After its very successful season this year, the Chicago Cubs immediately raised ticket prices and purged its season ticket holder lists, sending out letters to fans refusing to renew their accounts. Secondary ticketing blogs and bulletin boards immediately lit up with complaints from ticket brokers wondering how and why they were targeted for the purge. Surprisingly one of the dominant conspiracy theories advanced by the bloggers involves the partnership between Major League Baseball (MLB) and StubHub. Ticket brokers are theorizing that the Cubs were identifying them through their use of StubHub and using that information to terminate their accounts. According to a well-placed source at StubHub, the ticket brokers are correct. At the Cubs request, all information on the tickets listed for sale is given to the Cubs, including information such as the names and other personal details of the sellers.
In 2007 professional baseball entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with StubHub, a leading secondary ticketing marketplace. Under the five-year agreement, all 30 teams Web sites as well as MLB.com directed fans who wanted to sell tickets or buy them from other fans to Stubhub.com. The MLB was able to corner the ticketing market with this deal. They make money from the initial ticket sales, and then receive a piece of the action (50 percent) once a fan resells their unused tickets through StubHub. The deal is quite lucrative for the MLB and its teams, which by 2011 was receiving nearly $60 million per year from StubHub.
So why would the Cubs jeopardize the MLB’s relationship with ticket brokers?
Perhaps it has something to do with the Cubs 2013 offseason clash with StubHub. When the MLB and StubHub renewed their deal in 2012, the Cubs opted out of the deal, claiming that the relationship harmed their brand, and made fans less likely to buy tickets from the team. They questioned why a fan would buy a ticket for $75 in January for a June game when you can wait until June, and possibly end up paying just $1 on StubHub? The team and StubHub eventually resolved the issue with an agreement setting a floor for ticket prices as well as forcing StubHub to end ticket sales six hours prior to game time, when a surplus of tickets and lack of buyers forced prices to take a steep fall.
The Cubs really never wanted to do business with StubHub and ticket brokers, preferring instead to keep their ticket prices artificially hiked to “protect the brand”. The team’s ticket prices are the third highest in the league, despite their perpetually “cursed” seasons, and apparently they plan to keep it that way. As one ticket broker recently wrote on a blog, “the team is cancelling ticket broker accounts in an attempt to create artificial price floors on the marketplace. Most people think they are canceling our accounts because of price gouging, but in reality they are doing so to keep the prices of their crap games at ‘face value’ or higher, rather than pennies on the dollar on the marketplace.”
The Cubs did not respond to our requests for comment.
Baseball may be considered America’s pastime, but when it comes to the Cubs, ticket brokers and fans may feel that the American free market does not exist.
Next: Who are the ticket brokers being targeted for cancellations?
Darnell Goldson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-993-3906