River Cats secure more space for free parking

The opening day game between the Sacramento River Cats and Salt Lake Bees at Raley Field in West Sacramento on Friday, April 11, 2014.
The opening day game between the Sacramento River Cats and Salt Lake Bees at Raley Field in West Sacramento on Friday, April 11, 2014. rbenton@sacbee.com

The Sacramento River Cats will get more parking in a five-season lease with West Sacramento on city-owned property in the riverfront Bridge District, a deal that comes as the baseball team is offering free parking while charging more for tickets this season.

The agreement between West Sacramento and River City Parking LLC, which handles parking for Raley Field, will open 2.5 acres at Bridge and Fifth streets for Raley Field events after the City Council approved the deal Wednesday. City staffers say the land at the intersection’s northeast corner can accommodate about 300 parking spaces.

“We’ll have more capacity now,” said Sacramento River Cats President Jeff Savage. “The goal is to make it easier for fans to get to Raley Field. The city turns a piece of property that isn’t making money right now … and we provide a convenience to fans.”

River City Parking will pay $30,750 a year, with an allowance for 2.5 percent annual increases, according to terms laid out in a city staff report. River City will also pay for improvement costs.

The lot sits on land destined for a parking structure and city park that will serve the Bridge District, said Katy Jacobson, West Sacramento community improvement manager. Until a parking structure is built, the lease agreement provides income to the city and secures parking for Raley Field events in a growing neighborhood, Jacobson said.

For the first time in their 16-season history, the River Cats are eliminating parking fees and bundling those costs into the price of game tickets. The team charged $10 per vehicle in general parking lots last year.

It also marks the first season the River Cats will be affiliated with the San Francisco Giants after 15 seasons as the Oakland Athletics’ triple-A squad. The team opens the season April 9 at Raley Field against the Salt Lake Bees.

River Cats tickets will remain among the most expensive in minor league baseball, with advance purchase seats ranging from $10 for lawn general admission to $63 in the Dugout Club behind home plate.

River Cats 2014 ticket prices ranged from $8 for lawn seating to $60 in the Dugout Club. The River Cats increased lawn tickets by $2 and seat prices by $3 for the 2015 baseball season.

That means every River Cats ticket will cost more than the $8.60 average adult ticket for a Triple-A baseball game in 2014, according to Minor League Baseball. A family of four paid an average cost of $63.55 to attend a minor league baseball game, including parking, two adult tickets, two child tickets, four hot dogs, two sodas, two beers and a game program or scorecard.

The River Cats have been one of the minor league’s top attractions for years. Sacramento has led the Pacific Coast League in attendance eight of the last 10 seasons, including 2014, when the club’s attendance was nearly 608,000, an average of 8,561 a game.

Sacramento (79-65) finished the year in second place in the PCL’s Pacific Northern division, two games back of the Reno Aces.

Savage said labor and other costs contributed to the 2015 price hike and that it came after several seasons without ticket increases. He said the parking perk provides a new customer benefit and that apples-to-apples comparisons between Sacramento and other, smaller minor league baseball markets are misleading. Sacramento is one of the most populous minor league markets in the country, Savage said.

“The pricing is competitive, and there’s still a value we bring to the Sacramento region,” he said. “Pricing is relative. The logic is that it gets people into Raley Field faster. People hate to pay for parking. We think of this as a customer service initiative.”

Businesses in Old Sacramento could be affected by the River Cats’ parking promotion if more fans choose to park in stadium lots rather than on the Sacramento side of the river.

Fans often park and dine in Sacramento before crossing the Tower Bridge into West Sacramento and Raley Field. But Old Sacramento Business Association Executive Director Chris McSwain said he understands the ballclub’s thinking.

“It’s probably a good move in responding to what their customers want and need. I think the Cats are being very creative in focusing their visitors on the end product – going to a ballgame,” McSwain said. “What we offer is more than a parking space. You don’t come to Old Sacramento to park. You come for the events and the restaurants. We have that on our side. That’s part of the full experience.”

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.