It was a few years ago that the Chicago Cubs became the first MLB team to incorporate variable ticket pricing. Which teams the Cubbies played, and when, determined how deep a fan had to reach into his or her pocket for a seat at Wrigley Field.

Today, about half the league’s teams have some form of variable pricing.

The New York Mets introduced their own “tier” system in 2003; when they play weak teams, the ticket prices are at their lowest. If you want to see the Mets play competitive teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies, you pay more.

Last year, 43 of the Mets home games were deemed “bronze or value” – the lowest ticket prices. For 2009, there are just 28 of those games, while nearly two-thirds of the games at spanking new Citi Field (four years ago, at Shea Stadium, it was less than half) have ticket prices higher than bronze because they are against storied rivals or playoff contenders or are on weekends – or because they’re in the summer as opposed to the chilly spring and fall months.

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The New York Yankees, surprisingly, don’t have variable pricing. A team spokesperson recently told the New York Times that “people come to see the Yankees and not the visiting club,” adding that “they want to see the stadium too. It’s just a different view.”

Overall, the Mets raised ticket prices 8.6 percent – against the tide of what many MLB teams have done. According to the just-released April 2009 Major League Baseball Team Marketing Research (TMR), 16 MLB teams either cut, maintained or raised ticket prices by less than 1 percent for 2009. Four others raised ticket prices by less than the MLB average of 5 percent.

The Mets average ticket price is $36.99, $10.35 above the MLB average.

David Newman, the Mets’ Senior Vice President for marketing and communications, told the Times that the club’s tier increases were based on the team’s recent successes (despite their September swoons the past two years) and the high demand to see the new ballpark, Citi Field. Not only does Citi have more amenities than did Shea, it seats about 12,000 fewer fans.

Newman also said that the higher tier pricing has not affected sales, claiming the Mets are on track to sell twice as many individual game tickets as compared to 2008, when accounting for Citi’s smaller size.

The TMR study not only computes average ticket prices across the league’s 30 teams, but then determines, for each team, a Fan Cost Index to provide an idea of what it truly costs a family of four to attend a game.

Regarding average ticket price across all 30 MLB teams, TMR reports it at $26.64, up the aforementioned 5 percent from last year. The “average ticket price” does not include so-called premium seats (determined, by the way, by each club). The range includes a high of $72.97 for the New York Yankees to a low of $14.31 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. For each team’s premium seats, the MLB average is $96.93, from a low average of $36.50 for the Colorado Rockies to a $510.08 average for the Yanks – more than double the next highest average premium ticket price, $239.43 for the Chicago Cubs. (To be fair, 31 percent of the Yankees premium seats sell for $135 or less.)

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In a recent Associated Press survey of MLB fans, when respondents were given four choices as to what baseball’s biggest problem was – players make too much, steroids/other drugs, games too long – 45 percent chose the fourth: “It costs too much to attend a game.”