July 26, 2014

Summer League Side Trip: In-N-Out Burger

My quick trip to Las Vegas this month was my sixth consecutive NBA Summer League pilgrimage to the desert to watch basketball. During each of the past two trips (or as long as I have had a blog about the Washington Wizards), I have made a deliberate side trip, a quest for something beyond the basketball action which is the reason for me being there in the first place. I have to fill this thing up after all, right?

Two years ago, I visited the Neon Museum's Boneyard, a back lot full of old neon signs near downtown Las Vegas along Fremont Street; last year, I tracked down some Deschutes beer that I hadn't been able to find since I was in Portland in 2011 on a two week cross country trip that still stands as one of the best vacations I have ever taken. This year? Sort of a mixed bag; I might have tried to pick off too many things.

I took a trip down to the Hoover Dam on the Wizards' preliminary round day off but I can only get so excited about that place. I mean, it's a big concrete mass that retains water and has equipment inside that I don't quite understand. I also spent some time waaaay off strip at the Railroad Pass Casino in Henderson, Nevada playing quarter roulette $2 at a time for a couple of hours while knocking back a few Budweisers and taking the casino's money. Definitely the best time I have ever had playing roulette. But I think if I were to pick the signature side trip of this trip, it would be a visit to see an old friend I hadn't sat down with since 2008.

If you look west on a clear day when crossing the bridge between the Excalibur and New York, New York casinos, you can see all the way to the mountains. As an aside, I have pretty much settled on Excalibur as my hotel of choice in Vegas (cheap and convenient is the logic here); and after all, where else would a Wizards fan stay. Even if it's not clear, you can see all the way beyond I-15 about a half mile down the road day or night easily. But at night, just on the north side of Tropicana Avenue, you can see something else, a wonderful red and yellow neon sign that taunts and teases vacationers and locals alike: In-N-Out Burger. This was my 2014 Summer League side trip.

I was first introduced to In-N-Out Burger about a decade ago, either on a 2005 trip to Southern California or maybe just a few years before that to visit my friend Jim, my former college roommate. I'd heard about how good In-N-Out Burger was somehow (I had a tendency to track fast food news at that time in my life) and so I asked Jim to take me one day when we were hanging out doing pretty much about nothing. That first trip was really really good, way better than the fast food burgers we could get on the east coast and despite Jim's insistence on the supremacy of Carl's Jr. burgers, In-N-Out Burger rocketed to the top of my fast food hamburger list where it has stayed ever since.

After that first taste, I made sure to make a detour for some In-N-Out Burger goodness each time I visited close to one anywhere out west, which mostly meant California or Vegas. Why no east coast franchises you ask? Well ever since they were founded in 1948, In-N-Out Burger has refused to allow distribution to anywhere that will require them to freeze their meat in transit so they've stayed close to their California headquarters. My trips to In-N-Out Burger when on the west coast became an essential rite of passage and I brought other friends with me to hear the gospel. Good times.

But then in 2007, I found out I had gout. After reviewing what exactly that meant, I pretty much determined that ground beef was my Achilles heel that would cause my knees, ankles or toes (or any combination thereof) to swell and hurt really really badly so I had to give up hamburgers made out of beef, which meant no more In-N-Out Burger. I tempted fate in 2008 in San Francisco and paid for it the next week. From there, I swore off hamburgers. Done. Fini. No more.

The 2008 Double Double I had in San Francisco was the last fast food hamburger I allowed myself for a while. In the meantime, I decided (or maybe somebody decided for me) my gout had become so bad that it needed medicating and so for the past couple of years I have been mostly pain free. So in a perhaps uncharacteristic YOLO move, I decided on this trip that I could make one more trip out beyond I-15 to sample something that I used to think about every time I considered going to Vegas. Sunday night after the Wizards-Timberwolves, I made the journey.

