June 25, 2016

Fun While It Lasted

Summer is a difficult time for me to blog about the Wizards. Other than the NBA Draft in June (no picks this year), Summer League in July (not going this year) and the release of the next season's schedule in August, there is precious little for me to write about. So every so often I've saved a blog post for the summer because it appeared that there was relatively little urgency to writing about the chosen subject. This is one of those blog posts. Sometimes those blog posts lack the relevance they would have had if I'd posted them earlier. This is also one of those blog posts.

This past February, Monumental Sports and Entertainment (the group that owns the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals) announced a partnership with FanPics, a company that takes photographs of crowds during sporting events. I know, right? Keep reading. From what I can gather, FanPics installed a series of cameras somewhere near the middle of the arena (I'm assuming on the scoreboard) which at certain times during the game takes a photograph of the entire crowd at Verizon Center for a Wizards or Capitals game. This shutter is apparently operated by a person who is supposed to select certain eventful times in the game when the crowd might be especially energized. I figured this part out because there was a call for applicants posted on the company's site earlier this year.

Once the photographs are taken, they are made immediately available to all fans for free. Their app even has a feature which will email a picture of you based on your seat assignment to you during the game so (I guess) you can re-post to your social media of choice instantly. In case you are catching up here, FanPics somehow made an agreement with the Wizards to install equipment (which presumably costs money) at Verizon Center; they will then pay someone a wage to man their camera system; and the products of their labors are made available absolutely free to anyone. I have to admit I was struggling to understand this business model.

Pretty sure I'm calling a charge here. Although I might be trying to poke Mike in the face.
In early April I finally had some time to check out FanPics so I made an account, punched in my seat location and lo and behold, there I am watching the Wizards over the course of the last couple of months worth of games. Most of the photographs were a little fuzzy but there were some pretty good ones of me watching hoops, which admittedly is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I'm posting the three I consider as the best of the bunch here, which feature me in my John Wall jersey doing some kind of air pull-up; me gesticulating wildly to my right while my friend Mike sits next to me stone-faced; and Mike and I high-fiving.

I thought before I wrote this post I'd go back and pick up the last few games of the season and see if there were any better shots. But when I tried my sign in information, it didn't work. I tried re-setting my password and that didn't work either. So I tried making a new account with a different email address and failed at that too. Puzzled, I thought I might try to contact FanPics with a question so I checked their Facebook page (last post March 10, 2016) and their Twitter feed (last tweet March 18, 2016). After all that, I'm not sure they exist anymore, which totally makes sense since I had no idea how these people would ever make money. Even if they were to sell pictures instead of giving them away, I still couldn't imagine that being worth the investment. Well, it was fun for the month or so that it lasted, right? Maybe they are still around. I've never said I was the best with technology but I'm pretty sure I can make and maintain a FanPics account.

Whether or not FanPics is truly dead I guess doesn't mean much to me either way, but in the photo below, they have done something remarkable. I think they have sort of crystallized my Wizards fandom into a single image. It's a little out of focus, which is both annoying but also somehow perfect at the same time. We're obviously playing the New York Knicks (because I remember the annoying dude behind us in the Carmelo Anthony jersey right up until the time he left early) and Mike and I are super happy about something exciting enough to stand up and high five each other (and I'm assuming it's not Mike getting a new Bud Light).

In the meantime, nobody, and I REALLY mean nobody, is the least bit excited about what's happening. There are a couple of dudes two rows behind us that look like they are clapping politely but most of the other people are barely paying attention to the game. What the heck is going on? I'm so pumped up that my fist is clenched. But this is my live experience at a Wizards home game in a nutshell. No other picture could more perfectly sum up the atmosphere I feel most games at Verizon Center. It's almost like I feel I'm doing something wrong by making noise when the Wizards do good things. If that's my lot in life, so be it. I'm not going to stop cheering, even if nobody else will. RIP FanPics, if you are truly dead.

June 21, 2016

Get Lucky!

Let's start this blog post with a test. Raise your hand if you think Ernie Grunfeld is a below average NBA general manager. Keep your hand up if your judgment is based in whole or in part on his drafting history. I'm guessing a lot of people reading this have at least one hand up. If you do, is it because he drafted Oleksiy Pecherov, Nick Young and JaVale McGee in the first round of successive drafts or is it because he selected Jan Vesely over Klay Thompson, Tomas Satoransky over Draymond Green and traded a pick that he could have used on Stephen Curry? Put both hands up if it's all of the above. Pretty damning, right? I mean this guy really doesn't know what he's doing.

