June 18, 2015

Season Tickets Or StubHub? 2015 Report

During the 2013-2014 NBA season, I tracked the price of Washington Wizards tickets on the secondary market, specifically on StubHub, and compared the price of those tickets with the cost borne by Wizards season ticket holders. I did this as a means of justifying my commitment I make each spring to my favorite basketball team and to make this information available to existing and potential new season ticket holders considering taking the journey I've taken with the Wizards in the last decade plus. Spoiler alert: it might be a bumpy ride.

The results of my first season tracking pricing on the secondary market were interesting. Generally speaking, I found the price I paid for my lower level corner seats were 30% cheaper than the resale market and my upper deck tickets in pretty much the same spot in the arena as I buy downstairs were 25% cheaper. I warned though that the price increase imposed by the Wizards for my seats this past season (10% downstairs and 25% in the upper deck) might come pretty close to those available on StubHub and that the secondary market would need to keep up to make the Wizards faithful feel like they were getting value for money.

Not surprisingly, this past season, I did the exact same thing.

Just to refresh everyone's memory about the controls of this experiment, I am seeking to compare the prices of Wizards tickets in the first ten rows of the center five sections of Verizon Center's lower level and the first seven rows in the center five sections in the upper deck at VC with tickets available for sale on the secondary market. Why these locations? Well, because I hold season tickets in the fifth row of Section 109 and the third row of Section 415 and I want to know how my tickets compare more than any others. I consider tickets a few rows behind mine could roughly be considered equivalent to what I have.

I took data at two separate times, just like I did in the first year I did this: one week ahead of game day and the day of the game itself. This allows me to get a handle on trending data as game day approaches and see if there is any advice I can offer the secondary market purchaser about when to pull the trigger and invest in some NBA tickets. For the record on this one, overall there is about a 3% price drop over that last week. More desirable games do not drop; less desirable ones drop more. I still think if you find tickets you want at a price you are willing to pay, you should grab them. That's what I do when I'm traveling to watch the Wizards.

Finally, I ignore other factors about seat location like the fact that my seats are aisle seats toward the center court side in both levels or the fact that in Row J in the lower level, you probably can't see, hear or be heard like I can from row E. Now you know where I sit, stop by and say hi sometime; bring beer as a gift if you are feeling generous. Budweiser in the grossly oversized 25 oz. can is preferred by me when at Verizon Center.

Just like last year, StubHub was my preferred site to comparison shop. StubHub is a great site for this work because they display the final cost of tickets to the consumer, rather than hiding all sorts of fees behind an attractive low low price like other sites sometimes do (nbatickets.com run by Ticketmaster comes to mind). I did track pricing on nbatickets.com this year but the data is less useful because of that site's general unwillingness to show their hand. While the Ticketmaster data is useful to some degree, they kept switching the format of their pricing throughout the year. I was impressed towards the end of the season that they started being more transparent about pricing (see the photo above), but by then it was too late to get a complete set of data.

So let's get to the results. I'll present just as I did last year.
  • Purchasing Section 109, Row E seats for the entire 2014-2015 season (including preseason) cost me $2,337.50. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every regular season game (no preseason; preseason has no value) one week ahead of the event would have cost me $4,476. Season tickets are 48% cheaper. Wow!
  • Purchasing Section 415, Row C seats for the entire 2014-2015 season (including preseason) cost me $850. Purchasing equivalent seats of StubHub for each and every regular season game (again, no preseason) one week ahead of the event would have cost me $1,566. Season tickets are 46% cheaper. Also wow!
The results for this past season show a huge discrepancy between the cost of tickets to the season ticket holder vs. the cost of tickets on the secondary market. Last years "cheaper than" percentages were 30% and 25%. This past year season tickets were a real bargain compared to StubHub. This season also saw a large jump in "per game" pricing on the secondary market: lower level tickets averaged $109 per game ($72 last year) and upper level tickets averaged $38 ($22 last year). I placed quotation marks around per game because we all know prices fluctuate by game. A game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers does not cost what a game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks costs.

