No recession when it comes to Phillies' bottom line

Winning the title has sparked sales of Phillies merchandise despite the economic downturn.
Winning the title has sparked sales of Phillies merchandise despite the economic downturn.
Posted: March 31, 2009

TWO-HUNDRED eighty-seven percent.

It's the sort of value jump for a Philadelphia condo in the right neighborhood during the real estate boom.

It's the kind of raise Phillies slugger Ryan Howard has been asking for the past couple of years.

And it's the amount of increased sales in the Majestic Clubhouse Store, from November through February, over the same time span a year ago.

Even in a recession, this is what winning the first title in 25 years in Philadelphia means.

"It's been great," said Scott Brandreth, the club's merchandising director.

Almost as great as John Weber's news. He runs the ticket-sales department.

The team has sold more than 24,200 season tickets. That's already more than the 2004 record of just below 24,000, set when Citizens Bank Park opened with fanfare and free agents. It's more than a 17 percent increase over last season.

Already Weber and Co. has sold 2.6 million total tickets. That could spell doom for the single-season total attendance record of 3.422 million, set with last year's popular club as it strode into the playoffs for the second straight year.

"It's pretty spectacular," Weber admitted.

It's pretty good timing, too.

"We were so fortunate to have won this year, in the face of this economy," team president David Montgomery said. "I can't imagine things would be very much better."

The Phillies saw the signs last spring. After they purged the team of old blood midseason in 2006 then, nevertheless, made the playoffs in 2007 after a 13-year drought, they drew a surprising 114,000 in Clearwater for spring training.

"It all began last year at spring training," Montgomery said. "I can't believe the number of people who commit to us, who give up 3 or 4 vacation days and come to Clearwater. We know 80 percent of the people who attend games [in Clearwater], we know don't live here."

Of course, most of the people who bought tickets for regular-season games live close to Philadelphia. They visit the store, sure . . . but they really rack up the orders online.

Brandreth didn't have inclusive totals - such numbers are difficult to wrangle given the number of retail outlets, both storefront and in cyberspace - but consider this:

The top-selling single item over the past 4 months, he believes, is the "The Perfect Season" DVD, a montage of moments from the championship season. It was ready in December. At $19.95, 3,000 copies were sold in the Majestic Store alone. More than 50,000, total, have been sold.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean if the Phillies sold, say, 1,000 locker-room World Series hats at the ballpark store they have sold a total of 16,000 of those hats.

What it means is the team that delivered for Philly sports fans is getting paid back handsomely.

Vince Gennaro, author of "Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball," estimates a big-market team like the Phillies can expect as much as a $60 million income boost over 5 years after winning a World Series.

That estimate might be low in rabid Philadelphia.

Christmastime purchases provided a predictable peak for both the merchandise and the tickets, but Brandreth and Weber both report none of the usual lulls. For instance, Weber considered keeping his staff at home when a snowstorm locked up the region on Monday, March 2.

He didn't, and his staff received 800 calls that day.

The club cannot sell more than 3.6 million tickets, said Weber, whose 71 suites are all sold, again. With 50 sellouts in 81 dates last season, they came closer than ever to doing that. He expects at least as many sellouts this season, though only a few games are sold out now: the opener Sunday night, next Wednesday's afternoon game, the season finale on Oct. 4, and the weekend series June 12-14 when the Red Sox visit; a season-ticket order can still secure some of those dates.

Brandreth and Weber know they are selling in a small, precious window: Not only is the team winning, but the personalities on the club have connected with the town, across every demographic, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or financial status.

"The region identifies with this team," Weber said.

And it's willing to reach into its pocketbook to prove it.

Weber said the club restrained from gouging its title-starved fans, especially in light of the weakened economy. Ticket increases over 2007 were about 10 percent across the board - $2 or $3 - and 20 percent for the best seats (ostensibly, an increase premium buyers could afford).

Considering the Phillies' payroll increased about 20 percent, some ticket-price increase seemed inevitable.

That's a healthy increase, sure, but it is comparable to the Red Sox' 9.3 percent overall increase after their long-awaited World Series win in 2004. Given the absurd prices at the new Yankee Stadium, where the best single-game seats cost more than $2,500 - more than a moderate full Phillies season-ticket package - Phillies tickets seems like a bargain.

And the Yankees missed the playoffs.

"We know people are cutting things from their budgets," Montgomery said. "We're just happy to keep making the cut."

At 287 percent, they're more than making the cut. *

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