February 6, 2015

Season Ticket Comparison Shopping

It's February, which is about the time of year that us Wizards season ticket holders start getting antsy about how much money we are going to have to fork over for the privilege of watching the Wizards battle the NBA's finest during the next year's NBA season. This year's season ticket renewal invoices were released last year in mid-February and I would expect about the same schedule this year. There was an announcement at Monday's home loss to the Charlotte Hornets (too many mid-range jump shots for my liking) indicating season ticket prices for the coming season will be published on February 23. We'll see if the team waits that long to break the news to existing season ticket holders.

Just like last February, I think Wizards fans better brace for an increase in ticket costs. And I don't think it's going to be a small one. I'd expect something similar or in excess of last year's hike. Last February I argued in a post on this blog that despite paying 10% more per game for my lower level seats and 25% more for my upper level seats, I believed the cost of Wizards season tickets were cheap as compared to other NBA teams around the country. I still believe that. So I also believe this year we continue to catch up to the rest of the league.

The big questions on my mind and I'm sure it's the same for other folks are "how much?" and "is it fair?" I can't do anything but speculate right now as to how much ticket prices will increase but I can gather some information on the prices of tickets in other cities to get an idea of how Wizards tickets stack up against the rest of the market and why they are either more or less than what other teams are selling them for. So that's what I've done. Read on.

Celtics tickets in the lower level corner are $115 per game minimum. That's double the Wizards' rate. Of course there are 17 titles in Boston...
Comparing the costs of NBA tickets is incredibly subjective. Some markets are more expensive than others. Some franchises win more than others, either now or in the past. Not all venues have the same geometries and equivalent sized seating sections. Some tickets come with perks, like free food and beverages or access to gameday or non-gameday benefits. Averaging the price of every seat in the building doesn't do it for me. There's just too much to consider. So I did it a different way.

Considering the amount of judgment involved in assembling a ranked list, there is bound to be some sort of debate as to whether one team offers better value than another. My list below considers the price of seats on the side of the arena in the lower deck (behind the hockey boards, or where they would be in a non-hockey arena) and upper deck only. I also differentiated based on the drop in ticket price as you approach the corners of the arena. I did this specifically to inform myself as to whether I am overpaying for seats in Sections 109 and 415 in Verizon Center but I believe it paints an accurate picture of ticket prices for different teams. Here's my ranked list with a brief comment on each team.
  1. Brooklyn Nets: By far the most expensive tickets in the NBA, although many lower level seats come with free drinks 30 minutes prior to game time. I'm using 2015-2016 prices for the Nets because that's what's published on the Nets' website. All other analysis is based on 2014-2015 prices except where noted.
  2. San Antonio Spurs: Five championships in the last 16 years. You get what you pay for. This will be a recurring theme for the next five spots.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers: Five championships in the last 15 years. 16 titles overall (second most all time).
  4. Chicago Bulls: Six titles in the 1990s. Been sold out for years. High prices in all sections.
  5. Miami Heat: Four straight Finals appearances, although they won't be back this year. Three championships in the last nine years.
  6. Dallas Mavericks: 2011 NBA champions. Also made the Finals in 2006.
  7. Boston Celtics: 2008 NBA champions and 17 titles overall (most all time).
  8. Orlando Magic: From here on down, we are generally dealing with teams who do not have a recent championship pedigree. I imagine prices are so high in Orlando ($173-$285 to sit in the center lower sections) because they failed to realize they no longer contend for division titles.
  9. Sacramento Kings: "California's expensive" is all I have to offer here. The Kings haven't made the playoffs the last eight seasons. And they won't likely this year either. Maybe fans are paying for the new building.
  10. Golden State Warriors: Until the last two years, the Warriors might have fallen into the same "California's expensive" category that I put the Kings in. Now they have the best record in the Western Conference. They also have one of the most loyal fan bases. Games have been sold out for years. Demand is there.
  11. Portland Trail Blazers: Only game in town? Portland's tickets are actually pretty reasonable, as I think all other teams below this point are.
  12. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron = sellout (intended double entendre there). Probably could have charged more but haven't won a title EVER!
  13. Minnesota Timberwolves: A bargain in the upper deck and towards the back of the lower bowl. Seats closer to the court ($144 in the corner and $221!! in the center) seem way high for this franchise.
  14. Utah Jazz: The maximum ticket price in the center of the arena are $162, which I think is pretty reasonable. There's no price drop for sitting in the corners however. Good seats upstairs are $45 which I find to be high.
  15. Indiana Pacers: I thought folks in Indiana were crazy about basketball. The fans close to the court in the center of the arena are paying a good amount per game ($187) but tickets are cheap elsewhere, especially upstairs, where the highest price ticket is $19. I would have thought prices would have been higher.
  16. Phoenix Suns: No seat is really too expensive in Phoenix. No seat is too cheap either. Prices seem consistently mid-range all over the arena.
  17. Toronto Raptors: The Raptors spot on this list will go up and down based on the U.S.-Canadian currency exchange rate. I used $1 Canadian = $0.80 U.S. in my comparison. That's lower than it's been. The fans here are crazy loud based on my November 6 trip to Air Canada Centre. I can imagine the demand is high here.
  18. Philadelphia 76ers: I have no idea how the 76ers can live with themselves charging their fans $154 to sit in the center of the arena and $89 for corner seats in the lower level to see the roster they have assembled. They must have some rationale.
  19. Memphis Grizzlies: Great team (right now) in a small market. I believe the market size and lack of historical success in terms of actually winning something (like divisions, not just games) are making these tickets cheaper than they could be. Lower level seats top out at $155 per game; upper seats in the center of the arena start at a paltry $11 per game.
  20. Denver Nuggets: Reasonable prices downstairs at the Pepsi Center. Upstairs tickets are higher than they should be and not differentiated very well. Some $31 upper deck seats in Denver would cost $11 in Utah, a team with the exact same number of playoff wins over the last 10 years.
  21. Milwaukee Bucks: I think Milwaukee's tickets are priced pretty well. Lower level side seats range from $69 to $140 and upper level tickets go for $22 to $28. I'd be all in if I lived in Milwaukee.
  22. New Orleans Pelicans: Pelicans tickets are a little more expensive than in Milwaukee close to the court in the center of the arena, but everywhere else they are cheaper and significantly cheaper in the lower level corners.
  23. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets $10 per game upper level seats are the cheapest in the NBA in the center of the arena. I put them ahead of the Wizards based on lower level corner tickets, which are a lot more than they are in D.C. I used 2015-2016 prices for the Hornets, just like I did for the Nets.
  24. Washington Wizards: Historically not very good. Historically large price cut for a lot of season tickets a few years ago.
  25. Detroit Pistons: Last on this list due to their lower corner and upper deck pricing, which is the cheapest in the NBA. Pistons tickets in the center lower level seats are very expensive ($180) but include all you can eat (and presumably drink) with each ticket.
The New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers do not list ticket prices for season ticket holders on their website in any way and so are not ranked here. I imagine I could have contacted each one of those teams to find out more but I did not. I can't imagine any of those teams are selling seats for less than the Wizards (which is sort of the point of this post). Also not ranked here is the Houston Rockets. The Rockets only list prices for seats which are available for purchase, and all their good seats are taken. That would have made Houston season ticket seats seem artificially low.

