October 25, 2014

Ticketmaster Strikes Back

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.

October 16, 2014

Free Stuff! 2014-2015 Edition

It's mid-October, so it's about time for the Wizards' promotional schedule to be released for the upcoming season. This is one of the most anticipated milestones leading up to the season for the hardcore, have-no-other-sort-of-life Wizards fan. Just to be clear, in chronological order, the excitement for the current season builds with the NBA schedule release in early August; followed by the start of training camp in late September/early October; followed by the start of preseason games about 10 days later; then delivery of the season ticket package somewhere in there; almost finally the release of the giveaway schedule in mid-October; and finally the season itself starting a couple of days before Halloween.

Search on Google for the Wizards 2014-2015 promotional schedule and you won't find it anywhere on the internet. The Wizards haven't announced the schedule yet on their webpage. But they have printed them on the little fold out schedules that are scattered around Verizon Center and since yesterday was preseason gameday, I managed to pick up one of those to get the scoop in advance of the team officially releasing it on their site. So  actually now I've posted this, maybe you will find it when you search on Google. Read on...

For those of you (and I'm among your number) who look forward to accumulating Wizards swag for your shelves at home, get ready to be disappointed. I'm sorry, there's just no other way to spin it. The number of promotional nights is incredibly small. Like four. Total. Not for any one month. There are eight dates on the schedule but four of these are Kids Day, Singles Night and Military Career Fair which are total ruses. Unless you actually give something away, in my opinion these do not belong on the promotional schedule. No way, no how.

Two years ago, there were six items on the schedule, last year it was five, this year it's four. Four years from now, it's going to be nothing at that rate. I'm not happy about it in the least. The Milwaukee Bucks, who I consider the gold standard of NBA giveaways after my visit to a Bucks-Wizards game last March, have 24 nights where they give stuff away. 24!!! We get four.

But before I provide a (somewhat) exclusive preview of the coming season's loot, let's address the elephant in the room and talk about what's not on the schedule. That's right, spoiler alert, there is not a single bobblehead on the slate. Not one. For the dozen or so people who regularly read this blog, you know I consider the bobblehead to be the primo, a-one, top dog NBA promotional giveaway. Nothing else comes close. I know I'm not alone in this opinion. For the last two years, Wizards fans have had to be satisfied with one gameday bobblehead giveaway per year. This year, we can expect less.

The Bucks (again...the gold standard of NBA giveaways) have four. FOUR!  That's as many bobbleheads as the Wizards have giveaways in total this season. Now I know, you may be saying to yourself that the Bucks need to entice people to their games more than any other team, and you might be right. But the Chicago Bulls have three bobblehead days this season and the Golden State Warriors have two preseason bobblehead giveaways. Preseason! Wow! And I'm talking Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry, not the 14th and 15th guys on the roster. If the Bulls and Warriors can do this, so can the Wiz. But they are not.

So, with all that said, let's get to the very unexciting (with one very notable exception) 2014-2015 Wizards promotional night preview post. Once again, I offer my expert analysis and long term significance to each item. (with my quick recommendation in parentheses for those of you with attention spans too short to read the whole thing). All for the cost of nothing. Let's go!

Last year's schedule magnet is still on my refrigerator today. My Elvis in gold lame suit magnet is on the other side and not pictured.
Schedule Magnet (Essential)
November 1 vs. Milwaukee
I've said it before and I'm saying it again, I can't live through the fall and winter and early spring without my Wizards schedule magnet on the refrigerator. It's the essential tool for checking when the next game is. We all visit the refrigerator every day, right? Whether it's grabbing some milk, eggs, cold cuts or the very occasional beer, the schedule magnet is always there to orient my day or week to the Wizards calendar. An opening day tradition! Can't miss this giveaway.

Marcin Gortat Action Figure (OMG Seriously! Very Essential)
January 31 vs. Toronto
How awesome is this? I'm still stung by the lack of bobbleheads (in shock even!) but a Marcin Gortat Action Figure??? I've never been more enthusiastic about getting to January 31 than any other year I have lived. This giveaway is perfect for Marcin given his love of Steven Seagal and him driving tanks this summer with the Polish military. I can't wait for the preview of this in late January probably on Dan Steinberg's DC Sports Bog. Two things have to happen here. First, it has to have the mohawk. The mohawk alone will make this thing super authentic. And second, I can't wait to see what it comes with. All action figures come with something, right? A weapon, shield, hat, accessories, whatever. It makes sense that Marcin's action figure would come with a basketball. I'm hoping for a pig, personally.

Team Poster (PASS!)
March 29 vs. Houston
This is at least the third year in a row that the Wizards have handed out a team poster in the last month or so of the year. This is an item I just don't even pick up. It's not even worth the effort to carry it around the arena. Just a poor quality piece of paper with the Wizards team printed on it. It's a kids' thing. Of course, you might make an argument that all of this stuff is kids' stuff. I'm still passing on the poster. Next!