So who do you think drafts well? How about the Golden State Warriors, since in the last seven drafts they've selected Stephen Curry (2009), Klay Thompson (2011), Harrison Barnes (2012), Festus Ezili (2012) and Draymond Green (2012)? All five are still with the team and three of the five (Curry, Thompson and Green) have made at least one NBA All-Star Game, not to mention Curry being named MVP of the league two years in a row and the franchise appearing in the last two NBA Finals (winning just one thanks to Keke Vandeweghe).

Sounds pretty good, right? Never mind the fact that there was a different general manager in place in 2009/2011 vs. 2012 and that the same guy who drafted Stephen Curry in 2009 selected Epke Udoh with the number six overall pick a year later. And if anyone thinks the strategy used by the Warriors to select Draymond Green with the 35th pick in the 2012 Draft was genius, consider that if they had to do it all over again, they might select him over Harrison Barnes at the seven spot but they would for sure certainly pick Draymond ahead of Festus Ezeli five picks earlier. Draymond's game only took off after he lost 20 pounds one year after he was drafted. The Dubs for sure got some good bounces on this stuff.

Let's try another test. Raise your hand if you would have selected Kevin Durant over Greg Oden with the number one overall pick in 2007. Or Marc Gasol over Nick Young that same year. Raise your hand or keep it up if you would have grabbed Russell Westbrook over O.J. Mayo or Michael Beasley the very next year. What about in 2011? Raise one hand if you would have picked Kawhi Leonard, two for Jimmy Butler or zero for Derrick Williams if you have the number two overall pick. Did you have at least one hand raised throughout this paragraph? If you did, I say you are lying or your memory is really short.

In the 2007 Draft, at least half of the teams would have selected Oden over Durant. Heck, the Seattle SuperSonics might have selected Oden if they were unlucky enough (as it turned out) to have the number one spot that year. Know how many teams passed on Marc Gasol? 25, including the Los Angeles Lakers who drafted him. But only after they picked up Javaris Crittenton and Sun Yue before him. In 2008 the whole debate about who goes number one centered around Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose; Russell Westbrook was NEVER an option. And Leonard (drafted 15th) and Butler (drafted 30th) would never in a million years have been selected by any team ahead of Derrick Williams in 2011. Discussing anything else is revisionist history.

Let's get back to Ernie Grunfeld. Assuming he still trades the 2009 five pick for Randy Foye and Mike Miller (total bust of course), he still could have drafted Rajon Rondo or Paul Millsap or Kyle Lowry in 2006 instead of Pecherov; Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler in 2011 instead of Vesely; and then of course Draymond Green over Tomas Satoransky in 2012. But who's he supposed to take in 2007 instead of Nick Young? Al Thornton? Acie Law? Julian Wright? Oh wait, all those guys were gone already. What about Daequan Cook? Wilson Chandler? Morris Almond? I mean I get Mo Almond was about the most successful Wizard ever (6-0 record) but look at the list and tell me who he's supposed to pick with the benefit of hindsight. That year was just a bad year.

What about John Wall? That pick was pretty good, don't you think? Would you rather have Evan Turner, who was really the only other option at number one anyway? The answer is no. You might say you want Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins but you wouldn't have claimed that so articulately back in 2010. And don't tell me Grunfeld had no other choice but to take Wall and therefore gets no credit whatsoever because there was another choice. There's were tons of other choices.

Should we pick on the Bradley Beal or Otto Porter picks? The Wizards could have Steven Adams or C.J. McCollum instead of Otto. Or Damian Lillard or Andre Drummond instead of Beal. At this point, is there really that much of a difference here? Remember the Wizards could have opted for Thomas Robinson (selected ahead of Lillard and Drummond) or Ben McLemore (picked ahead of McCollum and Adams) but didn't. Yes, Lillard and Drummond have made the All-Star Game but Derrick Rose won an MVP and can't stay on the court any more. Wait a few years before you start picking on Beal and Porter.

