July 13, 2017

Season Tickets vs. StubHub? 2017 Report

One of the most important non-basketball aspects of being a Wizards season ticket holder for me is getting some sort of understanding of how much the tickets I pay for every year are worth on the open market. Plain and simple, I want to know if I'm paying too much. To that end, for the past three seasons I've tracked the cost of tickets approximately equivalent to mine on one or two secondary market sellers. A little late, maybe, but welcome to year number four of the same series.

Let's start with a recap of the conditions of this experiment. Firstly, I have two sets of Wizards season tickets at Verizon Center: a pair of seats in the lower corner in Section 109 and another pair a little higher up but almost directly behind those 109 seats up in Section 415. My lower level seats are in row E; my uppers are in row C. Both, in other words, are in the lower portion of each section. This is important because my price comparisons here are based on section and row, not just section.

As an aside (feeling ADD today...) I've been asked over the years a bunch of times why I have two sets of season tickets. I started this years ago so I could bring someone to a game now and then without my friend Mike (with whom I share the bounty that is being a Wizards season ticket holder) missing a single minute of home hoops action over at 601 F Street. Nowadays, it helps give me some flexibility in managing the total cost of my season ticket experience while still attending (hopefully) every game. Until it gets just too darned expensive, I'll keep this arrangement for a while.

Back to the controls. In checking the cost of the secondary market, I'm looking for seats that are close to or better than my season tickets. That means to me in the center five sections of the arena and in the lower 10 rows and lower 7 rows of lower and upper sections respectively. I came up with 10 rows downstairs by doubling the distance from the hockey boards (where row A is) figuring those seats are about equivalent below that level; I came with 7 rows upstairs because row G is the last row short row formed by the exits to the concourse. It's a bit random, I know.

In past years, I checked both StubHub and Ticketmaster as sources for pricing. This year, I didn't and of course it's Ticketmaster's fault. I found their site so clunky and awkward to deal with at the beginning of the season that I just abandoned any input from their resale site.

Finally, the timing of a purchase on the secondary market could affect pricing drastically. Buy too early and you'll be dealing with folks that are willing to part with their tickets only for exorbitant prices. Buy really close to the event and you may find prices dropping as sellers try to unload inventory rather than taking a total loss. Buy really really close to the event and you'll find not much inventory at all and be at the mercy of the limited supply. This year, I checked prices once per month towards the beginning of the month but usually about a week before the first day. I'm sure there were bargains later as well as price spikes later.

How much is a ticket to a Wizards game again? Flex pricing makes it hard to tell.
So what gives this year? Let's get right to the big picture results. As I've done in past years, I'm comparing the average resale prices to the per game price for season ticket holders based on the total cost of a season ticket averaged over 41 regular season games. That means the cost of preseason games (which have pretty much no value to me) gets added to a typical game. I did not do research on preseason games on StubHub. If I could delete the preseason games from my package I happily would.
  • Purchasing Section 109, Row E seats for the entire 2016-2017 season cost me $3,400. Purchasing approximately equivalent seats on StubHub would have cost me $4,070. Season tickets are 26% cheaper. Last year the same study revealed season tickets were 29% cheaper. For the second straight year (the year before it was 46%), the gap between season ticket cost and secondary market cost has gotten smaller for these seats. That's not a good trend.
  • Purchasing Section 415, Row C seats for the entire 2016-2017 season cost me $1,275. Purchasing approximately equivalent seats on StubHub would have cost me $1,566. Season tickets are 19% cheaper. Last year the same study revealed season tickets were 17% cheaper. A larger gap is better here. That's encouraging (except that the Wizards upped the price of these seats next year).
On an absolute dollar basis (it's difficult to understand pricing trends using percentages of changing baselines, or the team increasing the season ticket cost year over year in this case), the value of a resold Wizards ticket last year was higher than the prior year, after a one year (non-playoff year) dip. Over the last three seasons (starting with the 2014-2015 season) the cost of a 100 level ticket like my season tickets has trended from $109 per game to $96 per game to $99 per game. In the 400 level those three year numbers are $38 then $35 and back to $38 this year. People pay to see winning teams is the message here.

As always, the devil is in the details. First, the numbers above are what the prospective customer would pay for a ticket on the secondary market, not what the seller would receive. So all you fans (or non-fans) looking to invest in a whole boatload of Wizards season tickets for a guaranteed profit need to remember that the ticket selling site takes a significant commission on these things. You won't make money using the numbers I'm reporting here.

Trend-wise this past season there was one really noticeable one: tickets re-sold better at the end of the season than in the beginning of the season. The Wizards 2-8 start had a lot to do with this; they didn't even hit .500 again until New Year's Eve eve. But another part of this has to do with the NFL, oddly enough. My data's always shown that ticket resale values remain lower while football is being played, especially if Washington's football team is still in playoff contention.

If you were to purchase tickets to Wizards home games before NFL Conference Championship weekend, you'd be paying an average of $76 per game for tickets comparable to mine downstairs at Verizon Center and $27 per game for a 400 level seat. That's cheaper per game than I paid for a whole season. Buy all the games after that time and your per game price on StubHub would be at $132 and $54 per game. Pretty big jump. And yes the Golden State game was in the latter part of the year as was a Cleveland game but there was a Cavs game in November too. D.C. is a football town; what else can I say?

If you were looking for bargains this past season, you could find them. Particularly against less popular teams on weeknights. The lowest prices on my list were mid-week games against the Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns ($31 in the lower level and $12 upstairs). And yes, both those games were during football season. Want to buy just the Golden State game? Well, your per game price is going to skyrocket vs. a season ticket holder but (a) you are not shelling out money for the whole season and (b) you can probably afford a higher per game price if you are only buying one game. That's why there's a season ticket holder discount for buying in bulk. That same season ticket holder will be paying more for that early December Phoenix game.

Finally this year, the Wizards made their return to the playoffs so I have some playoff data to report here.

Now, you would think that playoff reselling would be a sure fire bull market, right? Not so much. Two years ago, I bought extra tickets to the second round series vs. the Atlanta Hawks thinking the same thing. I priced them high and kept them there as the Wizards took game one on the road in Georgia. But the market crashed after John Wall broke his wrist and the Wiz lost game two. Consumer confidence in the Washington Wizards secondary market is fragile. I actually lost money on the extra tickets I bought.

This year, Wizards season ticket holders looking to sell playoff tickets probably made out pretty well. Except for the fact that the whole point of buying season tickets is so you can get guaranteed playoff tickets that is; sure you can make some money, but you probably don't want to miss these games. Why suffer through an 82 game regular season to just make a quick buck when the action heats up?

The results in the postseason? I paid an average of $106 per game for my lower level seats over six playoff games (all wins by the way!!!). My StubHub data suggests that someone looking on the secondary market would pay almost double that or $206 per game. The results upstairs were similar. I coughed up an average of $41 per game. The secondary market price looked about 2.5 times that number at $106 per contest. Pretty good returns if you are willing to skip everything meaningful about the NBA season.

If I'm predicting the future (and I've been historically awful about that), I'm thinking next year the resale market will be a lot more robust, primarily because the Wizards elected to keep season ticket holder pricing the same in a lot of locations in Verizon Center. But if there are lessons to be learned here it's that the team needs to play well in order for the resale market to be hot and the casual fan would get better value for money before the end of January. I'm still upset at the price hike upstairs. I'm interested as to how that will compare with the resale market.

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