The Phillies are a bust on the field, but they are showing signs of life in another area: selling tickets.
The last-place team listed three games in May on the e-commerce site Groupon with lower-than-normal prices. The team would not disclose how many tickets it sold, but did say that 70 percent were bought by new customers, who are now in the Phillies database.
The team has also used "variable" pricing for several years based on the game's importance. With the prices set before the season, the same seat costs more if the game is against a marquee team or on a prime weekend than it would for a mid-week game against a lesser opponent. Prices for 10 games were bumped up, with 10 lowered.
Many teams are also using a newer concept, called "dynamic" pricing, in which the cost of a team-sold ticket rises or falls with supply and demand during the season. The Phillies use only a bit of dynamic pricing now, with their lowest-priced tickets sometimes dropping from $20 to $17 on the day of the game. This past week, the team - in a bit of dynamic pricing - offered a special of two tickets for $27 in anticipation of the Tuesday debut of pitcher Aaron Nola, who wears No. 27. But the team will consider using the dynamic pricing tactic more in 2016 or 2017.
The burden of moving Phillies home tickets falls to John Weber, Chris Pohl, and their team. They are using some, though not all, the latest data-crunching tools, devices, and sales tactics, along with old-school human conversations.
"We need to figure out all the ways to get tickets into our customers' hands, as they want to receive them," said Pohl, the Phillies' director of ticket technology and development. He reports to Weber, who is vice president for ticket sales and operations.
On the field, there is dismay. The Phillies' record is the worst in the major leagues.
The team sold 45,549 tickets to the season opener, against the Boston Red Sox, but averaged 24,831 tickets for 48 homes games through Wednesday.
The announced crowd of 17,097 at the April 23 game against Miami was the lowest since Citizens Bank Park opened for the 2004 season.
"They are doing a great job, under the circumstances," said John Middleton, one of the Phillies' principal owners, speaking on June 29 after the news conference introducing the new team president, Andy MacPhail. "If you look at the attendance here from 2008 to 2012, it was phenomenal. . . . One of the great things about Philadelphia is the passionate fans. I have to worry about putting the right product on the field, so that is priority 1, 2, and 3. There are people in other cities that have got the team and then they worry, 'How do I sell it?' I don't have that problem."
The Phillies still print on heavy paper most season tickets, of which they have sold about 12,500 per game, down about 15,000 from their high-water mark, along with tickets for groups. (The Eagles, with many fewer games, opted in 2014 to stop printing season tickets unless fans made a specific request because they lack access to the Internet or a printer.)
The Phillies still have humans at ticket booths, especially in the hours before a game, and will happily take cash for a ticket. But, like all teams, they prefer to sell and distribute tickets through various digital formats because they save money and collect data from credit card purchases through the Internet and mobile phone apps. All tickets, including those bought over a smartphone, come with bar codes that are read by scanners at the turnstile and help with tracking.
So if you live in central New Jersey and have attended games against the Mets in Philadelphia, you might get an e-mail in advance about the next Mets series at Citizens Bank Park.
In 2014, the Phillies sold about 800,000 individual-game tickets, Weber said. About 300,000 of those went to groups and about 150,000 to people walking up on the day of the game. About 350,000 tickets were sold over the phone or the Internet and of those, about 275,000, nearly 80 percent, were printed at home. The rest were downloaded to smartphones, a figure that is growing as more people become comfortable with the devices.
In 2013, the Phillies merged their main ticketing system with tickets.com, an online subsidiary of Major League Baseball Advanced Media. MLBAM has become so good at processing data, live video streaming, and selling tickets and products through its websites and apps that it reportedly generated $100 million in outside business.
The Phillies have 31 full-time staff members devoted to selling tickets. Unlike some teams, the Phillies do not use commissions for sales staff.
"We do more with bonuses based on overall totals, just because if the individual salesperson needs to take an hour to solve a problem for a customer or explain something, I want that hour taken," Weber said.
Teams still dislike scalpers, but MLB struck a deal with Stub Hub to be the official secondary source for tickets.
"It's reality," Weber said. "You'd better embrace it, or you will be left behind."
When MLBAM upgraded its Ballpark app for this season, the San Francisco Giants were among the first six adopters. The Phillies are now live on the updated app, too, which is meant to increase mobile ticketing for the primary sale, seat transfers, upgrades, and storing value for the sake of buying concessions and souvenirs.
The Giants are among many MLB teams that in recent years have started using "dynamic" pricing for all individual game tickets. Travelers know dynamic pricing from booking airline tickets, whose prices change based on supply and demand.
Dynamic pricing and in-game upgrades (the next frontier) are easier to stomach when your tickets are in great demand because the team is winning, and the Giants have won three of the last five World Series, all while use of mobile phones and data analytics has soared.
"One difference when you compare us to an airline is that our product changes," Weber said. "The airline always goes from point A to point B. With us, are we winning eight games in a row or are we losing eight games in a row? Eventually, we'll probably get there, but we're not there now."