So what's the point here? Well, it's certainly not to exonerate Ernie Grunfeld for all his past draft mistakes because for sure there have been some (Pecherov sticks out really badly to me). But it is to remind everyone that we can't just go back and re-write history to complain about what ifs using the absolute best possible outcome from every draft year. It doesn't work that way. Do you remember how Grunfeld got trashed for picking Vesely in 2011? No? Know why? Because he didn't.
Fox Sports and NBADraft.net gave the Wizards a B that year; Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick and Ball Don't Lie gave the Wiz an A+. A+!!!!! For Vesely, Singleton and Mack. Everyone that year was convinced the Wizards needed an athletic big man to run with John Wall and plenty of people loved Jan Vesely in that role. Nobody knew that pick was going to turn out horribly.

When the selections start Thursday night, rest assured there are about a million mock drafts out there that all look relatively similar. And if any team picks much outside that order, whatever general manager has dared to deviate from the plan will get immediately crucified like the second coming of the Kristaps Porzingis pick last year. Oh wait a minute...so far that pick's looking pretty good. There's no crystal ball, no surefire thing. There's a ton of luck and things breaking the right way here. And there are a lot of things to derail any exciting draft pick.

At the end of the Draft this week, every team is going to go home convinced they did the best they could and they made some smart picks (well, maybe not the Wizards because we don't have any picks). But we won't really know until next season, or the season after or maybe five or six seasons from now. There's so much luck involved in this process. Well, unless maybe you select Jonny Flynn fifth overall...because what was David Kahn thinking that year? Don't overreact to anything about the Draft this week. It's a little bit of a crap shoot after all. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And sometimes you have to wait a while to find out.
Jonny Flynn...we hardly knew ye.

June 19, 2016

Season Tickets vs. StubHub? 2016 Report

It's almost the end of June. The NBA season is over tonight. The NBA Draft is Thursday and everyone's looking forward to the start of free agency. And free agency is all the diehard Wizards fan has had to look forward to for the last two plus months. Let's get this thing started and move on to the 2016-2017 season. But before I put last season to rest for good, it's time for my third annual secondary market ticket pricing report. Spoiler alert here: Wizards fans should feel less positive about their season ticket purchase last year than the prior two years. Success on the court and rising prices are the likely culprits here.

To refresh everyone's memory or to introduce newcomers to the concept, for the past three seasons I've tracked the price of Wizards tickets on the secondary market. I published my first set of results two years ago; last year I did the same thing. Since I realize there's only so much we can stand to read in our ADD world these days, let me summarize the results the last two years on a big picture level.

For an upper deck seat in the front of the center five sections of Verizon Center, buying Wizards season tickets represented a 25% savings over the secondary market during the 2013-2014 NBA season and a 46% savings one year later. For a lower level seat in the front of the center five sections of Verizon Center, buying Wizards season tickets in a corner section represented a 30% savings over the secondary market during the 2013-2014 NBA season and a 48% one year later. The cost savings increase was remarkable between the two seasons because the saving increased despite the Wizards deciding to raise prices for most seats in 2014.

Got that? Good! Now before we get to last season's numbers,  perhaps a little perspective is in order. First, I changed the conditions of the experiment a little bit. The last two years I tracked pricing at two different points in time: once about a week ahead of gameday and once on the day of the game. I decided that the results yielded by that tracking provided me with no useful data so I abandoned it completely. I am doing this primarily to understand if I am getting the kind of value I need out of my season tickets; tracking pricing at two different points in time for every game didn't significantly change that evaluation for me.

Secondly, both StubHub and Ticketmaster this year provided total price information without having to move beyond the initial stadium screenshot (previously StubHub was the only one doing this). Because they did, I tracked pricing on both sites and can report that information for both the consumer and the seller here today.

Thirdly, just like in 2014, the Wizards again raised prices in 2015 (as they did this year too). For the comparison offered here (which are the specific seats I purchase) there was a 20% increase in lower level tickets and a 40% increase in upper level tickets. A 40% ticket price increase with no corresponding increase in secondary market prices might wipe out the savings promised by the team as part of their season ticket sales pitch.

Finally, there's no playoff comparison this year. Why is that? Because the team didn't make the playoffs this year. Next year, Wizards fans will be paying out more money on the promise of getting better. We'll see how that works out for us.

Ticketmaster's enhanced pricing feature, showing prices with all fees from the first screen.
So after all that, let's see how the secondary market compared to the discounted season ticket pricing. Just like the last two years I've done this, I'm comparing the price of similar location secondary market tickets to my specific season ticket locations. For the lower level, that means the first ten rows of the center five sections; upstairs, that means the first seven rows of the center five sections.