Fan Appreciation Night Water Bottle (Pick it up but likely discard)
April 12 vs. Atlanta
Whether this giveaway stays in my possession after the Wizards pummel the Hawks will depend on a few factors. The appearance, quality and whether the thing looks like it will be useful are some, but the Wizards' overall record and if there's a kid sitting next to me without one might just as easily factor in to my decision to carry this thing back to Metro Center and beyond with me or just leave it under my seat in Section 109. I have news for the Wizards: if they want to really appreciate the fans, they'd hand out bobbleheads at this game. If they need ideas, I have plenty, but I'd start with a Randy Wittman bobble. how amazing would that be?

So that's it! I know…short, right? Like unbelievably I must have missed something on the list short. Sorry, but I didn't miss anything. I'm obviously disappointed in my team here but honestly, this year's lineup is a Wizards cooler shy of being as good as last year. The bar is just so low here. I guess my trip to Milwaukee spoiled me last year. Those guys know how to do it right.

Proof I'm not lying. SMH...

October 12, 2014

Where's Bradley Beal?

Earlier today, the Wizards finished their first of three straight pre-season games at Verizon Center. This season features the greatest number of preseason games at VC since I've been a season ticket holder. The other two are later this same week, which means I'll be making two more trips down to F Street before the end of the day Friday.

I generally spend very little time around Verizon Center in the summer months since I stopped working downtown seven years or so ago, so the first Wizards game of the season, be it preseason or regular season, brings an opportunity to see how the neighborhood has changed since the previous Wizards season was over. The most dramatic change was some years ago when they finally took the construction scaffolding off the front or south face of the Smithsonian American Art Museum which allowed an uninterrupted view down F Street all the way to Union Station; after years of seeing the American Art Museum under renovation, the change was striking. This year, the only changes I noticed were that the FroZen Yo store on F Street has moved to Chinatown and Souvenir World at the corner of 10th and F has closed. It seems like that place has been there forever.

In addition to changes outside the arena, it's exciting to see what's happened to the inside of Verizon Center over the summer. The most obvious changes this year were the repainted main entrance to the building and a brand new basketball court (shown above) with the Unity Hand logo replacing the Wizards wordmark at center court and solid red lanes beneath the basket. In past seasons, the lanes have generally been striped for the professional game (at 16 feet wide) and the college game (at 12 feet wide); this year, it's just one lane for the NBA game. I love the lane change but I'm a big fan of the Wizards wordmark so I'd rather they just stick with that. I realize I'll be in the minority on that one.

But there's still work to do inside Verizon Center to get ready for opening night on November 1. Let me explain.

A couple of years ago, the team installed a series of photograph panels or billboards, if you will, on the lower concourse of the building. These billboards feature Wizards, Mystics, Capitals and Georgetown University basketball players, in addition to some other acts who play Verizon Center frequently. A little over a year ago, I had a picture of myself taken in front of the picture of Martell Webster for my "About This Blog" page. I was curious to see who would be up on these panels this year, so before the game, I took a quick stroll around the 100 Level of Verizon Center. Here's what I found, starting at the north entrance to the building and walking counterclockwise.

Marcin Gortat
Marcin's our starting center and just signed a new five year, $60 million deal. During the 2013-2014 season he played in all but one of our regular season games and averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He poured in 31 points and snagged 16 rebounds in game five of our playoff matchup against the Indiana Pacers, the last playoff game we would win before being eliminated by the Pacers. It makes a ton of sense to have Marcin up on the wall. I believe he was placed there after we traded Jan Vesely to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller at the trading deadline last season. It would be nice for Marcin if the Wizards ticket sales table were not blocking most of his picture but whatever.

Nenê was the first real building block in the Wizards' culture change that started at the trading deadline of the 2011-2012 season with the team trading goofball center JaVale McGee for a legitimate professional NBA player, in this case Nenê. Critics decried the trade when we made it; most felt the Wizards had traded a player with tremendous upside for a broken down, overpaid, undersized center. A year and a half later, it looks like the Wizards fleeced the Nuggets. Nenê not only brought a sense of professionalism and seriousness to the Wizards, he's actually played in way more games than McGee has since the trade (124 regular season games plus 10 playoff games to McGee's 104 and 13). How could a big picture of Nenê not be on display at VC?

Josh Groban
OK, so Josh Groban doesn't play for the Wizards and never has. Verizon Center has two musicians on display in its lower concourse. One is Bruce Springsteen. I find it curious that Groban is the other.

John Wall
I'll be brief here talking about Wall. Franchise player. Number one overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. 2014 NBA All-Star. 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest winner. Led the NBA in total assists during the 2013-2014 NBA season. John is the only player on the team with a maximum contract and the unquestioned leader of the team. As he goes, quite often, the team goes. The best player deserves his picture up in the building.

