August 3, 2016

Offseason Shopping

In 2013, the Washington Wizards introduced a new fan rewards system called Monumental Rewards, in honor of the ownership group that holds the Wizards, Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and (now sort of brand new off the presses) Washington Valor Arena Football team. This program when it was first rolled out was fantastic but over the past almost three years, I've gone from loving it, to complaining about price hikes, to feeling completely screwed, to seeing a glimmer of hope that maybe things would get better.

We'll have to see about the getting better part over the coming season. It's going to take a lot of small moves or one pretty grand gesture to get me turned around on this thing. I'm still hoping the team will re-introduce VIP lounge access on at least a once or twice per year basis and I'd love to see some Monumental Rewards-only bobbleheads for Wizards fans. Please, listen to this fan on this one. There are people out there that really care about this stuff.

At the end of last season, my Monumental Rewards balance was just shy of about 145,000 points. Know what kind of Wizards swag or experiences that would get me as a Wiz fan this offseason? Well just look at the picture at the top of this post: an autographed photo from two years ago (Garrett Temple, Otto Porter and Bradley Beal only); a t-shirt that was given away at multiple games; a travel bag which I already have and which has been sitting in my closet since the day I brought it home; a yearbook after the fact that I don't want; or a John Wall bobblehead, which as awesome as it is, I already have. So basically this offseason there's nothing I want. Unfortunately given the recent history of this rewards program, there's not likely going to be anything during the season that I want either. So I decided to dig a little deeper this summer to see if I could get any value out of this program which I raved about when it was first introduced.

And I actually did find a couple of things. First, I decided to pony up 6,000 points and buy a couple of extra John Wall bobbleheads to take to England as gifts for family during a trip back to my homeland in May and June. Not the most glamorous purchase and I'm sure my uncle Malcolm and my cousin Ryan have little to no idea of what to make of these things but they have them nonetheless. Plus they were a perfect conversation piece during an Iceland stopover when we ran into the radio voice of the Wizards Dave Johnson in Keflavik airport. I've now bumped into Randy Wittman, Ernie Grunfeld and Dave Johnson in airports, although my Iceland encounter with Dave is by far the most random.

But my real source of Monumental Rewards gold (or some less precious metal depending on your perspective) this summer has been the Washington Mystics, a team that before this season I had never seen in person. I attended my first ever Mystics game back in May and after that I started poking around on the Monumental Rewards site to see if there was any way I could cash in a minimal amount of points in exchange for a ticket or two. And indeed there are options for those of us willing to go to a Mystics game or two.

Generally speaking, there are two options. First, you can pick up a pair of tickets in a suite on the 200 Level of Verizon Center for a mere 5,000 points. The suite on the club level is about as far from the court you can get at a Mystics game because the upper deck is closed. Whatever, it's a free game. What else do you want? Similar tickets for Wizards games on Monumental Rewards start at 25,000 points and go up from there so dropping 5K seems like a bargain. Albeit the Wizards games have free all-you-can-consume-at-least-until-it-runs-out food and booze as opposed to the nothing you get with the Mystics so it might actually be worth it to spend 20,000 more minimum here.

The other option is to sit in the Mystics "M-Class" seats which come in bunches of two and four for 8,000 and 10,000 points respectively. What are M-Class seats? Well if you were at a Wizards game, you'd refer to them as the Owner's Seats, the group of eight courtside seats right between each end of the scorer's table and the benches of the two teams. Sitting courtside for 8,000 points. Count me in! I grabbed a pair with my eight large for the July 22 Friday night game vs. the league leading (and very very good) Los Angeles Sparks.

One of the most interesting things about being a basketball spectator (assuming you have enough cash and the opportunity) is the choice of seating options and how the game changes as you get closer to and further away from the court. Now I've never sat courtside at an NBA game (one day...) but I've done it in the D-League a couple of times. There are things I just can't see or perceive when I'm that close to the action. I need that space to truly get a big court view. I'm sure if I sat there every game I would learn to be a better spectator.

But what you lose in closeness of vision, you gain in sounds and the small details being that close to the action. You can hear players yelling for help and talking about communication (or in the case of the Mystics a lack thereof that night); you can hear fouls (yes, HEAR); you can hear the head coach yelling profanities at the officials whose names are written on a piece of tape on the floor in front of the bench; you can watch plays being drawn on the coach's clipboard during timeout huddles; and you have to watch your feet (so players checking in and out of the game don't trip over you) and you have to drink your beer carefully (and hopefully not during game action to avoid accidents). I get that it's the WNBA and that experience might not be as glamorous as the NBA, but sitting courtside is worth it, especially being right next to the benches and especially if it's free. I mean what else are you saving your points for?

The VIP lounge at the Mystics game. At least you can stay there and watch the game live...
The M-Class seats we picked up also included free access to the Courtside Club, which is the Mystics VIP food and drink area. Now this I can get excited about! I've loved VIP access with free all you can eat food and free booze when I used to be able to get it at Wizards games. And while I knew it wouldn't be in the Etihad Airways Lounge, I was optimistic about getting some dinner and a few drinks in what I thought would be the space under Verizon Center's 100 Level west end. Just like the men's game, right?

Well...there is for sure a huge difference between the game experience at an NBA game as opposed to a WNBA game for pretty much everyone at an arena. Everything from the crowd size to the media coverage to the players' salaries is smaller for the women's game. Not surprisingly the same is true about the VIP area for courtside customers. Wizards games have two large food and drink areas under the 100 Level seats with pasta, carving stations, hot dogs, salads, cookies, brownies, ice cream, wine and beer. And it's all free except the tips (and please do tip your bartender when he or she is handing you free booze). 

Mystics games don't. There's a plate with raw vegetables with dip; a plate of fruit; a nachos station with some fixin's (chili, nacho cheese, sour cream, salsa and jalapenos); and a cooler full of soft drinks and water. At the end of the arena just behind the west basket. No gourmet food. No cookies. No brownies. No ice cream. No free beer, although a 16 oz Bud Light only at $9 a pop was available. Yep, I've now experienced the WNBA VIP treatment. 

Look, I'm not really knocking it; it was free after all. And it was worth it. Not for the VIP food and drink area but for a chance to see the game of professional basketball from a different perspective. If I want to do this at a Wizards game, I'm basically paying a couple of grand per seat on the secondary market and that's for a Tuesday night game against Minnesota or something like that. If you need to spend some Monumental Rewards points, I can give the Mystics M-Class seats experience a thumbs up. Just keep your hopes at a reasonable level.

The Mystics are off for pretty much the rest of August for the Olympic Games so I'm not seeing any live basketball in person for a while, although I could see myself going to another game if the same seats are available. Who knows, maybe next time there will be cookies instead of fruit in the Courtside Club or something.

Failing that, I'll be carrying my 130,000 plus Monumental Rewards points into the Wizards season with some hope that the availability of rewards will somehow change for the better. I got an email from my ticket representative today letting me know that new items would be available soon but it sounds like beach towels and umbrellas are being added rather than VIP experiences and members only bobbleheads. I should be thankful I got to use some points this summer I guess. Hopefully I'll use them more than once in the coming Wizards season.

Remember, Wizards...VIP and exclusive bobbleheads are what Wizards fans want.

John Wall bobblehead in England.

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