In-N-Out Burger essentially makes three things: burgers, fries and shakes. No chicken sandwiches, no breakfast, no burritos, no salads, no pies, no pork sandwiches pressed into the shape of pork ribs with bones. Just burgers, fries and shakes. That's the first beauty of In-N-Out Burger; they are totally and utterly dedicated to making three things really well. No need to diversify; no need to ruin perfection. According to their website, they do actually make other things but I've never seen it, other than the kids' grilled cheese, which is selectively omitted here.

When it comes to burgers, you actually do have options at In-N-Out Burger: single hamburger, single cheeseburger or double cheeseburger (the famous and fabulous Double Double). For the sake of tradition and utter deliciousness, I opted for the Double Double with fries (also known as a number one!). Then I waited (for two reasons). One, In-N-Out Burger makes everything fresh. There's no microwaving or burgers sitting around waiting to be ordered. Secondly, the place is always packed. I mean, always. We got there at about 10 pm and there was a line several people deep, a full drive through and about 10-12 orders inside waiting to be filled. Lines after years in business mean the place is good.

All gone!
I don't understand what makes In-N-Out Burger so good. I mean it's just freshly cooked beef patties with cheese on a fresh roll with lettuce, tomato, secret sauce and onion (always get the onion). But whatever they do to it, it works. There is something so amazing about biting into a Double Double and getting a taste of that rich premium beef with fatty, delicious melted American cheese. The crunch of the lettuce and onion, the sharpness and freshness of the onion and the sweetness of the tomato just complement the perfect bite so well, especially when offset with their secret sauce (which In-N-Out Burger just refers to as "spread"). Regardless of the reason, it's so much better than a Big Mac, Whopper or even a Wendy's triple burger (and yes, Jim, even better than Carl's Jr.) it's impossible to resist.

In 2008 in San Francisco, I paid the price for my In-N-Out Burger indiscretion in the form of knee or ankle pain. My 2014 experience was totally different and totally consequence-free. Looks like I'm back in the saddle again. And I will be. Just as soon as I can get back out west.

Otto knows...

July 22, 2014

Alternate Unis

For the first time since the team's colors were re-branded in 2011, the Washington Wizards will finally have an alternate third uniform which will be introduced during the 2014-2015 NBA season. How and when these alternate uniforms will be worn is still to be revealed, but there's no doubt there will be a third uniform for this coming season. And you know what? I'm not really happy about the design at all.

When I first became a Wizards season ticket holder, our uniforms sucked. Like really badly. I've offered the opinion before that the Wizards and Golden State Warriors got a package deal on their uniform rebrands in the late 1990s and that the resultant almost identical terribly designed uniforms were way less valuable than the discounted two for one pricing that the teams got on their new duds. Whether or not the two teams colluded on their rebrands about 15 years ago, the fact of the matter is that both team emerged with awful uniforms. Since then, both franchises have seen the error of their ways and redesigned their uniforms to critical and fan acclaim.

For me, the Wizards' 2011 redesigned uniforms were a positive sign that the franchise was abandoning the poor decision to rebrand the Bullets name into something waaaaay different and go back to the color scheme from the team's glory years, namely red, white and blue.  Our new uniforms are gorgeous. They harken back to the past with horizontal stripes like the championship team wore during the 1977-1978 season which cannot be anything but positive. They also included a home "Wizards" jersey and an away "Washington" jersey which in the world of professional sports uniform design is absolutely the correct way to go. And they included a spiffy new "Washington" and "Wizards" wordmark with a Washington monument themed motif. Very successful; very nice redesign. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!!

Just one stripe…Please add it back in!
I think our home white uniforms are hands down the best uniforms in the NBA: the colors are reflective of our nation and our nation's capital, the design simultaneously reflects the franchise's past and looks to future glory; and the Wizards name is perfectly proportioned with the horizontal stripes and uniform number.  Our road uniforms are almost as impressive, although fitting "Washington" across the front of the chest becomes a little much and the predominant color is red, which I don't really like much at all. I know Ted Leonsis loves the color red and wants all of his teams to wear that color, but I don't like it much at all.