Martell Webster
Martell's first season with the Wizards two years ago was his best as a pro as he averaged 11.4 points per game with a 42.2% success rate from beyond the three point arc in 76 games. He parlayed that season into a four year deal for the full mid-level exception or between $5 million and $6 million per year. Coincidentally, the Wizards put his picture up near Section 102 just before he re-signed. Martell's production dropped off last year as a sixth man. I'd love to see him back in the starting lineup with John Wall this year. I feel he really prospers with Wall on the court. You can debate the merits of Martell getting a billboard but the fact that he's my favorite player is good enough for me to keep him there.

Chris Singleton
I like Chris Singleton a lot. I love the interview he gave to ESPN during the lockout before the 2011-2012 season, we've hung out in Vegas together (OK, maybe not so much) and I've always found him one of the most approachable Wizards players in his three years in Washington. But…he doesn't play for the Wizards anymore (he's currently playing as a training camp invitee on a non-guaranteed contract with the Indiana Pacers). 

Now I'm not sure what the Wizards' attitude toward retaining Chris in the off season was but I'm pretty confident considering they didn't pick up his contract option and really made no significant strides to retain him that they probably knew by the end of last season that they had no plans to retain him. So why is his picture in our gorgeous white home uni still up in the building?

I can't imagine how much money it costs to replace the graphics on one of these panels but Chris can't stay here more than like another week, right? And if the Wizards can't think of someone to replace him, I'd suggest they try Bradley Beal because this is the last Wizards related graphic on the lower level of Verizon Center starting at the north entrance and walking counterclockwise. I think Bradley's earned it. The real deadline to get this fixed is November 1 when we open our home slate against the Milwaukee Bucks. Verizon Center spent a bunch of money this summer installing a Capitals hat trick display which is just awesome. They need to fix this next. It's on the east end of the building in case this is just an oversight.

October 5, 2014


Last year the Washington Wizards created a rewards program for season ticket holders. The program, called Monumental Rewards, allows season ticket holders of the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals to redeem points for merchandise, memorabilia, food, and Verizon Center. The VC experiences include basketball and hockey games, concerts and some more unique stuff not generally accessible either to the general public or even to season ticket holders.

Points are earned in a variety of ways, including buying tickets; retweeting and liking official Wizards tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook; selling tickets on the Ticketmaster ticket resale website (more on this soon); attending season ticket holder events; and watching the team on TV and entering promotional codes. The intent here is to get season ticket holders to engage with the team in the maximum way possible. In exchange for our love, we get points which we can exchange for stuff, mostly by using points like cash based on set prices, although there are some items for auction.

Last year, the only item I redeemed points for was a pair of VIP wristbands to allow me access to the Dewar's Coaches Club below the northeast lower bowl stands and the Courtside Club on the opposite side of the arena. That is because in my opinion they we're the only item worth purchasing. VIP wristbands offer fans an all you can eat and drink experience as well as exclusive access to the floor level of Verizon Center. The chance to walk along the edge of the court alone is enough of a thrill to justify spending points on this reward. It is so great a benefit that I devoted a post to it on this blog last season.

According to the Inflation Calculator, VIP wristbands costing 750 points last November should cost $766 today.
At the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, the price for VIP wristbands on the Monumental Rewards site was set at 750 points. That number is totally relative but considering I had 28,000 points at the beginning of last season, I could have cashed in all my points and had VIP access for every game. The price seemed way too low. And surprisingly, I didn't cash in all my points, but probably should have. By the end of December last year, the price had climbed to 3,000 points. I definitely should have cashed in all my points at that point but because I was at least on the ball enough to recognize the cost of this experience was too low, I managed to get 14 games with VIP access, which was completely awesome. It made the 2013-2014 season, which was already the best in the last 14 years, even better.

So naturally this season, I was hoping to participate in a similar number of VIP experiences. But in the last week, my hopes have been dashed. Significantly. The rules have changed. Significantly.

First of all, the price has climbed to 10,000 points. I expected a price hike this year (I even told the Wizards the price at the original 750 points was way too low) but I didn't expect an increase of 7,000 points over the final number last year. But even worse, access appears to be restricted to one game per month, which unfortunately really restricts my own personal use of this reward. I say "appears" because only November's games have been released for purchase so far, which I guess also allows them to raise the price even higher. I guess I shouldn't have told them the price was way too low, although I think they would have figured it out anyway. But that's some kind of year over year inflation. Wow!

Don't get me wrong here, this is not a complaint. This rewards program was instituted by the Wizards last season without any increase in cost to the season ticket holder and I really appreciate the opportunity to enjoy VIP access even once a month. The Wizards don't have to offer this type of perk to season ticket holders at all, although I think I deserve it; I've sat through a lot of games in two 19-63 seasons since I first bought season tickets.

Every person gets something different out of the Monumental Rewards program; I've talked to other season ticket holders who use their points for things I never in a million years would want. To each his or her own I guess. But the VIP experience is the only thing I want. Now maybe if there were exclusive bobbleheads for purchase...that might ease the sting of the once-a-month VIP restriction. Consider it, Wizards, please. I can imagine how perfect a Kevin Seraphin bobblehead would look on my shelf next to the rest of my collection.