Last night, the Washington Wizards released 2017-2018 renewal invoices to season ticket holders. Let me say I am shocked by next year's season ticket map and pricing. Shocked in both a good way and in a bad way. And before I get too glass half empty on those couple of dozen or so of you reading this post, let me say as someone who holds both lower level corner seats and upper deck center seats to watch the Wiz play at home all year, I am extremely happy overall with the news.
Unfortunately I will get glass half empty in this post because unfortunately the devil in in the details.
First the good news. For season ticket holders sitting in the 100 and 200 levels of Verizon Center, it appears the only ticket price increases anywhere in the entire building are in some of the VIP courtside seats which jumped from $1,050 per game to $1,100 per game. That means my lower level corner, Row E seats remain at $80 per game for next year.
I couldn't be happier with this news. This is such a bargain. After the last few years of experiencing price hikes following the ticket price slash of 2011, I get to pay the same for my lower level seats next year as I did this year. I think that's extremely reasonable on the part of Wizards ownership considering both the success the team is currently enjoying and the fact that these seats are probably among the cheapest in the NBA for that location.
Let's face it, team ownership is selling season tickets right now at potentially the height of the market. The Wizards are killing it lately (well, except for last night in Philly) based on a recent home-game-rich schedule and a not exactly challenging road schedule during the last couple of months. After next Friday's home game against Toronto, the Wizards will be faced with 15 of their last 21 on the road, including two separate swings out west. There's a possibility that this current third place run will not last. Instead of cashing in, ownership has decided to reward season ticket holders here.
A decade ago, my lower level corner tickets cost $98 per game. Next year, they will cost $80. I honestly was braced for a $20 per ticket price hike in this location. I got $0 next year. Huge win for me and all Wizards season ticket holders in the 100 and 200 levels here.
And then there's the upper deck...
In contrast to the (almost) no increase in pricing downstairs and in the club level at Verizon Center, there are increases all over the 400 level. Last year there were four separate price groups in the upper level: two price levels in the five center sections (one for the front half and a lower one for the back half); a third in the front half of the eight corner sections; and a fourth covering the back half of the corners and all throughout the end zones. Next season there will be seven different pricing groups: the center five sections and corner sections now have three separate pricings and the end zones are split into two different price groups.
On a big picture level, the cheapest seats upstairs have not increased at all; those are still available for $16 per game just like this year. Everything else went up. My upper deck seats in Section 415 went up from $30 per game this year to $36 per game next year. That's a 20% increase in price!!! As shocked as I was about the no price increase downstairs, I'm equally shocked by this hike but in the opposite way obviously.
I have a few problems with this. First, the price increases and what I will refer to as nickeling and diming for a 400 level seat is out of character with the history of pricing for this franchise. In my first 14 seasons as a season ticket holder, no ticket in the upper deck (other than when Michael Jordan was playing in D.C.) topped $16 per game. In the last four seasons (including next year) my tickets have jumped in price by 225%. Clearly new ownership has the right to set prices however they see fit but for folks who have bought upstairs for more than a decade or more, there may be some sticker shock.
Secondly, it's important for season ticket holders that the investment they are making in tickets not be undercut by the secondary market. If we can buy tickets cheaper on StubHub or Ticketmaster's resale site or anywhere else for less than we are paying, why bother shelling out more for a full season? I've been tracking the secondary market this year just like I have for the past few and my research to date indicates that I could have bought seats comparable to my upper deck seats in Section 415 through the March 5 game vs. Orlando for an average of $36.44. That's about what I'll be paying next season, although considering my season ticket package includes three half-price preseason game which I don't care about, the secondary market is actually lower than what I'll pay next year. There has to be more of a difference between the resale market and what season ticket holders are paying.
I argued earlier this month that there should be no upper deck price increase next year but also admitted I expected one. Honestly, my expectation was that the Wizards would try to get blood out of a stone here and sheepishly try to sneak in a $2 per seat increase. I didn't expect to pay 20% more for these seats next year. The Wizards need these fans in the building. I still think there's some value in them considering deep discounts for season ticket holders for seats which cannot be sold. I made this case last year. I remain committed to this idea. We need this building rocking with hard core Wizards fans.
So where does that leave me? Well, like I said earlier I'm personally very happy. I expected to see a $22 per game increase in the cost of my tickets and I got $6. Can't argue with that, I suppose. I'm also pleased with softer benefits, including access to meet the team events (although there's admittedly a lack of detail here); season ticket holder renewal gifts; and particularly the Fluid Tickets Program, which I think is a huge plus for season ticket holders. I'll be renewing for next year pretty much just as soon as I can get over to Verizon Center next.
But long term I'm concerned about the price of 400 level seats, particularly considering the secondary market situation this year. The reality here is that Wizards fans can easily pick up mid-week tickets against a less popular opponent for less than $10. The best benefit of being a season ticket holder (for me) is guaranteed access to playoff tickets. At some point, continuing to increase the price of tickets upstairs is concerning to me, especially if the team fails to qualify for the postseason which this year seems all but impossible. If I were to buy my same seats in the upper deck for a Capitals season, they would cost me $58 per game; I'm hoping we are not heading there.
Last night, Ted Leonsis and the Monumental Sports group made me happy about buying Wizards season tickets next year. My biggest fear about being a season ticket holder is that one day these will become more costly than I want to pay and I'll be shut out of this experience. For the next year until this time in 2018, I can stop worrying about that. Let's go Wizards!