It was shaping up to be a good Friday—get-out-of-school-early, Christmas-in-February, summer's-just-around-the-corner good—for Bob Marcel's 8-year-old son. Bob had knocked off from his trucking job early, picked up the kid at lunchtime from his City of Orange elementary school and handed him again the envelope that the boy had found under the tree in December. Santa's name was still on the return address, and a red-and-green certificate was still inside. They were off to Anaheim Stadium, where Bob's wife was waiting after working only a half-day at her office job. They all wanted to be there when they exchanged that red-and-green certificate for four Angels season tickets . . . in fact, when they personally selected the seats where they would all be watching their favorite team during every game of 2006. None of them knew yet that the cheery little piece of paper was worthless.
They all still believed that it represented a sweetly important turning point in their family life. Bob Marcel has been going to Angels games for 30 years. Last November, he and his wife calculated that their son had grown old enough to sit through baseball games too. They charged a set of Angels 2006 season tickets to their credit card, planning to pay off the bill with their next income tax refund—and with the money saved by not buying Christmas gifts for one another. They figured that a summer of family time was worth more than whatever gifts they might purchase. When they saw the look on their son's face on Christmas morning, they knew they'd been right.
But on an early February afternoon, as the family waited with other fans beneath the gargantuan batting helmets and baseball bats atop the stadium's main gates, an Angels ticket rep came out. He didn't have the View Section tickets the Marcels had been eyeing—and paying credit-card interest on for three months. Instead, he brought an apology. And a sales pitch.
See, the Angels rep explained, the problem was that existing season ticket holders had upgraded their subscriptions, to the point that seats were oversold. He emphasized how sorry he was. Then the Angels rep outlined to customers—who had already paid for tickets, received receipts for them and been invited to the stadium to pick them up—that they now had three options: get a full refund, put down a $250 deposit to be on the 2007 waiting list or purchase a "mini-plan" of 27 games.
Marcel, who had bought his season tickets on a "buy two seats, get two free" offer, could not afford to put down another $250 for the waiting list. And there was no buy-two, get-two offer available on the mini-plan, and without it he would have had to pay for four subscriptions individually. He couldn't afford that either. His only choice was to take a refund. Irritating as that was, it wasn't the worst part of the whole episode.
Marcel also faced a task he calls "one of the hardest things I could ever imagine"—explaining why Santa's gift was no good to a little boy too young to understand.
"I tried to explain, but I was so upset that I don't think I did a very good job," he said. "I just told him we wouldn't be getting seats and apologized. I really wanted to talk to someone with the team before getting into details with my son."
But Angels officials were pretty busy. Seat-selection sessions like the one Marcel had just attended had been scheduled at regular intervals throughout the day. As he left the stadium, Marcel noticed cars still entering the parking lot, filled with people heading for letdowns of their own. When he got home, Marcel called the stadium and was passed from voice mail to voice mail. All of the ticket reps' messages said they were working at select-a-seat. When he finally spoke to a man in the box office, Marcel was promised he would hear from someone that day. He never did.
Marcel called again the following Wednesday, his next day off work. When he ultimately reached an Angels rep, it was the same routine: an explanation, an apology, a sales pitch—you could still trade your now-worthless season subscription for the flexible 27-game mini-plan. Marcel was offered upper deck seats by the right foul pole or, for $700 more, a spot in the top row between the bases. When he asked the ticket rep why he should have to pay more, since he'd already been making interest payments on the $2,000 ticket purchase on his credit card since November, Marcel didn't get a reply.
But Robert Alvarado, the Angels' director of marketing and ticket sales, told the Weekly that Marcel's problem could be traced to the club's decision to limit the ability of existing season-ticket holders to upgrade their seats for the 2006 season. This apparently set off a scramble by subscribers to maximize their existing plans, and during the flurry more tickets than expected were purchased. When the team was left with seats that could not be offered as season subscriptions because of post-season ticketing restrictions, it came up with the idea of the mini-plans.
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But all of it—the buying frenzy, the mini-plans—happened quickly and at the last minute. "Thursday late afternoon, end of the day," Alvarado said, which is why Marcel and his family and all those other paying customers had to show up at Anaheim Stadium on Friday to find out they were being shut out.
"We made a decision not to call [customers]," he said. "It was very difficult for people to put in that many messages and e-mails to explain without giving anyone the opportunity to ask why. We wanted to be up-front. There was no bait and switch here. We chose to allow everyone to come down that Friday."
Alvarado insisted that, unlike Marcel, most of the people who arrived at Friday's select-a-seat day had only put down deposits. Of the fans, like Marcel, who had paid in full, Alvarado said, his office followed up with them in two weeks.
"We took care of those people," he said.