In this section, we analyze the pricing strategies adopted by Italian football and basketball teams. The objective of this analysis is to understand what considerations guide sports teams in determining their pricing policies. To obtain data for our analysis, we conducted a survey of all 17 “Serie A” basketball clubs and all 20 “Serie A” football clubs between February and June 2020. The survey focuses on the elements the sports clubs consider when implementing their pricing policies, the ticketing strategies they adopted (fixed pricing, variable pricing, and revenue management), and the reasons behind their choices. Overall, 11 basketball clubs and 9 football clubs replied to the survey, representing an overall response of 54% (65% for the basketball market and 45% for the football market). The basketball clubs surveyed represent 65% of the Italian basketball market’s total seating capacity. The football clubs represent 42% of the Italian football market’s seating capacity. This survey is thus a relatively comprehensive survey of pricing practices in football and basketball tickets in Italy.
The 2019–2020 season was interrupted in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this early termination does not affect our analysis since the pricing strategies were decided and developed beforehand. Details about the professionals who replied to our survey are provided in Table 2.
We begin our analysis by exploring the factors the sport clubs considered when determining their prices. We identify three broad groups of pricing practices: fixed pricing: prices are uniform and price segmentation occurs only via seating position and age-based discounts; variable pricing: prices vary depending on one or more segmentation variables reflecting willingness to pay: quality of the host team, weather forecast, day of the week, proximity to festivities, and others; revenue management: prices vary depending on segmentation variables (as above) and time of purchase: price fluctuates in response to demand changes during the on-sale period.
Revenue management represents the most developed and innovative strategy as it attempts to maximize revenue and attendance at the same time. Table 3 synthesizes the elements considered by the basketball and football clubs that answered the survey.
Table 3 and Figs. 1 and 2 highlight the approaches football and basketball clubs follow in their pricing policies. Variable pricing comes in two shapes: variable pricing based on host team quality and variable pricing based on host team quality and game time. Revenue management, finally, considers several variables and adjusts ticket prices according to game demand.
From Table 3 and Fig. 2, it is clear that the basketball market considers revenue management as too sophisticated since only one team adopts this strategy. All of the basketball clubs analyzed adjust their prices based on the different experiences offered by the distinct seating options. Most of them adopt discounted fares to attract certain groups of customers, especially children. The basketball clubs that decided to adopt the fixed pricing strategy are guided by many different reasons. Some chose this pricing strategy because season tickets account for a high percentage of total seats sold: the potential benefits of revenue management are clearly more limited for clubs that sell a large share of tickets in advance.
The majority of basketball clubs implement variable pricing. As shown in Fig. 2, this strategy considers two variables: host team quality and the time of the game. Surprisingly, only six out of the 11 surveyed basketball teams consider host team quality, an element that affects game demand, and only four out of these six consider other elements (e.g., game time) as well. Moreover, 18% of the basketball clubs that initially analyzed host team quality decided not to include this variable in their pricing policies. Only one basketball club applies revenue management: variables considered include the host team quality, game attractiveness, day of the week, game time, time of the year, and concurrence with other events. Prices vary substantially all the way up to game time.
Pricing practices adopted by football teams are, on average, far more sophisticated. Our analysis, based on data from 9 out of 20 “Serie A” teams, provides the following insights: As Table 3 and Fig. 3 show, revenue management is quite common in football, with three out of the nine teams adopting revenue management. Interestingly, none of the football teams applies fixed pricing: football clubs thus seem to be highly aware of the importance of identifying factors that influence customer willingness to pay. Of the teams analyzed, 56% implement variable pricing that considers host team quality and reputation, and only 11%—one club—include game time as well.
As indicated, 33% of the teams implement revenue management. In practice, the teams divide the on-sale period into different intervals and choose the price ranges applied in each interval. Therefore, prices do not fluctuate freely during the on-sale period. Clubs apply this strategy because it allows teams to analyze different variables and to exploit customers’ willingness to pay by learning from the experience of prior periods. The variables that are considered include host team quality, historic attendance of similar games, partnerships with the host team, day of the week, weather forecast, and available TV coverage.