There may be no better application of behavioral economics than ticket prices. And in the lab that we call “the sports market,” there may be no better opportunity to see behavior and emotion driving economics than this year’s World Series.
The Cleveland Indians clinched their first World Series in 19 years and will play the long-suffering Chicago Cubs, who joined their first Fall Classic in 71 years by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers. Between the two teams, there is a combined World Series win-drought of 176 years. As a result, 2016 might see the highest demand for World Series tickets in history.
While no team has suffered more under the weight of loss than the Cubs, no city has endured more than Cleveland. Between the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks, Chicago has won more championships than most cities can dream about. Cleveland, on the other hand, has been ring-poor for decades. What started with LeBron James and the Cavaliers winning the city’s first championship since 1964 has now moved to Progressive Field.
In the process, the Believe-land story has gone national. One of the most memorable sights from the American League Championship Series was LeBron and the other members of the Cavaliers having a lot of fun as the city’s self-appointed cheerleading squad. For Cleveland, two rings in a span of six months would be a lifetime’s worth. One of the most popular Cleveland sports blogs is called Waiting for Next Year, and after generations of waiting—during which the world dramatically changed for the worse for many Clevelanders—it seems next year is finally here. And people don’t want to miss out.
The average list price for a ticket to the four World Series games held in Cleveland is currently over $3,000. Prior to the Cubs winning the pennant, it was the most expensive home average for a World Series ever tracked. The Indian’s reign, however, lasted only two days. It will now cost an average of over $6,000 to see one of the three games at Wrigley Field. The cheapest ticket is going for $2,000, and it doesn’t even come with a seat. To put the Cubs’ average prices in context, it’s more expensive than every Super Bowl over the last six years.
In a world where fans have come to instantly expect everything on their phone, whether it’s statistics, videos, or Twitter, winning sports championships may be the last thing that consumers can’t control. Despite that reality, fans continue to invest irrational amounts of time, money, and emotion based on what happens between the lines. For many fans, sports teams are the closest they’ll come to the kind of tribal community that has allowed humans to survive and evolve into our current form. In the modern world, that connection is harder and harder to find and that’s why rational thinking often doesn’t apply to the cost of sports tickets.
In his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger says “Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.” Winning, by definition, makes a team and its city necessary. It means they’re the best, the standard against which all competitors have to measure themselves. For a city that has been on the wrong side of the economic evolution over the last 60 years, the Indians’ first pennant in 19 years is about much more than a World Series. It’s about a city regaining pride in itself, which is very hard not to root for, even if it means that the Cubs will have to wait for next year.