Frank Coonelly: Pirates Plan Payroll Increase, Ticket “Price Adjustments”

PNC Park Pirates Fans

Not surprisingly, the price to see a game at PNC Park is expected to go up next year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates plan to increase their Major League payroll next season, team president Frank Coonelly told Pirates Prospects.

The team has raised overall salary for its MLB players by about $9 million per year each of the last three years, according to a “strategic plan” for payroll Coonelly discussed in a one-on-one interview.

“Our plans that we’ve put in place a year, two years ago, have us showing another meaningful increase in 2014,” Coonelly said.

The Pirates have guaranteed $42.45 million in contracts next season including options for Pedro Alvarez and Wandy Rodriguez, according to our estimates. We estimate the Pirates will spend about $71.4 million on this year’s Major League team.

The payroll would include salary increases for players like Neil Walker, Vin Mazzaro and Mark Melancon entering arbitration years for the first time, as well as current arbitration-eligible players like Gaby Sanchez, Garrett Jones and Charlie Morton due for a pay raise in 2014.

Break Out the Price Chart

PNC Park

This view will be a bit more pricey over the next few seasons. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pittsburgh’s expected payroll increase would correspond with the team taking in its share of a more lucrative national television contract, along with expecting to receive more money from ticket sales, in prices and attendance.

“We’re gonna lay out a plan to incrementally get ourselves back towards where we need to be, competitive with the Cincinnati’s, the Milwaukee’s, the St. Louis’ of the world,” Coonelly said. “Going into 2014, we’ll continue that path, which is not large jumps, but moving us towards our industry foes.”

In short: you will almost certainly see higher seat prices at PNC Park next season, which should not be surprising in a year following a pennant race. Coonelly stressed that fans who purchase a 20-game, half-season or full season ticket plan will receive a “larger discount relative to the individual game buyer.” But the cost to fans is expected to go up.

Coonelly said the Pirates remain 26th of the league’s 30 teams in average cost to see a game, feels it is very difficult to be competitive with some of MLB’s lowest ticket prices and that the team did not make any significant “price adjustments” between PNC Park’s opening in 2001 and 2011.

“It took us 10 years to dig this hole,” Coonelly said. “And there are many reasons why we dug it for 10 years, some of which I was involved with, some decisions made I was involved with, some that I wasn’t involved with.”

He does not expect massive price hikes right away, though.

“We’re not going to try to get to where we need to get to in one year,” Coonelly said.

Five other important points:

  • Coonelly projects the Pirates to sell close to 2.3-million tickets in 2013, approaching the record of 2,464,870 from┬áPNC Park’s inaugural season (which he expects they will break next year). He is also confident that fans this season will beat the stadium record of 19 sellouts set that year. The team has already sold more tickets than it did all of last year, he said.
  • The season ticket base grew “by over 15 percent” last offseason, and the Pirates will look for it to continue to increase.
  • PNC Park will not add temporary seats for playoff games. “Our footprint is what it is,” Coonelly said. “And we want our fans to be comfortable.”
  • The Pirates are not planning to expand the crowded main concourse. Instead, they are looking at improvements similar to right field’s Budweiser Bowtie Bar, in which the concourse went “over the Riverwalk a little further than it was” to make room for the new drinking area.
  • Coonelly could not project how much revenue the Pirates would receive from each playoff game in which they play. “Too many variables” exist, he said. Those include: who the Pirates play (because Dodger Stadium would draw a larger gate than Great American Ball Park), other team’s postseason prices and how many games are played by every team. Under the CBA, much of the ticket revenue goes into a “players’ pool.”

Here’s how it works: the players’ pool consists of 50 percent of the gate receipts from the Wild Card Round, plus 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first three games of each division series, the first four games of each championship series and the first four games of the World Series.

And this is what the players get from that pool of ticket sales, according to the union —

  1. World Series-winning team: 36 percent
  2. World Series loser: 24 percent
  3. League Championship Series losers (two teams): 12 percent each
  4. Division Series losers (four teams): 3.25 percent each
  5. Wild Card game losers (two teams): 1.5 percent each

Going deep into the postseason would not just be lucrative for Pirates’ ownership but also the players. Last year each full-share player on the Wild-Card-losing Atlanta Braves earned about $19,600, which each one on the World Champion San Francisco Giants earned about $377,000.

Nice cash if you can win it.

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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