Cheap seats don’t mean always having to sit in the nose-bleed sections, and it isn’t necessary to pay top dollar for a choice view of the game.
That is the operating premise of Crowd Seats (crowdseats.com), a flash deal site that in the past week began offering discounts of 50 to 60 percent off on tickets to selected sporting events in South Florida.
The site, launched about a year ago with deals to games in Los Angeles and New York, is the Groupon of sports ticketing.
A key feature of Crowd Seats is there is no added service charge, convenience fee or delivery charge. The price of the deal is the entire cost of the transaction.
In the first foray in the South Florida market, Crowd Seats was offering $26 tickets to upcoming Marlins games for $13.
“I’m very excited about South Florida. I think the biggest thing for us is there is an unbelievable amount of inventory out there, so I think we’re going to be able to offer some really nice deals,” said Justin Cener, founder of Crowd Seats.
Cener said he has offered deals on Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels tickets for up to 70 percent off in recent weeks.
Baseball, with the high volume of games, is fertile territory for Crowd Seats, which deals with brokers and in some cases directly with teams looking to unload excess inventory. The Dolphins, with all those empty orange seats in recent years, would seem to be prime picking, as well the sinking Marlins.
StubHub has plenty of Marlins tickets listed for $3 and $4. But when you add their service fee and delivery charge, the bargain isn’t as appealing as it first appears.
“With Stubhub the ticket price will be cheaper, but the total price will most likely be cheaper on Crowd Seats,” said Cener, adding, “We don’t want to be known just as a cheap-ticket site. We want to be known as a place to find discounts on tickets.
“We also try to stay away from [offering] seats in the upper rows and to give the value we can.”
Beginning Monday, Crowd Seats will be offering deals on field level seats for the upcoming Marlins-Brewers series: 51 percent off on Labor Day (Sept. 3) and 57 percent off Sept. 4 and 5, Cener said.
For fans, it’s another option to avoid paying box-office prices. For brokers and teams, it’s an opportunity to unload inventory that likely would go unused.
ScoreBig.com is a similar site that I have used to buy Marlins tickets on two occasions. Like Crowd Seats, it charges no added fees. But comparing deals, it appears Crowd Seats offers more savings.
An interesting aspect of Crowd Seats is it has until recently been a one-make operation by Cener, 25, who got his degree in sports marketing and informational technology from Rutgers in 2009. He got the idea for the start-up after moving to Los Angeles and noticing a deal on Groupon for a pair of Clippers tickets and a jersey.
“It sold close to 2,000 tickets. I kind of realized the perfect synergy between the daily deal model and sports tickets,” Cener said. “My research found no one else focusing on it. I had the skills to build the site myself without any upfront cost other than my time.”
Cener still hasn’t received any financial assistance, he said, though he took on a partner a few months ago. He operates the site and deals directly with brokers and teams to secure the tickets he offers.
He declined to disclose how many members he has signed up nationwide, but said Crowd Seats has been most successful in New York and Los Angeles and is catching on in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
“I would describe it as a rollercoaster so far. It’s really great sometimes and really painful some other times,” he said. “It’s just been the entrepreneurial spirit of getting off the ground from nothing last year, and now we’re in 10 markets. We hope to be in 25 within the next 12 months.
“Our biggest challenge [in dealing with teams] is we don’t have the scale right now that they’re looking for. They’d rather use Groupon of Living Social that have a million-plus members. On the broker side we’re perfect for them right now. Their needs are to salvage their inventory for non-premium games.”
Brokers buy up multiple season-ticket packages. They make their money on the demand for the most desirable games.
“For brokers, we’re really a medium where they’re able to salvage some of that extra inventory,” Cener said. “In some cases they’ll even take a small loss. When you buy season-tickets, the price you get is way under the face value anyway. That’s how we’re able to offer these deals.”
Photo: Justin Cener, 25, has Crowd Seats offering sports ticket deals in 10 markets including South Florida.