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Big Ideas In The Empath Economy #5: You Can’t Spin A $16 Ballpark Beer…


Over the last week, the Washington Nationals have been catching a lot of news over their craft beer prices for this season, both bad and really bad.

The pricing of this product is alarming at the start of the season, but it is part of a trend that has been taking hold for many years now of trying to squeeze every dollar out of a consumer, every time.

A few weeks back, Seth Godin talked about a conversation he had with Bill Graham, the famous concert promoter. Seth talks about asking Bill about why he wasn’t charging more for Bruce Springsteen tickets at one of his venues.

The reply was pretty telling, especially today, in that Bill Graham said that he could absolutely charge people more for the ticket today, but if he took all of their money at once…what would he be left with.

This is something Seth called playing “the infinite game.”

In the context of Seth’s story, we can examine the pricing of sports, entertainment, or performing arts in the context of whether or not you are nurturing a community or whether or not you are taking part in a transaction.

I’ve gone back and forth on this, if you are Bruce Springsteen, maybe you want to play “the finite game.” In fact, he probably is playing a finite game with his Broadway run. He’s charging maximum dollar for the shows.

He also is likely calculating that he is likely nearing an age where he might not be able to cash out like this much longer and wants to maximize his revenue any way possible.

Compare that to a band like Pearl Jam that has spent the past 26+ years playing the “infinite game” of nurturing, building, and maintaining a fan base that gives them a good living, but which they never max out the revenue upon.

Or, if you want to go back further, check the Grateful Dead.

Which brings us back to sports.

Over the last few years, we have seen the prices of everything around sports and a night at the stadium attempt to be maxed out.

We’ve seen ticket prices at the box office race up in an effort to compete with the listed pricing on the secondary market.

We’ve seen prices on food and beverage race up to the point that taking your family to a game becomes less of an experience about having fun and about juggling your finances to make sure you can afford it.

We’ve seen the prices of merchandise rise to the point where people scoff at spending $40 on a hat for thier kid that they are going to outgrow in 6 weeks.

Alone, you might grumble and moan.

Together, you can see the impact on the games, attendance, and attention in the declining real attendance and declining ratings.

Sure, the revenues and numbers that are still announced would lead someone looking at the numbers to think that things are healthy or in a lull, but when you take a more holistic accounting of the situation and the cultural relevance of sports and entertainment, it is a cause for alarm.

That leads back to the empathy economy.

In the empathy economy, you have to ask the question: if I were charged $16 for a Budweiser product, how would I feel?

My guess is that you wouldn’t feel too happy.

Neither would I.