Joe Lavin

April 15, 2008

Scratching and Baseball: The Tradition Continues


The Massachusetts Lottery has just released a new $20 Boston Red Sox scratch ticket. Wow, it's humbling to realize that not only can I not afford Red Sox game tickets, soon I might not be able to afford Red Sox lottery tickets either. When these tickets were first offered, they cost $5 each, and even that seemed a little ridiculous. Now, suddenly they have quadrupled in price.

Excuse me, but have I missed some law which states that any story including the words "Sox" and "ticket" must also include the phrase "most expensive in the nation?" I still look back fondly on the halcyon days of -- oh -- 2007 when a family of four could still afford to buy scratch tickets for the entire family.

Actually, while this is the most expensive baseball-themed ticket, there are other more expensive scratch tickets. Texas even has a $50 scratch ticket, the idea being that you can't accuse the lottery of targeting the poor if the poor can't afford the lottery.

I'll admit that I'm not a fan of scratch tickets. For one dollar, they can be fun. But at five dollars and now twenty dollars, they seem too fleeting. The one time I bought a Red Sox scratch ticket, the whole experience was over in less than a minute -- and I lost. If I'm going to lose more than a buck, I would at least like to drag it out a bit.

Admittedly, the prizes might be enough to make it worthwhile for some. The grand prize in the Red Sox game is $10 million, enough to purchase your very own middle infielder. The grand prize used to be a pair of season tickets for life, but apparently Bill James of the Red Sox ran the numbers and realized that it would just be cheaper to give away $10 million instead.

Everyone involved expects the Red Sox ticket to be a big seller. It's no coincidence that you didn't see games like this before 2004. It's a lot easier putting your brand on a lottery ticket when your brand hasn't been cursed for 86 years. In all, the ticket is expected to generate $23 million of revenue for the cities and towns of Massachusetts, although secretly many of us would be happy just to invest all that money back into the team. Take that, Mr. Steinbrenner.

It turns out that the Red Sox were innovators in this field. They had the first baseball scratch ticket in 2006. Now, 27 of 30 Major League Baseball teams are featured on scratch tickets. This includes even the Cincinnati Reds. Maybe they can get former Red Pete Rose to do the commercials for them.

I'm not sure where the line is between harmless lottery fun and gambling, but a $20 lottery ticket approaches it. According to the New York Times, "a third of the calls to [Massachusetts'] 24-hour gambling addiction hot line come from lottery players." Massachusetts, of course, runs both the lottery and the gambling addiction hot line, which in the corporate world would be called "synergy." Imagine how many tickets they could sell if they used the hotline to sell them. "Press 1 if you have a serious gambling problem. Press 2 if you want to play the hot new $20 scratch ticket from the Gambling Addiction Hot Line!"

Really, the only time I would spend $20 on a Red Sox scratch ticket would be if it also included admission to a baseball game and a hot dog. Wait, I shouldn't have said that. It's only a matter of time before the Red Sox jack up ticket prices again by issuing some sort of combo game/lottery ticket.

There are still some of the old $5 scratch tickets being sold, but they are expected to run out later this year. The new $20 tickets have a limited supply too. You know, I think we've all been down that road before. Limited supply? Does that mean that they only release about 35,000 at a time? Great, I don't really want to have to buy my lottery tickets from scalpers too.

But there is one benefit to Red Sox scratch tickets. At least, when you get your Red Sox scratch ticket, you won't have to spend fifty bucks to park your car.


©2008 Joe Lavin

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