June 19, 2016

Season Tickets vs. StubHub? 2016 Report

It's almost the end of June. The NBA season is over tonight. The NBA Draft is Thursday and everyone's looking forward to the start of free agency. And free agency is all the diehard Wizards fan has had to look forward to for the last two plus months. Let's get this thing started and move on to the 2016-2017 season. But before I put last season to rest for good, it's time for my third annual secondary market ticket pricing report. Spoiler alert here: Wizards fans should feel less positive about their season ticket purchase last year than the prior two years. Success on the court and rising prices are the likely culprits here.

To refresh everyone's memory or to introduce newcomers to the concept, for the past three seasons I've tracked the price of Wizards tickets on the secondary market. I published my first set of results two years ago; last year I did the same thing. Since I realize there's only so much we can stand to read in our ADD world these days, let me summarize the results the last two years on a big picture level.

For an upper deck seat in the front of the center five sections of Verizon Center, buying Wizards season tickets represented a 25% savings over the secondary market during the 2013-2014 NBA season and a 46% savings one year later. For a lower level seat in the front of the center five sections of Verizon Center, buying Wizards season tickets in a corner section represented a 30% savings over the secondary market during the 2013-2014 NBA season and a 48% one year later. The cost savings increase was remarkable between the two seasons because the saving increased despite the Wizards deciding to raise prices for most seats in 2014.

Got that? Good! Now before we get to last season's numbers,  perhaps a little perspective is in order. First, I changed the conditions of the experiment a little bit. The last two years I tracked pricing at two different points in time: once about a week ahead of gameday and once on the day of the game. I decided that the results yielded by that tracking provided me with no useful data so I abandoned it completely. I am doing this primarily to understand if I am getting the kind of value I need out of my season tickets; tracking pricing at two different points in time for every game didn't significantly change that evaluation for me.

Secondly, both StubHub and Ticketmaster this year provided total price information without having to move beyond the initial stadium screenshot (previously StubHub was the only one doing this). Because they did, I tracked pricing on both sites and can report that information for both the consumer and the seller here today.

Thirdly, just like in 2014, the Wizards again raised prices in 2015 (as they did this year too). For the comparison offered here (which are the specific seats I purchase) there was a 20% increase in lower level tickets and a 40% increase in upper level tickets. A 40% ticket price increase with no corresponding increase in secondary market prices might wipe out the savings promised by the team as part of their season ticket sales pitch.

Finally, there's no playoff comparison this year. Why is that? Because the team didn't make the playoffs this year. Next year, Wizards fans will be paying out more money on the promise of getting better. We'll see how that works out for us.

Ticketmaster's enhanced pricing feature, showing prices with all fees from the first screen.
So after all that, let's see how the secondary market compared to the discounted season ticket pricing. Just like the last two years I've done this, I'm comparing the price of similar location secondary market tickets to my specific season ticket locations. For the lower level, that means the first ten rows of the center five sections; upstairs, that means the first seven rows of the center five sections.

  • Purchasing Section 109, Row E seats for the entire 2015-2016 season cost me $2,805. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every regular season game (no preseason; preseason has no value) would have cost me $3,930. Season tickets are 29% cheaper. That's a lot different than the 48% I reported last year.
  • Purchasing Section 415, Row C seats for the entire 2015-2016 season cost me $1,190. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every regular season game (again, no preseason) would have cost me $1,440. Season tickets are 17% cheaper. Just like in the lower level but actually way worse, that's a lot different than the 46% I reported last year.
The results above are just for StubHub. For tickets on Ticketmaster's site, including their resale NBAtickets.com site, secondary prices are a little higher: on average 6% higher in the lower bowl and 10% in the upper deck. That doesn't wholly surprise me: when you buy on Ticketmaster you are getting a guaranteed ticket. As awesome as StubHub's customer service is and as many times I have bought tickets off their site without any problem whatsoever, they can't guarantee the seat you buy is authentic because they don't own the original ticket.

Concentrating on the StubHub pricing only, secondary market tickets during the 2014-2015 season cost an average of $109 in the 100 level and $38 upstairs at Verizon Center. Last season, these numbers were $96 and $35 respectively. So secondary market pricing for Wizards tickets dropped even though the team raised prices. Next year better be a really good one for the Wizards, since my 109 seats suffered a 21% increase in price this past February. The Wizards (and I) can't afford another price drop on the secondary market. If that trend continues, pretty soon my tickets will be more expensive than the resale market, despite the advertised benefit of cheaper than gate prices.

The results above consider attendance at all 41 home games. Most fans don't do that. Some only go on weekdays after work; some go only on weekends when they have more time; and some just pick the best opponents to go see. It's important therefore to consider pricing of other scenarios, which I've done each of the past two years as well. Last year, looking at some different scenarios yielded consistently good results for Wizards season ticket holders. This year, the lower level made out fine: any of the three scenarios listed earlier in this paragraph showed at least a 29% savings vs. the secondary market.

Not so much in the upper deck. Upper deck tickets against the best teams in the NBA (the four conference finalists) were a bargain for season ticket holders. But attending weeknight games (Monday through Thursday) was not. In this scenario, season ticket holders were afforded only a 15 % savings over the secondary market. Considering the Golden State game and one of the two Cleveland games were on a weeknight, that's troubling. That means there were a lot of weeknight games in the upper deck which had essentially no value whatsoever. That matches my personal experience last year. There were lots of weeknight games I could neither give away nor sell tickets to.

As I've already mentioned, one of the advertised benefits of being a Wizards season ticket holder is the opportunity to purchase tickets at a discount, although the specific discount over the gate price is never written down. This should be a benefit for a couple of reasons. First, if you can buy tickets overall cheaper on the secondary market why would you ever buy season tickets unless you really loved other benefits or were really attached to your seats. Secondly, diehard fans can't possibly be expected to pay the supply and demand secondary market price for every game. The reason why some games are more expensive than gate prices is that there are folks out there willing to pay a lot of money to go to just the one game they want to go to. Season ticket holders would never be able to afford that scenario for every game. The discount is a key to retaining diehard fans who show up game after game no matter who or how well our team is playing.

So what does this all mean for Wizards season ticket holder subjected to yet another price hike? Well for one, your season tickets are likely still cheaper than secondary market prices but the team better perform better than they did last year or it might be that way for long. The results this year represent for me a reversal in trending. It also means based on last year's data that you are for sure paying more than some dude buying off StubHub for a midweek game against Brooklyn, Milwaukee or some similarly undesirable (read: they have no committed fans either) team. Skipping these games surely means selling at a big loss or eating the cost entirely.

I re-upped both sets of my season tickets this year but I thought hard about it. I actually considered just renewing my upper level seats and then buying selectively a la carte on the secondary market to a predetermined overall spend limit that I would be comfortable with. I thought that would allow me to watch a lot of games in the lower level during weekdays against weaker teams (including a VIP game or two) based on a depressed market and lower my overall spend. That's an idea I might reconsider each year, especially since I know prices will continue to likely rise all over the arena. For now, I believe season tickets are a bit cheaper but as those prices get higher and higher, other options become way more attractive. All we need now is a couple of franchise altering free agents. Ha!

Want to see the Wiz vs. Nets this past April upstairs? $11 would get you in. Season ticket holders paid $28! Ouch!

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