February 18, 2014

A Sweet Deal

With the Wizards sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and seemingly bound for the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and fresh off an All-Star weekend that saw John Wall become the first Wizard since that same year to play in the All-Star game and the first Wizard EVER to win the dunk contest, the team decided to choose this week to send out season ticket renewal information. Sell high, right? Isn't that what they always say? And despite their record sitting two games below .500, the Wizards' stock hasn't been this high since the team took game 5 in Cleveland during the first round of the 2008 playoffs. After five miserable years, it appears the Wizards are back to approaching respectability. In the Eastern Conference anyway.
Three years ago, in the midst of the 2010-2011 season, new owner Ted Leonsis told Wizards fans in no uncertain terms that the team was going to be pretty close to terrible for the next few years while management purged the horrible roster at the time and rebuilt the fortunes of the franchise. In exchange for what was about to happen, the Wizards offered season ticket holders a deal of sorts: buy tickets for the 2011-2012 season when the team had no realistic hope of competing and the team would slash ticket prices in most parts of Verizon Center and keep them low for the next three seasons by which time the players on the court representing Washington D. C. would provide a more palatable product.
The 2010-2011 season was my 11th as a Washington Wizards season ticket holder. By that time, I was fully committed to spend a long time suffering as a Wizards fan and would have renewed my full season in the 400 level and my 21 game plan in the 100 level of Verizon Center without much of a thought. But the team's commitment to be bad and keep costs low cut the price of my 100 level seats almost in half, from what I remember as $98 per game down to the low low price of just $50 per game. What that meant to me was that I could now purchase a full season upstairs and downstairs for less than what I paid for 63 games the year before (the team did not drop the $16 per game price for upper level tickets). Sold! The 2011-2012 season became the first year I had four full season tickets. I'll explain why I didn't ditch the uppers a little later.
The promise of a bad team made by management in the late winter of 2011 came true. The team's record the first two years of the rebuild was a less than mediocre 49-99 and the team didn't really come close to the playoffs in either year. But in the meantime, the bargain offered up by the franchise in exchange for being bad has proved to be one worth paying for considering this year the team has been firmly in playoff contention and I'm still only paying $50 per game to sit five rows behind the hockey boards on the side of the arena. I feel that this price is a great deal and I offer no counterargument to those out there that would say paying $50 per game to watch a team win less than a third of their games over two seasons is no sort of good deal at all. You are probably right.
Nonetheless, I feel season ticket prices have been insanely low the last three years. Among all the franchises that advertise the price of their season tickets to the general public (and there are some that do not) I found only the Charlotte Bobcats who could offer me seats for anything approaching the same price I paid for my lower level seats the past three years. And the Bobcats tickets cost more than mine did. I think the last three years have been an absolute bargain.
The current 2013-2014 season that is fast approaching its conclusion is the last of the three promised price frozen years and so I expected an increase in ticket prices for the next season, especially considering the playoff expectations this team holds. My biggest fear as a season ticket holder is that I will be priced out of the seats I have sat in for years, that essentially I will be offered the option to purchase my seats at a price I am not willing to pay. And when that happens I expect that some new "fan" who has not suffered through the lean years will pay top dollar to sit in my old seats and claim that he or she was always a die hard Wizards fan despite their years away from Verizon Center.
I think my fear is very well justified. I've seen it happen with other NBA franchises (Orlando priced tickets for what I consider my seats in their arena at an insane $175 per game last year) and I get that it's the market setting the price according to supply and demand. I've also seen it happen with the Washington Capitals in Verizon Center, which is owned by the same group, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, that now owns the Wizards. There are 32 different pricing groups for Capitals games and upper level sections are divided vertically into three separate pricing tiers. It's sort of nuts for a team that still hasn't made it past the second round of the playoffs.
The fear of being priced out of my seats is the reason I have kept my upper level tickets. I figure when (not if) I finally get presented with an invoice for my 100 level Wizards season tickets that makes my heart stop, I can retreat back to a full season upstairs in what I consider to be pretty good seats in the third row on the side. If I gave those up and tried to get them back later, I'm sure I'd be way further back and really unhappy with my decision. As it stands, I'm essentially paying $16 per game as an insurance policy against prices skyrocketing. 
If you had asked me my opinion about how the increase in pricing for next season, I would have said the lower level seats I have in Section 109 would go up from $50 a game to $75 a game and the upper level seats which cost me just $16 per contest this year would stay the same. Boy was I wrong! Our lower level seats went up a mere $5 per game although our upper level seats went up by 25% (albeit a mere $4 per ticket). That's an overall increase of $9 per game vs. the $25 price hike I was expecting. This pricing continues to make me happy as a season ticket holder and ensures I'll have my butt in my seats next year every game. It's still a bargain to be a Wizards fan (if you ignore the lack of recent success).

Thank you to the Wizards for making this reasonable. Don't worry. I'm braced for further increases. Go Wizards! Raptors up tonight!

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