  • Purchasing Section 109, Row E seats for the entire 2015-2016 season cost me $2,805. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every regular season game (no preseason; preseason has no value) would have cost me $3,930. Season tickets are 29% cheaper. That's a lot different than the 48% I reported last year.
  • Purchasing Section 415, Row C seats for the entire 2015-2016 season cost me $1,190. Purchasing equivalent seats on StubHub for each and every regular season game (again, no preseason) would have cost me $1,440. Season tickets are 17% cheaper. Just like in the lower level but actually way worse, that's a lot different than the 46% I reported last year.
The results above are just for StubHub. For tickets on Ticketmaster's site, including their resale NBAtickets.com site, secondary prices are a little higher: on average 6% higher in the lower bowl and 10% in the upper deck. That doesn't wholly surprise me: when you buy on Ticketmaster you are getting a guaranteed ticket. As awesome as StubHub's customer service is and as many times I have bought tickets off their site without any problem whatsoever, they can't guarantee the seat you buy is authentic because they don't own the original ticket.

Concentrating on the StubHub pricing only, secondary market tickets during the 2014-2015 season cost an average of $109 in the 100 level and $38 upstairs at Verizon Center. Last season, these numbers were $96 and $35 respectively. So secondary market pricing for Wizards tickets dropped even though the team raised prices. Next year better be a really good one for the Wizards, since my 109 seats suffered a 21% increase in price this past February. The Wizards (and I) can't afford another price drop on the secondary market. If that trend continues, pretty soon my tickets will be more expensive than the resale market, despite the advertised benefit of cheaper than gate prices.

The results above consider attendance at all 41 home games. Most fans don't do that. Some only go on weekdays after work; some go only on weekends when they have more time; and some just pick the best opponents to go see. It's important therefore to consider pricing of other scenarios, which I've done each of the past two years as well. Last year, looking at some different scenarios yielded consistently good results for Wizards season ticket holders. This year, the lower level made out fine: any of the three scenarios listed earlier in this paragraph showed at least a 29% savings vs. the secondary market.

Not so much in the upper deck. Upper deck tickets against the best teams in the NBA (the four conference finalists) were a bargain for season ticket holders. But attending weeknight games (Monday through Thursday) was not. In this scenario, season ticket holders were afforded only a 15 % savings over the secondary market. Considering the Golden State game and one of the two Cleveland games were on a weeknight, that's troubling. That means there were a lot of weeknight games in the upper deck which had essentially no value whatsoever. That matches my personal experience last year. There were lots of weeknight games I could neither give away nor sell tickets to.

As I've already mentioned, one of the advertised benefits of being a Wizards season ticket holder is the opportunity to purchase tickets at a discount, although the specific discount over the gate price is never written down. This should be a benefit for a couple of reasons. First, if you can buy tickets overall cheaper on the secondary market why would you ever buy season tickets unless you really loved other benefits or were really attached to your seats. Secondly, diehard fans can't possibly be expected to pay the supply and demand secondary market price for every game. The reason why some games are more expensive than gate prices is that there are folks out there willing to pay a lot of money to go to just the one game they want to go to. Season ticket holders would never be able to afford that scenario for every game. The discount is a key to retaining diehard fans who show up game after game no matter who or how well our team is playing.

So what does this all mean for Wizards season ticket holder subjected to yet another price hike? Well for one, your season tickets are likely still cheaper than secondary market prices but the team better perform better than they did last year or it might be that way for long. The results this year represent for me a reversal in trending. It also means based on last year's data that you are for sure paying more than some dude buying off StubHub for a midweek game against Brooklyn, Milwaukee or some similarly undesirable (read: they have no committed fans either) team. Skipping these games surely means selling at a big loss or eating the cost entirely.

I re-upped both sets of my season tickets this year but I thought hard about it. I actually considered just renewing my upper level seats and then buying selectively a la carte on the secondary market to a predetermined overall spend limit that I would be comfortable with. I thought that would allow me to watch a lot of games in the lower level during weekdays against weaker teams (including a VIP game or two) based on a depressed market and lower my overall spend. That's an idea I might reconsider each year, especially since I know prices will continue to likely rise all over the arena. For now, I believe season tickets are a bit cheaper but as those prices get higher and higher, other options become way more attractive. All we need now is a couple of franchise altering free agents. Ha!

Want to see the Wiz vs. Nets this past April upstairs? $11 would get you in. Season ticket holders paid $28! Ouch!