Now, before the Wizards get any ideas about hiking ticket prices (well, they've already done that so...), the season ticket holder SHOULD get a discount. Remember we are the team's bread and butter and shouldn't be forced to pay market driven prices in advance for a product that may or may not deliver that value. Some of us buy and show up every game regardless of team performance. We don't get money back on our purchase when the team stinks. At least nobody's given me any cash back yet.

Now the short answer above considers a scenario where you attend all 41 home games per year. But some folks (can't imagine why not) don't want to do this. Just like last year, I looked at various other scenarios for buying games a la carte from StubHub. In every scenario (vs. the best teams in the NBA, going only on weekdays, going only on Fridays and Saturdays) I looked at, the cost of tickets this year was consistently about 35% or more higher than the 2013-2014 season. Considering the 10% / 25% hike that season ticket holders were subjected to, the value is actually pretty good. But again, it should be.

Last year I considered how many games you could attend if you only had $200 to spend. In 2013-2014, you could buy seven lower level games or 20 upper level games. This past season, your $200 would only get you five lower level games or 13 upper level games and you'd spend a lot of time watching the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers on Monday through Wednesday nights. This data is not surprising considering the overall increase in secondary market pricing. Your $200 doesn't go as far this year as it did last year.

Finally a word about the playoffs. Last year I noted that the difference between the regular season and playoffs were striking in terms of secondary market value. This year, I'm making the statement but for the exact opposite reason. In the 2014 playoffs, Wizards tickets were hot. Or maybe Chicago Bulls vs. the Wizards tickets were red hot and those for the Indiana series were a little cooler but still smoking. At least until the game three loss against Indiana when all the bandwagonners decided they didn't want to play any more.

This year, not so much. Last year's playoff market would have cost me 3-5 times what I paid as a season ticket holder. This year, that gap shrunk to less than three times the season ticket holder rate, specifically $992 lower level on StubHub vs. $393 STH pricing for all five games and $400 vs. $142 upstairs. The drop in my opinion is strictly based on our opponents. Toronto and Atlanta are not as sexy as Chicago and Indiana. Last year, the Wizards were selling additional seats for season ticket holders for up to $125 for upper deck Indiana seats. This year, I bought some extras for game three vs. Atlanta (on a weekend night no less) for $50 and had to end up selling them at a loss. Playoff seats were definitely tough to move this year.

So what does all this mean for the season ticket holder considering lower level corner tickets went up $11 per game (20% increase) and upper level center tickets went up $8 per game (40% increase)? Well, I think it means if you are planning on attending every Wizards home game, you are going to spend more money next year over this past season just like you did last year vs. the previous season. Your tickets were way cheaper than the secondary market and if trends hold, they are still cheaper next year than the prices on the open market this past season. If that's any comfort, that's great. In the end, you are still spending more. Eventually, you might even get priced out of your seats so some fair weather fan can scoop them up. Not an uplifting thought.

Now if you like holding season tickets but not going to all the games, then the chances are you can unload the tickets for some games you don't want to attend at or above what you paid for them. Don't get your hopes up for Minnesota on a Monday or Toronto on a Tuesday but if you are looking to skip a Friday game when Cleveland's in town, you may make a tidy profit. I suppose the Wizards may end up resenting this but I hope they don't. Season tickets can't possibly be priced at open market prices by game; we can't afford to pay the top dollar price for every game like people attending one game per year can.

I still think the price of Wizards tickets is very affordable. Based on the increase for the 2015-2016 season and my season ticket comparison shopping this past March, I believe the Wizards are right in the middle of the pack (maybe 15th or so) when it comes to season ticket prices across the league. I also think the price of Wizards tickets will continue to rise over the next few years assuming the success of the current team continues. I wouldn't be surprised to see hikes like the ones this past offseason go on for another two or three years. I'll be back at Verizon Center for at least 39 or 40 games next year and I'm sure I won't think I'm wasting my money. Not next year anyway.

NOT my seats at Verizon Center.

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