So for the past couple of years, I've been longing for an alternate uniform. For the past three years, I've been wearing road Chris Singleton and Martell Webster jerseys to home games and every time I pull on my red uniform with pride, I secretly wished the Wizards would decide to create an alternate uniform that flipped the red and blue colors, creating an amazing alternate road jersey to match their home whites. I hate to write this, but I was looking for something the Cleveland Cavaliers did during the LeBron James (part one) years, adding a blue jersey to complement their wine and gold primary uniform.

Today, I almost got my way. A couple of weeks ago, someone got a hold of the upcoming 2014-2015 Adidas catalog which showed, among the gimmicky Christmas Day uniforms and the new gold patch on the back of the collar to signify franchises that have won an NBA title, a blank TBD spot for the new Wizards alternate uniform. This afternoon, the Wizards finally released some images.

Sure enough, the new uniform is predominantly blue. But it's also missing one key element that makes the 2011 rebranded uniforms so amazing. It sounds so trivial, but the white stripe across the chest makes all the difference. Without the horizontal stripe, the uniform loses critical visual interest and makes the finished product look like some kind of practice jersey, a cheap knockoff from the original if you will.

Now don't get me wrong, I may actually purchase one of these on October 1, the first day they are available, and it's likely to be a Marcin Gortat jersey. But make no mistake, I think the Wizards made a critical mistake with this alternate jersey rollout. Maybe the team will add the stripe on the front back to the uniform, much like they deleted the stripe on the back two seasons ago so the numbers can be better read.  Regardless of what happens from here on out, I think the Wizards dumbed down our uniforms for the current season. Maybe it will get a few poor saps (like me) to pony up some dough for the new design but I'm still not happy. Brick back the stripe!!!!

July 16, 2014

Summer League 2014

As of this posting, the Washington Wizards are undefeated in the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League, a perfect 3-0 in their first three games. While winning at Summer League doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things (it's not like they are going to hang a banner in Verizon Center if we win the whole thing), it's nice to be winning instead of perpetually losing. As I have done every year since 2008, I made my way out to Vegas this past weekend to see the Wizards play in the middle of July. This was my sixth trip to Summer League; at this point I have been going to Vegas for basketball longer than some NBA teams have been. Sort of crazy.

For the second year in a row, the Las Vegas Summer League is a tournament style format. I guess this sort of event appeals to the public in that one team actually wins it all, but for me it limits my ability to see the maximum amount of Wizards basketball. The tournament format actually spreads the games out. Back in the day (two years ago), a typical schedule for a team would be to play three days in a row, followed by two days off and then games on two consecutive days before heading back out of town. Any sort of supremacy bragging rights a few years ago consisted of finishing first with a perfect 5-0 record, likely the same record as four or so other teams. There was no definitive winner, which I guess in the United States just won't fly.

While I'm all for winning it all (even though my teams don't), the old format was nice because I could find the three days in a row that the Wizards were playing and just go out  to the desert for those days. I've spent more than a month and a half of my life in Las Vegas but I've only ever stayed in town for more than three nights once and I can't see myself doing it again. It's just too much for that long. With the tournament format, no team will ever play three consecutive days unless it's in the elimination portion of the tournament and let's face it, there's way too much risk of me not seeing my team at all when the words "elimination" is in play.

So instead of seeing three games in Vegas this year, I only got to see two. I hopped on a plane first thing Saturday morning at National Airport to arrive in time for game one's 1:30 pm tipoff and took in game two the next day. The third and final game of the preliminary stage of the tournament was going on while I flew home, a way too long one stop journey that the weather in the D.C. area turned into a two stopper with a semi-emergency landing in Pittsburgh. Nothing like sitting in coach for a couple of hours on a runway in western Pennsylvania.

