The Washington Wizards 2014-2015 home opener is scheduled for one week from today. The opponent is the Milwaukee Bucks, which seems like the easiest home opener opponent we could have been handed, and that's a good thing. Of course, it looked that way last year when we drew the Philadelphia 76ers in this same spot and that didn't work out so well at all. If there are two relatively easy things the Wizards could do to improve their record over last season, it would be getting off to a better start (like better than last year's 2-7 record over the first nine) and stop losing games to clearly inferior teams at home (think Philly, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland again).
The start of pro basketball in the District again means it's time for the secondary market for Wizards tickets to start heating up again. Last year, I tracked the price of seats similar to my season tickets in the upper and lower decks of Verizon Center vs. prices on StubHub. I priced equivalent tickets one week ahead of time and then the day of the game to see how the cost of the tickets I have bought from the team for the last 14 years compared to a la carte buying on the open secondary market. The results, which I thought were interesting but lacking of any sort of long term trending data, were posted on this blog in July of this year.
I'm intending to track similar data this year using pricing on both StubHub and nbatickets.com. StubHub's pricing is easy to track; the price shown on their website is the price you pay. I'm not sure how I will track pricing on nbatickets.com because there are a series of hidden fees you can only see upon checkout. Not surprisingly, since the words "hidden fees" were used, nbatickets.com is a Ticketmaster enterprise. I've decided to track prices on both sites this year because I perceive a change in market share away from StubHub and towards nbatickets.com. I'm not tracking pricing anywhere else because my perception is these two sites get the lion's share of the NBA secondary market business.
Big picture-wise, there are some small but potentially significant differences between the two sites. As of the beginning of the 2013-2014 NBA season, StubHub charged sellers 15% commission, whereas nbatickets.com charged only 5%. I assume most of the commission difference was collected by nbatickets.com from the buyer, although I could be wrong. I'm not sure it matters. StubHub this summer decided to change the seller commission to just 10% but then make it up on the buyer side. My belief on this change is that it will not lead to more money for the seller because the market won't tolerate prices going up and will self correct itself when sellers realize they are just going to have to cut their prices (and thus lower their commission) to last year's prices.
The bigger difference between the two sites is on the risk side. Ticketmaster owns the tickets that are being re-sold so they have the ability to cancel the original tickets and re-issue new tickets to the buyer, meaning there is no chance of the buyer's tickets being fake or having been re-sold multiple times on multiple outlets. There is less risk for the seller also; there's no way the buyer can come back to the seller and claim the tickets are invalid. StubHub can't offer this assurance; they put measures in place to combat this sort of risk but it's not guaranteed. Few things in life are, I guess.
I have bought and sold tickets on both sites and while I have always been nervous about the tickets I bought on StubHub working, I have never (repeat, NEVER) had tickets fail. There has never ever been a problem. On the seller side, though, I have had issues. One was my fault: I accidentally uploaded the wrong tickets once and the buyer didn't notice until they got to the gate. I lost a sale on that one but to StubHub's credit, they didn't punish me financially like they could have. The other was strictly a false claim by the purchaser. I sold some New York Jets - New England Patriots tickets a couple of years ago and received an email from StubHub that the buyer claimed my tickets didn't work just as the Jets went down 35-0 in the second quarter. Once again the customer service from StubHub was exemplary and they resolved the claim without my input after looking at the facts (I assume they told the buyer that they didn't believe him). I love StubHub. Their customer service is fantastic and they aren't a sort of inherently evil monopoly sort of thing like Ticketmaster but the guarantee isn't there. Just saying.
During the 2013-2014 NBA season, both StubHub and nbatickets.com offered buyer instant access to their ticket purchase. This year, that has all changed. Ticketmaster, it seems has a new policy that is affecting ticket availability on the market (and not just the secondary market). Instead of offering Wizards season ticket holders the ability to download and print the tickets they have spent their hard earned money on, this year we can only download three days before the event. While Ticketmaster's stated reason for this is to control the number of copies of tickets out there and increase security for ticket purchasers. I have to speculate this is in part or in whole aimed at producing a re-selling advantage over StubHub.
When purchasing tickets on StubHub, there is sort of a reassurance behind the "Instant Download" note next to the tickets you are buying. Maybe it's an instant gratification thing but I think it's more related to the fact that if I buy something, it's mine right there and then. I think that kind of emotional connection is important and positively affects purchases on StubHub. This year, you can't get that unless it's 72 hours or fewer before the event. If you buy or sell earlier than that, the Wizards season ticket holder has to remember to upload three days before the event time. That has to, in my opinion, affect sales on StubHub.
Just a couple of other notes about this policy. First it's clearly not NBA wide. I bought some tickets for the Wizards - Raptors November 7 game on StubHub and have had the pdf tickets for weeks now. Secondly, it appears this policy is being applied to the primary market in some areas. I am planning a trip to south Florida in mid-December and bought tickets to see the Wiz play the LeBron-less Heat while I'm in Miami. I paid my money, but Ticketmaster says I can't have my tickets until 72 hours before the event. That is surely going to inconvenience me because I will be in a hotel for a couple of nights before the game and I'll likely have to get my tickets printed some other way. That for sure doesn't increase my ticket security because I'm asking someone else to print them for me.
So why do I care about all this? There are a couple of reasons. First, I am very concerned about the Wizards one day pricing me out of my seats. There is a trend in sports ticket selling toward market driven pricing (the team calls it "dynamic pricing" which adjusts the price of tickets up or down depending on market demand and which sounds way cooler than it really is) and I think that is dangerous for the season ticket holder if applied the wrong way. I have sat through many many many bad Wizards seasons in the 14 years I have bought season tickets and dutifully shown up game after game to watch my team win or (mostly) lose while spending far above market value to do so. I think that's worth something. I am not a guy who just bails on the team when they start losing. I show up.
If we move to a clearly market driven pricing structure, that means that when the team is really good (if we ever get that far), the price of tickets could skyrocket and that could potentially hurt the season ticket holder. There are people out there willing to spend all their basketball dollars for years just to see one important game. I believe it's important to see every game, so I have less money to spend on just one game. I'm hoping we never get there; I love the season ticket holder discount based on buying an entire season at once. But if we do, I'd really like to see how my tickets' worth measures up to the market.
Secondly, Ted Leonsis has talked a few times in meetings with season ticket holders about the value of our tickets on the secondary market as a benefit to the season ticket holder. As the team gets better, the cost of tickets should increase (I agree with this) and therefore will be worth more on the secondary market. There is much about this statement that is true but if the value of my tickets is ever less than the market value of the tickets, then I think the team and our owner should know. I'm hoping he reads My Swag Was Phenomenal in his spare time before he goes to bed at night or something.
I'm hoping me tracking ticket prices this year results in the same findings as last season, namely that buying season tickets offers a 15% or so discount over market value. The cost of my lower level seats rose 10% in the offseason and the cost of my upper level tickets increased by 25%. That's a lot of escalation to overcome but our team may just be good enough to do it. I'll let everyone know the results in about July or so next year.