Lake Olmstead Stadium has filled to near capacity several times already this season and as the Augusta GreenJackets approach the weekend portion of their longest homestand, more big crowds are expected.
But as the seats filled up one night two weeks ago, a rare occurrence forced the team to take drastic measures and close its gates to ticket holders.
Call it a perfect storm on a night when beautiful weather was partially to blame. As I’ve described in a past blog post, minor league baseball teams report paid attendance numbers (tickets sold) as opposed to actual attendance (people in seats). This is a common practice, though it’s not usually an accurate indication of how many people attended a game.
Knowing that “tickets sold” don’t always translate into “actual attendance,” the team’s front office made the rare move of selling more tickets (thousands more) to the Friday, June 15 game than they had seats available. This came at the request of the game night sponsor,Shepeard Community Blood Center, according to GreenJackets general manager Bob Flannery.
The basic background to all this is that Shepeard bought up thousands of general admission tickets (at a discounted rate) to the Friday night game and gave them to anyone who donated blood in the weeks leading up to the game. Apparently thousands (many, many thousands) more general admission tickets were given to blood donors than the 2,500 (maximum) the stadium can actually hold, with both team and sponsor assuming that an overwhelming majority of the tickets would go unused.
The GreenJackets aren’t the only team to use this strategy, though this is the most extreme case I’ve ever seen. In describing the plan to me, Flanney used the analogy of airlines overbooking a flight knowing that it’s unlikely all booked passengers will show up.
But then the GreenJackets won 9 of 11 games leading up to the big night. School let out. Perfectly clear skies and temperatures in the upper 70s descended on the ballpark. The event was advertised heavily throughout the area in print, television, online and radio ads. Suddenly it seemed like all of Augusta wanted to go to a baseball game. They did.
Box seats and reserved seating never sold out, but the general admission areas (the grandstands down the first- and third-base lines) were slammed full before the third inning. Flannery, who to his credit makes it a regular practice to make himself available to fans, planted himself at the front of the gates and prepared to deliver some unpleasant news. The team stopped letting fans with general admission tickets into the game. Yes, the tickets were paid for by the sponsor and the fans had them in hand as they arrived at the stadium ready to watch some baseball. But they still weren’t allowed in. There simply wasn't any more room.
Flannery told me about 150 people were turned away on a night when the reported attendance fell just shy of 6,000. They were given the option to purchase tickets to the reserved or box seats sections (at full price), which would have allowed them to get into the game. Flannery also said people who were initially stopped at the gate were allowed to go in if anyone who had already entered the stadium left.
Obviously, airlines who do this type of ticket sales strategy (and I think all of them do), are able to maximize their profits and fill all the seats but end up with some irate customers because of it. A few not-so-happy GreenJackets fans contacted me with a similar level of frustration, which is why I felt it necessary to share this story, explain what happened and let them know that their tickets still have value through the team's exchange policy.
Travelers bumped by the airlines are entitled to some type of reimbursement, and GreenJackets fans will have a similar option. Though the tickets say in bold type on the front “No refunds, No exchanges” and are stamped with “non transferable,” Flannery said the unused tickets can be exchanged for admission to a future home game on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays (Saturday and Monday tickets are more expensive and, therefore, not eligible for the ticket exchange policy).
Though more large crowds are expected tonight (Thirsty Thursday), Friday (t-shirt giveaway), Saturday (postgame fireworks) and Tuesday (early Independence Day fireworks celebration), fans shouldn’t be worried about getting turned away at the gates. Such moves are a rare occurrence at Lake Olmstead Stadium and the team sent out a ticket advisory two weeks before the June 15 game letting fans know that seats were limited. No such advisories have been issued for the rest of this homestand.