Summer League this year is all about Rice and Porter.
With the Wizards having no first round draft pick this year and having sold its second round pick to the Lakers for a couple of million bucks or so, this year's Summer League was all about our two draft picks from the 2013 draft, Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. Both of these guys had disappointing to so-so Summer League debuts last year followed up by a rookie year that saw neither on the court in much meaningful game time so this year's Summer League was a chance for redemption and to show the NBA that they had actually progressed in their first year in the league.

If Vegas was a coming out party for Otto and Glen, I'll be very pleased with their contributions this year. In both game one against the Atlanta Hawks and game two against the Minnesota Timberwolves, these two for me were clearly the best two players on the court. The Wizards offense and defense excelled while the two were in the game and it definitely suffered when they were on the bench. It started right off the opening tip of game one against the Hawks, with Otto scoring the first basket and assisting on the next two. The Wizards rolled to a 16 point victory behind a game high 25 from Otto. He shot at a high percentage, hit one from beyond the arc and recorded seven rebounds and three assists. 

Overall in both games Otto's game looked under control. His jump shot fell nicely in both games I saw, including off glass, although his field goal percentage dipped in game two when he scored just 13. He ran the offense when he had to, played good defense and only turned the ball over once in each contest. For a guy who was advertised as the complete package who might take a while to develop, this might be an important step forward. Franchises don't draft players with the number three overall selection to sit on the bench; Otto needs way more time on the floor and needs to contribute to the cause when he's in the game. He's still thin, but has obviously benefited from some time in the weight room with Marcin Gortat.

Otto Porter: Year Two.
Glen Rice was similarly impressive. He scored 22 points in both games behind a mostly effective jump shot and a ton of time at the line. He managed to drive into the lane repeatedly and get fouled in both games, shooting an astonishing 16 free throws in the game against the Timberwolves. He showed a lot of aggressiveness and a pretty good stroke from the three point line just above the left elbow. His aggressiveness was almost out of control in both games; he hit some lucky off balance buckets in game one and took some bad leaning forward shots in game two where he wasn't so lucky. I'm not sure what was going on in game two but Glen was clearly upset in the second quarter which affected his game. I'm not sure if Alexey Shved hit one too many threes on him or if his teammates weren't getting the ball to him when he wanted but Al Harrington was clearly trying to calm him down at the end of the first half. I know Summer League can be a far cry from the NBA season but I couldn't really be any more encouraged by the first two games.

Other than Porter and Rice, there were a couple of other guys on our team that I thought would be worth writing a word or two about. The first is Daniel Orton, who spent the 2009-2010 collegiate basketball season as a teammate of John Wall at the University of Kentucky. I saw Orton play for the Maine Red Claws in Portland, Maine on my D-League trip this past spring. When I saw Orton in Maine he looked massive, clearly one of the largest players on the court. He seemed to be a skilled big man but he wore down that day playing on a team with only eight players; he just didn't seem to be in good shape. Four months later, I left the first game in Vegas thinking the same thing, although he looked a lot smaller next to players from the big leagues. Orton made some gorgeous passes in traffic and his bulk allowed him to rebound well. But he is clearly not in good shape; guys with guts don't last in the NBA. He's going to have to lose that if he wants to make it.

The second guy was Khem Birch, an undrafted UNLV prospect who showed some good defensive skills, especially in the shot blocking department. Sam Cassell indicated he wouldn't mind taking a change on Birch in training camp if he was still available. Birch to me seems like at worst a D-League call up this year and I expect that's where he'll land if he doesn't stick in the NBA.

Summer League is one of my favorite times of year. I can get way closer to the pulse of the NBA when I'm in Vegas for a couple of days than I can during an entire year at home during the regular season. The establishment surrounds you completely. I can't say hi to coach Randy Wittman during the regular season or listen in on conversations with former players or talk to broadcasters about the latest gossip flying around on Twitter. I can do all of that at Summer League. I managed to congratulate Ernie Grunfeld on the Paul Pierce signing and was rewarded with a pat on the shoulder. I also managed to offer my thoughts on video about the the Summer League experience. I love this stuff.

