Yesterday, I wrote a report about the 2024 US Olympic Swimming Trials in Indianapolis and the sleepy ticket sales so far for the sport’s first foray into a football stadium.
When I began gathering the data for that article, it wasn’t intended to be a treatise on ticket prices, but it became one as the feedback from Twitter users was, generally, that the tickets were way too expensive and that was making it harder for families to justify the cost to attend if their kids weren’t actually racing in the meet.
USA Swimming swung for the fences by putting the US Olympic Trials in a football stadium. So far, the response has been tepid.
Did you go in 2012/2016/2021? Have you bought your 2024 tickets yet? If not, what's keeping you from pulling the trigger? Cost? View? Travel? https://t.co/fTIp218SMa
— Braden Keith (@Braden_Keith) August 20, 2023
One user, Peter Moore, a swim guy who works in Finance, floated the idea that is was “price discrimination,” that the plan all along was to capture the people willing to pay early, then to lower the prices as the event comes closer. And that idea makes sense coming from the most capitalist of industries. That game, though, is dangerous in a sport managed by non-profits, where goodwill is the primary asset for your continued existence. Peter likewise acknowledged later in the thread that aggressive price discrimination here could backfire.
The early purchasers are:
- your biggest donors, and
- the families of your best athletes.
Those are two groups who could, rightfully, feel as though they were hustled if ticket prices drop substantially down the line. The current prices have skyrocketed from past Trials meets in a basketball arena in Omaha. The worst seats in Indy (which are significantly worse than the worst seats in Omaha) cost almost as much as the almost-best seats in Omaha.
While paying $200 for a family of four to attend a sporting event is, now, closer to the norm than not, the challenge is the run of swimming. If I’m local to Indy, I would absolutely shell out $50/ticket to take my family to a finals session. One final session. I’d love if those seats weren’t 600 level seats, but I’d probably do that. If I’m traveling, though, and investing in the trip and the hotel room, I’m going for at least 3 nights, and that’s when the costs really start to spiral.
I think it's price discrimination 101: They threw out crazy prices for the first limited float of tickets to see if some people would pay. Some did. I'll wait until they release the rest of the tickets and supply-demand kicks in.
— Peter Moore (@moorecases) August 21, 2023
Perhaps there’s still a flood of 20,000 people waiting to fill Lucas Oil Stadium, and this won’t be a problem come March or April next year. But, based on conversations I’m having, it seems more-than-likely that the flood isn’t coming.
As discussed in yesterday’s article, depending on the cost of Lucas Oil, this could still be a net-winner for USA Swimming financially. But there’s another goodwill risk if the meet feels flat because of a cavernous, half-of-a-half-full stadium. The meets in Omaha brought a new level of excitement, full of fans, with roars unlike most have ever heard at a swim meet injecting energy into the environment.
And I don’t know if that’s a cost, but it costs something.
So how can we balance those things? The likely need to reduce prices to fill the arena, and the goodwill?
The idea is pretty straightforward: offer USA Swimming member clubs tickets to sell as fundraisers. Basically, give clubs access to the tickets at a big discount, and let them resell to their members as a markup to raise money.
600 level tickets currently run for about $500 for a full-session pass. Offer USA Swimming clubs access to those tickets for $200, and then they can sell to members for $350. USA Swimming wins, the meet wins, the clubs win, the families win. And because the tickets are a “different thing,” a fundraiser, not pure capitalism, and ‘part of the mission,’ you reduce the risk of hurt feelings.
The first-level benefits of this plan are pretty straight-forward. We can quibble about what the right dollar amount is, but I think on a surface level, it just works.
But here’s how this fits into the bigger picture:
Remember Riley Overend’s report about teams exploring moving vast swaths of their membership to AAU, which is cheaper and generally easier than USA Swimming new SWIMS rollout?
USA Swimming’s general pushback on that idea, behind closed doors, has been to remind their stakeholders that AAU can offer cheaper rates because the’re not responsible for funding the US National Team. USA Swimming is pushing a narrative that if teams leave, USA Swimming takes a hit, but so do the heroes of the sport.
This would be a magnificent reminder to those clubs about the connections to the Olympians that USA Swimming provides. The access, the appearances, the autograph sessions, the pipeline.
At a moment where USA Swimming needs a win with its member clubs, and where USA Swimming really needs to remind the sport of their prestige and cachet, offering a fundraiser that the AAU could never, offering a connection to the Olympics, which is the dream that fills up swim teams, is more valuable than any ticket.