That’s not the case anymore with Qcue.
The first company to establish dynamic pricing in professional sports analyzes statistics and data to determine market levels and price according to supply and demand.
“Dynamic pricing gives teams the flexibility to adjust prices to reflect the market,” said Dan Meehan, Qcue’s director of pricing and operations. “It allows teams to gather information and adjust ticket prices relative to demand, making incremental changes leading up to each event that increase revenues, promote sales in specific sections, boost attendance and much more.”
For all intents and purposes, Cal’s variable pricing means bigger games that more people are likely to attend — and buying more tickets for — will be priced at a higher level. That’s why tickets for this season’s games against rival Stanford and reigning Rose Bowl champ Oregon have a baseline cost of $75, while the five remaining games all currently have tickets that range from $25 to $45.
But again, those prices can — and will likely — fluctuate. And not by a dollar or two at a time, according to Puri, but perhaps by $10 increments. “We’ll be fairly aggressive in going up,” he said.
The opponent and the history of that program clearly matter, but day, time and weather are all other factors that could determine a fluctuation in price, according to Puri.
“We don’t want to make decisions based on gut — that’s what decisions would be without (Qcue),” he said. “(It) measures the secondary market, measures what Cal tickets are being sold at.”
While pricing varies for each game and its own unique factors, Meehan said that typically the best deals for single game tickets will be found early. “With most of our clients, pricing strategies are put in place that encourage fans to buy early and save,” he said. Prices for season tickets and partial plans will not fluctuate, and they will remain the best rates.
Cal is the second college to utilize dynamic pricing, Puri said, and the first with Qcue (South Florida used a different company to price its football games last year). That’s partly because software-based dynamic pricing is relatively new. Qcue — armed with what Meehan calls “a deep roster of economists and statisticians with vast industry and consulting experience” — partnered with the San Francisco Giants in 2009. After “seeing the returns” of the Giants, Meehan said, now half of all MLB teams use Qcue.
But ticket sales for baseball — with its 81-game home schedule, pitching matchups and long winning streaks — are completely different than a college football season. As such, other schools will be watching to see how Cal’s ticket-selling fares.
“We’ll certainly monitor Cal’s venture into this arena as we would any ticket initiative introduced by one of our Pac-12 partner schools,” said Evan Flagg, UCLA’s director of ticket sales.
Stanford’s assistant athletic director of ticket sales, Rich Muschell, is also interested in Cal’s experiment — though he admits it’s not a novel approach. “It’s not a new concept,” he said, “it’s a new way of doing it.”
Like other schools, Stanford uses variable pricing for its football games. Last year, there were three tiers of prices: The most expensive tilt was the Big Game, while the middle tier consisted of games against prestigious foes USC and Notre Dame. The approach is similar to dynamic pricing, just not with the statistical nature of a company like Qcue. Likewise, Stanford, as with many schools, lowers prices for “soft” games — the difference from Cal’s Qcue dynamic pricing being that the cost will rise for hotter games.
“I don’t know if that works; it might be the greatest things since sliced bread,” Muschell said. “I salute them for taking a shot.”