Getting big time! The Panini autograph pavilion with fans waiting for Julius Randle.
A lot happened off the court this year while I was at Summer League. Trevor Ariza bailed on the Wizards during Saturday's thrashing of the Hawks to sign (again) with the Houston Rockets. Ariza's a loss for us, especially on the defensive end, but I think Trevor is not going to be the same on offense without John Wall; I'm not sure the league appreciates how good John makes other people quite yet. The Ariza defection was followed by surprising news about the Wizards signing Paul Pierce and news of a potential sign and trade with Dallas for DeJuan Blair (who the Wizards famously passed on in the 2009 NBA Draft) the next night. By the time I got home on Tuesday night, the Wizards had added former Kardashian Kris Humphries and re-upped with Drew Gooden. The roster definitely filled out while I was gone.

Because it's Summer League, I got a chance to chat with CSN Washington's beat reporter J. Michael before the Timberwolves game just outside the arena. He claimed to have been all over the Paul Pierce news (not sure I'm believing that because it came out of nowhere); offered the opinion that Trevor Booker would not be back with the Wizards (he signed with the Utah Jazz yesterday); and let us know that the Wizards were capped out on Trevor Ariza at $8 million per year for four years or $9 million for three (Ariza took $8 million for four years with Houston). But the biggest surprise is that he seemed absolutely convinced of the possibility that the Wizards could land Kevin Durant in 2016 and that the organization was gearing everything financially towards that possibility. If LeBron James can go home, why not KD? I'll believe it when I see it.

While it's great to rub elbows with general managers and coaches and reporters that I follow on Twitter, I really look forward to talking with some of our current players in Las Vegas. Last year John Wall, Bradley Beal and Martell Webster sat courtside right in front of us. The year before I managed to talk with Chris Singleton for five minutes and shake hands with newly acquired Emeka Okafor. This year…nothing! That's right, for the two days I spent at UNLV watching basketball, the only Wizard I saw other than Porter and Rice was Al Harrington, and that was because he was working as a coach. Former Wizards Tracy Murray, Antawn Jamison, Roger Mason, Jr. and Michael Ruffin were there but none of our current guys were out there. Admittedly John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Booker (not a Wizard any more, I realize) and Kris Humphries have been spotted since I left but not while I was there. I should have gone and sat next to Michael Ruffin and reminisced about the good days. Well, except for that one game against Toronto.

Two final thoughts about Summer League this year. First, Summer League games are played at two sides of the same arena: the Thomas and Mack Center (where the UNLV men's basketball team plays) and the Cox Pavilion (where the UNLV women's volleyball team play). Of the two, the Cox Pavilion is by far the smaller venue. The place is barely longer than a 94' long basketball court and the crowd sits right on top of the court, benches and announcers' table. You can walk within three feet of our current players or players-turned-announcer like Chris Webber or Walt Frazier. That closeness builds an intimacy you can't find in an NBA arena and makes Summer League that much more special. You can see everything on and off the court from no matter where you are sitting. 

The Thomas and Mack side of the arena is still smaller than an NBA arena by far, but the way you can experience a basketball game is just way different. Unfortunately, all the Wizards' games this year were over at the Thomas and Mack so I felt a little cheated out of an experience I have come to love so much. I still loved Summer League, but it's just not the same on the other side of the building as it is in the Cox Pavilion. I had some crazy notion about them putting the Wizards in the larger side of the building based on a growing fan base but the Wizards faithful seemed less visible this year than I have seen in years. I'm hoping we'll be back at Cox next time I come out.

