ST. PETERSBURG — Along with unveiling renovations to Tropicana Field today, the Tampa Bay Rays will announce a new flex pass that offers up to 50 percent discounts on single game prices.
The pass —which will replace paper tickets — can also be used at concession stands. A radio frequency chip imbedded in the card will allow the Rays to track individual spending patterns and tailor promotions fan by fan.
Do you sometimes eat dinner at the Brew Pub before the game? Paying via a flex pass will reduce the cost a bit and also tutor the Rays about your game day habits. Then, if ticket sales are lagging for the Astros on a Wednesday, maybe you receive an email that offers you $5 off at the Brew Pub as incentive to attend.
Season ticket holders could have carried a similar card called a "Burst Pass" last year. They could have loaded credit onto the card from a computer or smartphone and the Rays would have added 12 percent, effectively creating discounts when fans swiped the card to pay for sandwiches, beer and T-shirts.
The flex pass extends this system to single-game ticket buyers as the Rays cast around for ways to boost attendance, last in baseball last year.
"We are experimenting with how to get more people into the ballpark,'' said Michael Kalt, senior vice president for development and business affairs. "We are creating a platform that will allow us to do more interesting and creative things, to increase the engagement of the fan base and to start understanding more what they are doing when they get to the game.''
The pass will come in three-game, six-game and nine-game packages, with discounts deepening as the number of games rise. Cardholders can pick seats on the Rays website up to six hours before the first pitch. Any game is fair game — even opening day — but good seats at premium games may require an early selection.
Savings can range from nothing to substantial, depending on the game. One upper deck package averages $12.11 a ticket — about the same as many mid-week, walk-up tickets. But that same seat on a weekend against the Yankees cost $23 last year.
All entry passes will be called Rays cards with the "Burst Pass" name disappearing. Season ticket holders will receive either Gold or Elite cards, depending on their package. Flex pass holders will have the Blue card.
It carries several advantages over regular single game tickets.
• A 5 percent bonus added to any money loaded onto the card for concessions. (Gold cards will get 12 percent, Elite cards 15 percent.)
• First shot at reserving single game seats in February, before the Rays open sales to everyone. "We have five Saturday games against the Red Sox and Yankees next year,'' said Brian Richeson, vice president for sales and services. "There are going to be a lot of people looking to get tickets to those games.''
• Entrance to "express lanes'' at concession stands, along with season ticket holders.
• Access to in-game contests and promotions. A possible example, said Kalt: Free ice cream if catcher Jose Lobaton hits a home run (In a running gag, Lobaton's teammates deprive him of ice cream until he hits a home run.)
• Pre-game promotions as the year goes along.
One downside is that flex pass holders can reserve only one ticket to a given game. A fan who regularly brings a spouse and two children would need four passes.
Otherwise, ticket brokers could buy the passes, absorb the discount and defeat the purpose of collecting fan information, said Kalt.
Season ticket holders can still print their tickets and send them to others over the internet.
Flex pass holders cannot make printouts. They must use the card to enter the game, though they can lend it to someone else.
The Rays are developing a cellphone application that would allow scanners to read a bar code. Then flex pass holders would not need the card itself to enter the stadium. But that app may not be ready for the beginning of the season.
A "Summer Six Pack" program, available in previous years, will disappear, Kalt said. Six-pack buyers had to select specific games up front, which is more restrictive than a six-game flex pass.
Sales of the pass go online at 10:30 a.m. today at raysbaseball.com. Through Dec. 20, they are billed as "Holiday passes'' and come with a Wil Myers Rookie of the Year hat.
After Dec. 20, no hat — just the pass.