November 28, 2015

Monumental Disappointment

The title of this blog post does not refer to the Wizards up and down 6-7 start, although honestly it could. I can't remember a season where this early in the slate I've left two home games really early (vs. Oklahoma City and Indiana - 24 and 17 point losses respectively) and turned the TV off once before the game was anywhere close to over on the game clock (vs. Boston last night - a 33!!! point loss). There's something seriously wrong with the team over at 601 F Street and for this long time season ticket holder, this hurts badly. It wasn't supposed to be this way.

But I'm not writing about that stuff today. Today, I'm talking about something else. And I'll warn you right off the bat here, there's likely some whining in here. Not my usual form and I feel bad doing it but there's likely some nonetheless.

Two seasons ago, the Washington Wizards parent organization, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, introduced a season ticket holder rewards program called Monumental Rewards. The program, which spanned across Wizards, Capitals and Mystics season ticket holders, instantly became one of the best benefits of being a Wizards subscriber. The site seemed stocked full of great fan experiences and hidden goodies. Yes, there were admittedly some cleaning out the closet type stuff, extra stock of old in-game giveaways, laying around but by and large, it gave the committed (double entendre intended) fan an added perk and some access to some exclusive stuff: autographed memorabilia, pre-game captains' meetings and even an all expenses paid road trip to Philly to see the team play the Sixers.

But by far the best reward on the site for me was the opportunity to have access to the Dewar's Coaches Club and Courtside Club, two floor accessible exclusive access clubs with complimentary food and drink typically only accessible to those fans who have invested an insane amount of money per year in the VIP seating area within the hockey boards. It was the only thing I've ever spent my points on and it really made me feel valuable as a Wizards season ticket holder. Even when the opportunity to enjoy this benefit was cut back to once per month last season, I loved every minute of it. Just walking along the court was enough of a thrill for me, although I've never turned down some free grub.

This year the two clubs were overhauled and renamed the Etihad Airways Lounge. The Monumental Rewards website was also overhauled, oddly enough to a slower version of its former self, and along with the overhaul many of the great rewards have disappeared or are now just plain off limits to the common fan. Of course, the best benefit, access to the VIP experience, is gone entirely. There are still plenty of leftover in-game giveaways on the menu (although it looks like they finally ran out of Bradley Beal bobbleheads from three years ago - I already have two) which I guess if you haven't been a season ticket holder that long you might want but there are definitely slim pickings on there.

The Wizards are still offering some exclusive experiences and autographed items on the site but it appears there are so many people with an unconscionable amount of points out there (likely from VIP ticket purchases - points are awarded largely on dollars spent on tickets) that these are almost totally off limits to the common fan. I think I spend a lot of money on Wizards tickets and I've managed to engage enough with social media (one way to earn some supplemental points) to scrounge together about 108,000 points. That's nowhere near the current high bid of 307,500 points required to grab a pair of John Wall autographed shoes.

On the subject of access to the new Etihad Airways Lounge, I got this statement through a friend out of the Wizards ticket office.
"Due to the VIP season tickets being sold out, unfortunately, we will not be offering VIP bracelets on the rewards program, however, they will have several pairs of Suite Tickets in a catered suite instead."
At least part of the statement above is true. Heck, it might all be true. VIP seating may be sold out and for sure, there have been some suite tickets available on a ONCE PER SEASON basis. Based on my visiting the Monumental Rewards website multiple times per week, these suite tickets seem way more rare than the VIP wristbands the team offered last year. But I'm not sure that availability is the issue. It appears there are no opportunities to visit the Lounge for Capitals games like there were last year (and no way are Caps tickets more sold out than last year) plus there was an auction for some Caps tickets on the site earlier this season that included the seats but no club access. Why on Earth not?

I'm in no way a conspiracy theorist or natural skeptic but there's only one explanation that makes sense to me: now that the building has a brand new VIP area, either the team or the people who have bought their way in no longer want freeloaders like me in there via the Monumental Rewards program. This is total speculation on my part (although I think my logic is sound); I know nothing more than what I've been able to deduce from the website. And it's disappointing. A program that made me feel super valuable has now just had the only benefit (for me) taken away.

Now I get that the Wizards (and Capitals, I guess) have every right to do this. After all, I'm paying just for game tickets; all the other stuff is extra. I also get that folks who spend a lot of money on season tickets wouldn't want someone like me in their area even once a year. They've spent the cash, they should get their benefit. 

But there are for sure some folks who sit around me outside the hockey boards with special access passes who are getting into the VIP area because I see them going in there. If it was just sold out, surely they wouldn't fit in there either. There are also some nights when the VIP seating isn't close to full, so during those games (Tuesday game vs. Milwaukee, anyone?) it would seem to me that there wouldn't be any harm in letting a few loyal season ticket holders into the Lounge. And in case you are wondering, it's fans like me who suffer year after year and pay a little bit each season no matter what the odds or outcome who are the lifeblood of the fan support, not the bandwagonners who buy when the odds of success are high.

But the biggest objection to the change in policy is that the Monumental Rewards program is an advertised benefit of being a season ticket holder. Yes, I know I wrote all my cash gets me is the tickets but that's really not true. If the benefit sucks or isn't available, it's not really a benefit, right? And yes, you could counter that a benefit that sucks is still there and available and I'd concede. It's certainly not like the Summerfest benefit which is still on the Wizards website which happened once in 2013 and never again (to date).

I know that money talks and I know that the between $8,000 and $9,000 I spend annually on my seats is not much compared to someone paying twice or way more than that once a decade for seats with free food and booze. But every year I get a survey from the NBA or the Wizards or both asking me to rate how valued I feel as a season ticket holder so they must care a little about folks like me. Removing this benefit for sure makes me feel less valuable. I sat through two 19-63 seasons as a season ticket holder. That sort of loyalty is worth rewarding and for sure the VIP access did that.

I told you there would be some whining. Maybe I can get some suite tickets at some point this year to make me feel better. Or maybe I'll just keep amassing points until the team sucks again and all the fair-weather fans flee. Toronto up next. Need a better showing than the last three nights. Go Wizards!!!

Halftime of the Pacers game: folks flooding to the Etihad Lounge. Not me though; not this year, it seems.

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