The beloved Cox Pavilion.
The Thomas and Mack Center. NOT the Cox Pavilion.
Lastly, Summer League is now HUGE! As recently as two years ago, you would have to educate cab drivers that the event was even taking place. Now they have a corporate sponsor (it's now the Samsung Summer League), an autograph pavilion sponsored by Panini (rather than a cheap folding table), advertising on twenty foot high billboards on the strip and there are no shortage of cabs clustered outside the arena. Admittedly, I went on the first Saturday and Sunday; I'm assuming weekday attendance might be a bit lower. But the event has exploded and that's both a good thing and a bad thing. Gone are the days when the place is half empty and you can sit where you want but I want this thing to stick around and succeed and the folks that have put a ton of work into this event deserve it. I'm thinking it won't be long until we see all 30 NBA teams out here and I'll have to buy tickets in advance. I'm hoping for weekday games next year, I guess.

Oh…the odds of the Wizards winning the NBA title next year is 33-1. If it had been the Eastern Conference, I'd have laid some money down. Our first elimination game is tomorrow against the Clippers/Heat winner today. I'll try to watch on NBA TV. Until then, I'm looking forward to next year.

July 10, 2014

Season Tickets Or StubHub?

A couple of years ago, I read an article on Dan Steinberg's DC Sports Bog about some dude in Frederick who bought Wizards tickets on the secondary market (in this case, StubHub) for 30 cents per ticket. That was not the first time or the last time that I have read something on the internet either implying or outright stating how foolish it is for Wizards season ticket holders to invest in a full season package. I love Dan Steinberg's work; I think his account of the Wizards-Cavaliers game from November 18, 2009 is still one of the finest pieces of journalism I have ever read. Having said that, I do think there is little room for the type of cynicism expressed or implied in his 30 cent ticket article. I hope I can explain.

As a Wizards season ticket holder who has been paying for full season tickets for the last 14 years, I bristle at these sorts of articles. I realize that probably wasn't Steinberg's intent here but it still rubbed me the wrong way, much like the apparently incredulous fan post on Bullets Forever this past season when season ticket renewal notices were mailed. Like we didn't know ticket prices were going to go up in a year the Wizards made the playoffs after a five season absence behind the All-Star emergence of John Wall? Come on, get real folks!

One of the things that gets me fired up about these sorts of one-sided arguments is that the same people who point out the availability of cheap secondary market tickets for a Tuesday night game against the Milwaukee Bucks are never on their blogs or whatever other outlet they have when the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder or whatever other team is in vogue right now visit Verizon Center. In those cases, the cost of tickets on the secondary market is double, triple or quadruple what we as season ticket holders paid for our seats. In those weeks, the mockery of the season ticket holder is mysteriously absent.

So I started wondering…are Wizards season tickets a good deal from a strictly economic going-to-games perspective? Throw out all the other variables like access to exclusive events and other sorts of perks and just focus on the cost of tickets game by game over a 41 game home slate. Would I be better off just picking up some tickets for every game on StubHub or nbatickets.com? Before I continue to be incensed by cynical rhetoric, I thought I should know if my gut was right on this one. The temptation to check this out was just too great. So I didn't resist. This past season, I tracked the relative cost of Wizards season tickets vs. comparable seats on StubHub. Now that the Wizards season is over, I think what I found out is worth sharing.

In the last 10 years or so, the rise of the internet and I suppose relaxation of ticket re-sale laws (although I haven't checked this out at all) have revolutionized the ticket resale industry. I have both sold and bought tickets on both StubHub and nbatickets.com; these sites allow me to sell some of my unused Wizards season tickets and buy tickets of more or less my choice when traveling to Wizards road games. StubHub is sort of self insured so to speak and offers purchasers their money back should tickets sold on their site be counterfeit; they hold the seller's credit card number and charge the seller (assuming the credit card is still good, I guess) if there is any issue with entry into the arena from the purchaser. nbatickets.com is even more secure; that site is owned by Ticketmaster and tickets are re-issued to the buyer which are unique from the original tickets. There's no risk to either the buyer or seller in this scenario. Other than the risk of horrendous Ticketmaster fees I guess.