Of the 25 teams that are ranked above, I am sure there are folks out there who could quibble with a placement or two. So consider this: debating whether the Portland Trail Blazers or Cleveland Cavaliers should be eleventh and twelfth or thirteenth and eleventh or twelfth and thirteenth isn't really important to me. What I was trying to do here was get the relative cost of side of the arena tickets for Wizards games compared against other teams. I'm OK with someone debating whether Wizards tickets are more expensive or cheaper than Hornets tickets. Yes, center court Wizards tickets ARE more expensive than Charlotte Hornets tickets but as you move towards the corners the scenario flips. If you want to put the Hornets below the Wizards, I'm fine with that.

On the other hand, I don't think there can be much debate when comparing Wizards tickets to Orlando Magic tickets. Center court tickets in the lower level in Orlando are at least $43 more for any one seat and that number climbs in some spots to $140; tickets at Amway Center are also more expensive in the corners ($21 to $55 more) and upstairs ($7 to $21 more). So the point here is to get the order of magnitude right in a ranked format.

The Phoenix Suns interactive ticket map. I like the cost of lower level corner seats in Phoenix.
So what does this all mean? Well, to me it means that Wizards season ticket prices are in the bottom five of the NBA. Is that a reasonable place for the Wizards to be in? Based on this season's performance and our cost of living locally? Probably not. But historically based on performance? Maybe. Over the last 14 years, the Wizards have posted the fewest number of wins in the NBA (I'm excluding the current Hornets because they didn't exist all 14 of those years) meaning they are the absolute worst. They also have no division titles, no conference titles and no NBA championships.

Success clearly affects ticket prices based on the list above. And I don't mean winning 50 games in a season or one or two playoff series each season. I mean something with the word champion in it. The six teams on my list ranked two through seven have won 21 of the last 24 NBA titles. The only exceptions are Houston in 1994 and 1995 (Houston is not ranked) and the Detroit Pistons in 2004. That's no coincidence. Make no mistake, as the Wizards win, prices will go up. But winning titles (or having the Nets' payroll) seems to push the ticket prices to really high levels. I don't expect the Wizards to do that until we really start winning something.

All that sounds pretty ominous for the Wizards season ticket holder fearing he or she is going to be priced out of their seats that they have held onto for the last however many years. I think the Wizards are in an especially interesting spot because many of their season ticket holders likely bought tickets in the last three years and whether those folks realized it or not, they were buying reduced price tickets. The Wizards' decision to rebuild entirely during the 2010-2011 season came with a price break. When the rebuild is over, I imagine they are going to restore prices which might cause a bunch of their current season ticket holders to flee.

I think the response to the Wizards' dilemma will involve a gradual increase in ticket prices over the next few years and that's generally good news for folks fearing a 50% or more price hike this year. If there's some more potential good news, it won't take the Wizards raising prices much (say $25 downstairs and $10 upstairs per ticket) to get them into the top 15 on my list above. Hopefully those types of increases are palatable to a lot of season ticket holders.

So what will happen? I have no idea but rest assured the Wizards know what I've just laid out. They have access to all the data I have access to and likely more. They also probably have someone assigned on their payroll to track this stuff in a great amount of detail. I also believe the Wizards are tracking the price they are selling tickets for vs. the secondary market. Last July I published my analysis of resale data based on some informal but regular tracking. I bet the same dude that is tracking cost of tickets in other markets is assigned to track the secondary market. If there's nobody over at Verizon Center doing that, I'm probably available for hire.

What's my point here? I believe we as season ticket holders will see an increase in pricing in our invoices that will arrive in the next couple of weeks. I can't honestly say for sure that will be true and my guess as to how much last year was way off. I can only say what I expect will happen. For what it's worth, I am expecting the cost of my lower level seats in Section 109 will increase from $55 per game this year to at least $70 next year and my upper deck seats in Section 415 will go up another $5. That's an increase of about 25% across the board. That seems like a lot for a single season increase for a team that still will likely not have won their division since 1979. I still think it's reasonable and maybe a little cheap. I'll re-up at that price for sure. Let's hope it's lower.

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