January 19, 2016

The Price Of Admission

It's mid to late January 2016. In about a month, the Wizards will likely be publishing the new pricing for the 2016-2017 season and I (along with every other existing season ticket holder) will have to decide whether the price of admission to games next year is worth it. For sure this year, there are a ton of variables influencing this decision, perhaps more than a typical year. These include the price cut ownership offered a lot of season ticket holders a few years ago, the performance of the team on the court (and especially at home) this year and the shiny promise of enough cap space to tempt a brand new marquee free agent who may or may not decide to sign here.

On this last point, I understand Kevin Durant is at the top of everyone's wish list but let's be realistic here, folks. There's only one team going to get KD, and there are tons of teams with cap space and that assumes he even wants to consider leaving Oklahoma City. I'd be pretty ticked off if a promise of KD affected season ticket prices for next year only to find out we end up getting this one of this offseason's second tier free agent for the max price.

I've written in this blog before defending the price of Wizards season tickets set by management. In both 2014 and 2015, I published my own research about the price of my season tickets vs. similar tickets available on secondary ticket market king StubHub finding season tickets to be appropriately cheaper than resale tickets. I have also defended the price increase for the 2014-2015 season and comparison shopped Wizards tickets vs. other team and found pricing through that same season to be clearly towards the bottom of the league. Throughout the almost four years I've been writing this blog I've been sticking up for ownership on the subject of ticket prices. Until now.

While there's no debate in my mind that 100 level seat prices that saw almost a 50% price cut in 2011 will still justifiably creep up towards their pre-2011 cost, I have a different view on the 400 or upper level seats. The point of this post is to argue that there should be no price increase in the cheapest seats at Verizon Center for this coming season.

There are currently three different pricing levels in the 400 level. The center five sections of the 400 level are priced at either $28 per game (for the lower half of these sections) or $24 per game (for the upper half). The remaining 24 sections upstairs are all priced at $16 per game. For each one of my 16 seasons as a Wizards season ticket holder, I have purchased a full season in the lower half of the center five sections in the 400 level, first in Section 402 and currently in Section 415. These seats have seen a precipitous increase in price during each of the last two seasons and I believe it might be time to put the brakes on.

When I first bought these seats for the 2000-2001 season, they cost me $10 per seat. That price held for two seasons before the team decided watching Michael Jordan in his second (and last) season was rightfully worth an extra $5 per game. When Jordan was (also rightfully) run out of town by Abe Pollin, the $15 price tag stuck until the 2008-2009 season when the price went up a buck to $16 per. Then two years ago the team decided to ramp things up a lot, adding a $4 (or 25%) increase for 2014-2015 and another $8 (or 40%!!) for this current season. So that's a 30% increase in cost over 14 seasons and a 75% increase over the past two. Hmmmm...

This ticket pricing thing is no doubt complicated stuff so I've always watched the secondary market as an indicator of whether or not I'm getting value for my money. Over the past two years, upper level tickets using season ticket holder pricing have been tracked by me as 30% (two seasons ago) and 46% cheaper (last season) than secondary market pricing. Based on that data, I could reasonably defend ownership's decision to raise prices to the level seen this year.

This year the data says something different. Through tomorrow night's game vs. the Miami Heat (home game 23), I could have bought a ticket on StubHub for each home game in a location comparable to my current upper deck season tickets for about $32.50, just $4.50 more per game than I pay by buying all 41. And that includes the artificially inflated Lakers game secondary market price caused when Kobe announced his retirement five days before the game. 

Compare those prices to the pricing available through StubHub for the first 23 home games last year and you find a $4 per game drop in ticket prices over the previous season. Now, no doubt this is likely directly related to on court performance this year but to me, these results are pretty conclusive: it only cost $4.50 more to see a game buying a la carte on the secondary market. Considering there's no obligation to spend money on worthless preseason games, the difference is actually less.

The Wizards have always touted a reduced per game price for the season ticket holder. This year's numbers from my secondary market research show that savings is about 15%. I think the Wizards intend it to be more than that. I certainly would argue it has to be when I'm watching the Wiz take on Milwaukee or Minnesota mid-week and I have to sell me second set of seats for $5. I think it's time to freeze upper deck pricing for 2016-2017 and maybe beyond. I hope the Wizards agree with me. I guess we'll find out in a few weeks.

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