Before I get too far into the details, I should lay out the controls I've used to conduct this study. All good experiments need controls after all. I centered this experiment around the seats that I own, meaning when I was tracking prices, I was tracking prices for seats which I considered roughly equivalent to the seats I own as a season ticket holder. Just to be clear, I hold two pairs of seats for Wizards games at Verizon Center: one in the fifth row of Section 109 on the aisle and one in the third row of Seciton 415, also on the aisle. I love both these sets of seats; I've moved seat locations three times each in the upper deck and lower deck to get these seats and I'm not giving them up easily.

So for the purposes of this exercise, I considered equivalent seats in the lower level to be any seat in the center five sections in rows A through J and I considered equivalent seats in the upper level to be any seat in the center five sections in rows A through G. My logic here is any seat in the center five sections twice as far back in those sections and my seat could be considered roughly equivalent. I did not get hung up on fine points like aisle seating or the fact that I can hear stuff on the court from my lower level seats that I might not hear five rows further back.

The other control I placed on this experiment was timing of data collection. Ticket prices fluctuate with time. I believed that prices generally stay higher than they need to be until very close to the date of the game. Therefore, collecting data weeks in advance of the event would yield artificially high numbers and collecting data the day of the game would result in artificially low numbers. My experiment ended with slightly different outcomes but I'll get to that. I tried to pick two data points: the first set of data I intended to collect would be one week before the day of the game and the second set the morning of the game. I managed to do the first for all 41 games. That data is solid.
I didn't do so well on my day of game data gathering. I tripped up on six or seven games in that category just due to life getting in the way. I forgot to check StubHub the day I traveled back from Iceland for the Clippers game in December and there were a few more along the way where I just flaked out. My initial impulse here was to artificially substitute what could be considered representative data from other similar games but that felt too much like the Jurassic Park scientists filling in the missing dinosaur DNA with frog DNA and we all know how THAT worked out. As such, I'm relying on my week ahead data only. The day of game data is useful to discuss overall trends but not to talk specifics.
Two final points. First, I chose StubHub for this experiment and not nbatickets.com because my perception at the beginning of this past NBA season was that there were more tickets available on StubHub and more ticket buyers used StubHub than nbatickets.com. The prices posted on StubHub are also the final price to the buyer, so it was way easier to track pricing on StubHub. We can debate whether my perception was true or not but it doesn't really matter. I only tracked prices on StubHub. For what it's worth, my belief is the gap has closed over the course of this season. Secondly, I did not track prices for preseason games although I included the price in the season ticket holder cost. I consider preseason games, which are half price for season ticket holders but mostly worthless, completely valueless.
So after tracking the price of 41 Wizards home games over the course of a five and a half month NBA season, here is the short answer:
  • Purchasing Section 109, row E season tickets for the entire season (including preseason) cost me $2,100. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every game one week ahead of the event (not including preseason) would have cost me $2,965. Season tickets are 30% cheaper.
  • Purchasing Section 415, row C season tickets for the entire season (including preseason) cost me $672. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every game one week ahead of the event (not including preseason) would have cost me $899. Season tickets are 25% cheaper.
Now, the short answer above assumes you want to go to all 41 home games. I do want to do this every year but I realize not everyone does. There are some finer points to the study, some of which show some real benefits of purchasing on the secondary market. Let's look at five other scenarios, some reasonable and some pretty far fetched, all using pricing information from one week ahead of the event:
  • Maybe you like but don't love (I know...it's hard to imagine) the Wizards and just want to go to about half the games but only the most popular (i.e. most expensive on StubHub for the purposes of this post) visiting teams. For the price of season tickets, you could have attended 18 lower level games or 19 upper level games without exceeding the price of an entire season (which is 41 games), which pretty much says you should just go ahead and bite the bullet for an entire season, unless you like sitting in a different seat each time you head to Verizon Center.
