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Want season tickets to your favorite MLB team? Good luck

Baseball season is almost here, which means teams will be pushing their season ticket packages. We walk you through the boons and banes of buying those packages.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

I'm a die-hard Yankees fan and a season ticket holder for the most storied franchise in sports history. I've been buying the tickets online through the Yankees' "My Yankees" pane that it operates with Ticketmaster. Until now, I was happy with my package of games and the affordable seats I got.

But 2009 is a different story. The Yankees have a new stadium, higher pricing, and a relocation process that has caused Yankees fans to question the motives of their favorite team.

Right now, there are season ticket holders with seniority dating back more than five years that are still waiting for their season tickets, while others, who do have seats, have been moved from the infield to the upper deck. The main reason: Yankees brass decided to use the Web as their main source of adding new season ticket holders, which combined with more people wanting to see the new stadium, created demand that caught team officials off guard.

"As it turned out, we had an unexpected number of fans who wanted the full season, not dropping down because of the economy, but going up," Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost told Newsday in an interview. "We didn't expect there would be such a demand for fulls and we have to salvage 6,000 or 7,000 seats a game for general sale."

To address concerns, the Yankees are now offering "premium seats" to displaced season ticket holders or newcomers for $325 per game for a full season package and $350 per game in a partial season plan. Those seats are located "dugout to dugout" just above field level. Good seats. But there's one problem: last year, a comparable seat in the old Yankee stadium behind home plate was selling for $100.

There's a lot of blame to go around. Some say that the Yankees shouldn't have been so "greedy" in their attempt to add more season ticket holders, while others are saying that it's the relatively recent availability of season tickets online that has substantially reduced the barriers to entry and made it possible for so many people to quickly and easily buy season packages.

Nowhere are both arguments more pronounced than in the place where the fervor started in the first place: online forums. As of this writing, NYYfans.com forum has a 177-page thread on the relocation process dating back to 2007. On average, more than 30 concerned fans are adding comments to that forum each day.

Are the Yankees alone?

With under two months until the season starts, now is the time for most teams in the Major League to start making their big pushes for season tickets. Season ticket holders are important to any team because they basically guarantee cash for a certain number of games before the season even starts. That's precisely why the Web is such a key component in ticket distribution across Major League Baseball: Ease of use translates into more revenue.

I ventured around the league (online) to find out if fans in other cities were having as much trouble as Yankees fans trying to get season tickets and good seats. Fortunately, the Yankees debacle looks like an isolated event.

The New York Mets
Don't worry, I'll get away from New York, but I would be remiss if I didn't compare the situation in the Bronx to that in Queens. The Mets also have a new stadium this year (Citi Field) and went through a relocation process, like the Yankees.

Not only is that process over, leaving most season ticket holders happy with the seats they got, but you can now go to the team's page and buy tickets for as little as $1,500 for the entire year. That's impossible in Yankee Stadium.

Unlike the Yankees, though, the Mets didn't rely on Ticketmaster to handle ticket purchasing and instead opted for an internal service that made buying and receiving tickets quick and easy. It was a treat to use, compared to the Yankees' offering.

San Francisco Giants
Quick and easy when you buy Giants tickets. Don Reisinger/CNET Networks

The San Francisco Giants
I was shocked by how affordable Giants tickets are. Some of the best seats in the stadium are priced at just $41, which means an entire season package will cost just $3,444.

The Giants don't use Ticketmaster either to handle all their ticket sales and instead take care of that with a proprietary system. I found it simple and easy (most of these services are) and in a matter of seconds, I was able to find the best available seats in any location and buy the seats. Once again, the Yankees were beaten.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays were the joke of the league up until last year and the team's high season ticket prices reflect their sudden rise in stature.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays make buying tickets too difficult. Don Reisinger/CNET Networks

Unlike some other teams that only offer full season packages, the Rays take a page out of the Yankees ticket handbook and offer different packages for those who want weekend or weekday games only. Buying season tickets to the Rays is more costly than what you can get from the Giants, and the team's most expensive plan will set you back a whopping $12,400 for the best seats in the house.

The Rays use the same annoying Ticketmaster software to sell tickets that the Yankees employ, which requires you to sign up for a "My Rays" account and then get down to the business of buying tickets. It takes longer and isn't nearly as simple as the process offered by the Giants, but eventually, I was able to pick seats and start the process of buying them. It could have been much easier though.

Boston Red Sox
Much to my surprise, the Red Sox have sold out the team's entire inventory of tickets and its season ticket pane isn't even available on the site. If you're a Red Sox fan, there are still some single game tickets available and buying them is made easy thanks to the Red Sox's own ticketing service, which allows the team to take care of all facets of the ticket-selling process instead of relying on Ticketmaster to get the job done.

The great ticketing debate

What's the best way to handle ticketing for season ticket holders? Based on my testing, it works best if teams handle all transactions instead of using an outside firm like Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster adds too many steps and makes the process too slow. Plus, thanks to its wonky "queuing" system, it will lock you out of season tickets for some time during periods of heavy use. And when there's such high demand for tickets, as we have seen in Yankee Stadium, problems quickly arise. I didn't experience any such issues with the team-controlled systems.

But this whole discussion is underscored by an important point that can't be overlooked: the Web is making it easier than ever to buy season tickets for your favorite sports teams, regardless of the tool those teams use to sell those tickets to you.

Years ago, buying season tickets required calling a team's ticket office or standing in line at the team's respective stadium to pick up seats. The barriers to entry were higher and the possibility of demand outstripping supply was drastically reduced.

But as Yankees fans have realized, the Web has eliminated those physical barriers and anyone can sign up for season ticket plans--and push a person sitting in the infield to the upper deck in one short year. The Internet has claimed another commercial victim. This time, it's the fan who wants affordable seats at their local Major League ballpark.