  • On the other hand, maybe you really don't care about the Wizards and just want to see games against the four conference finalists and nobody else. Of course you would need some sort of crystal ball to know who were the conference finalists in that same year, but attending every Wizards game last year against the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Indiana Pacers (total of five home games) would have cost you $864 for lower level seats and $284 for upper level seats on StubHub. That's about 3.5 times this price of the season ticket price for those games but of course you then don't have to purchase the other 36 regular season games. Definitely better buying a la carte if you just want to attend five games but the price per seat is steep.
  • Let's say you work downtown and only want to go to games on non-weekend workdays (suspend belief for a minute please that there is actually someone who thinks this way). Buying tickets for all Monday through Thursday games on StubHub would cost you $1,130 for lower level seats and $321 for upper level seats for 19 games. That's an average price of $59.50 in the lower bowl and just less than $17 in the upper deck, pretty comparable to season tickets but still slightly more. If this is what you want, buying game by game is probably the way to go.
  • The counterpoint to my last bullet above is fans that want to attend only Friday and Saturday games because they don't want to have to get up to go to work the next day. There were actually more home games on Friday and Saturday this past year than there were on weekdays. For those 20 games, you'd pay almost as much in both upper and lower levels than you would by buying season tickets for a whole season: $1,669 downstairs (vs. $2,100 for season tickets) and $544 upstairs (vs. $672). Probably should buy a whole season if you are looking for weekend only games; you could probably get the rest of your investment by selling weekday games on StubHub.
  • Finally, let's say you have limited funds (who doesn't, right?) and want to stretch your dollars as far as possible. Here buying on StubHub makes a ton of sense. You could attend seven games in the lower level for less than $200 total (rather than $350 at season ticket holder price). That same total expenditure in the upper level would be stretched out to 20 games, which amounts to less than $10 per game (vs. $16 for a season ticket holder). If you are looking for midweek games against Orlando, Boston or Charlotte, this is definitely the way to go.
In the regular season based on the data presented above, there are definitely advantages to buying individual games on StubHub and to buying an entire season, even when you don't consider the added benefits of being a season ticket holder, which I think are considerable. However, when you get to the playoffs, there's no comparison whatsoever. The five home playoff games this year cost me $355 for lower level seats and $114 for upper level seats. The cheapest I could have bought playoff tickets a week ahead of time on StubHub was $1,213 for all five games in the lower level and $643 upstairs. Those prices are about 3.5 times greater downstairs and over six times as expensive in the upper deck. Even with the prices dropping precipitously (by over $60 per ticket according to my data) for games four and six against Indiana in the second round after all the bandwagonners jumped off, the season ticket holder prices cannot be beaten here.
Finally a word about buying a week ahead of time as opposed to waiting the day of the game to buy. My numbers showed only five games dropped in price significantly in the regular season as the day of the game approached. The two largest drops were for the Lakers game in November (presumably consumers knew Kobe wasn't playing and just waited for prices to drop) and for the Pacers game late in the season when the bottom fell out of Indiana's game. In some cases, it actually would pay to buy earlier, especially for games against popular teams.
I think the prices of Wizards season tickets are insanely low and I am sure ownership knows it. Next year, the price of a full season in the lower level has increased to $55 per game and the price of upper level seats has gone up by $4 a game to $20, the highest those seats have been priced since I've been a season ticket holder these past 14 years. Buying a full season on StubHub this year in the upper deck would have cost a little less than $22 per game; buying downstairs would cost about $72 a contest. In a couple of years, assuming secondary market demand stays the same (it won't, but likely to a point), we may see these prices cross and StubHub buying become less expensive. Until then, I think my season tickets are a great investment, even though that investment sometimes does not pay off at all. You can bet I'll be tracking this next year.

The spreadsheet I used to keep track of all this stuff.