November 29, 2016

What Is A Fluid Ticket Anyway?

Every so often the Washington Wizards see fit to change up the benefits they offer their season ticket holders. Generally speaking, the benefits offered to us crazies that shell out money every year to watch this team play varies inversely with the team's on court performance (and ticket sales). Like the free group seats offered when JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche were walking the halls of Verizon Center? How about the special reception with Wizards players based on your level of tenure as a ticket holder during John Wall's first few years? And VIP access via the Monumental Rewards program just two years ago? All gone as the team got better or sold more tickets or got complaints from the biggest spenders.

So imagine my level of skepticism when the Wizards rolled out their latest enhancement for Wizards season ticket holders: the Fluid Ticket Program. I know what you are thinking: what the heck is a fluid ticket? And how can it possibly benefit me as a season ticket holder? Exactly my reaction when I first got the email announcing the feature. But after a few weeks exploring, I'm loving this benefit. Let me explain.

So the Fluid Ticket Program is essentially a ticket exchange feature on the team's official app that allows you to return your unused tickets to the team (as long as you do it before the game time listed on the ticket) for the full price you paid. You don't get the cash back; your return comes in the form of credit to buy additional or future tickets. And I know what some of you are thinking: I already have enough tickets to see this team play, why on Earth would I want more. Read on.

Foreshadowing. Cuban night by the way.
Why is this program awesome? Well, prior to this feature being available, missing a Wizards game left me two options: eat the cost of the ticket or try to sell it, which was a wild gamble based on who the opponent was and how indifferent the city of Washington is to the Wizards' performance. Can't make the Golden State or a Cleveland game? No problem; you'll make a tidy profit. Tied up at the office when the Wiz are hosting the Bucks or Jazz on a Tuesday? Better drop that resale price to the bare minimum and hope someone bites. And I mean really hope for that $5.

That message rings especially true this season because honestly the secondary market has been abysmal. I looked at tickets on StubHub the week before the Wizards-Celtics game earlier this month and I could have picked up lower level tickets in the center five sections for $30. Remember here that's the resale price; the season ticket holder selling admission to the game is getting less than that. Honestly for most games this season, season ticket holders had two choices: get 25 to 30 cents on the dollar on the resale market or turn your tickets back over to the team and receive full price credit. Given that choice, I'm taking some credit and trying my luck at some improved tickets later on in the year.

Now I realize this perk doesn't help those who want to attend every game much or at all. And I should explain at this point that I am in a unique position to use this benefit because I have two pairs of season tickets: one in the upper deck and one downstairs. The idea that my friend Mike and I came up with here was that we could bring extra people to a game now and then and not force the other person to miss out. But that also leaves us with a lot of extra tickets which we need to sell at a loss. This year, I've been trading them in for full credit.

More foreshadowing...
So what? Again, most people already have too many Wizards tickets. The last thing they want is more. Well the hidden benefit for me in this program is that VIP seats are available (which gets you access to the all you care to eat and drink Etihad Lounge under the stands) and the team gives you $100 free dollars to incentivize you to use the program. This is important. Let's do some math. 

Let's say you see some VIP tickets available on the Fluid Tickets Program for the Sacramento Kings game; the price is $195 per ticket, so you'd need $390 to buy a pair. The Wizards are giving you $100 for free. Trading in your Kings upper and lower level tickets (assuming you are like me and have both) gets you an additional $80 per lower level ticket and $30 per upper level ticket (just what you paid even though you know the uppers are overpriced). That gives you $320. Trade in two more upper level games which are utterly unsellable gets you an additional $120. 

You can now afford VIP tickets, which in my opinion are really valuable because I like to (a) eat, (b) drink and (c) watch Wizards hoops. Instead of watching the Kings game from the lower level while getting $5 for my upper deck tickets and spending at least $20 on beer, I'm eating and drinking for free at the game on the floor just for sacrificing what would likely be another couple of $5 sales on the resale market. Make sense? Too much math? Well, re-read these last two paragraphs as much as you need to so you understand. Or ask a friend for help.

Last night, I attended my first Wizards game with VIP access in about two seasons and it's because of this new benefit. I love this stuff so much that I'm doing it again next week when the Nuggets are in town and all that one cost me was a few tickets that would have been somewhat to totally unsellable on the secondary market. It's a total win for me. For a moment in time, I'm making out well with the Wizards.

The Etihad Airways lounge. LOVE this place. 
So there's a glass half empty side to this, right? Totally. There always is, even though I'm generally a glass half full guy. My top six takes (because there are six beers in a six pack) on the dark side to all this are below.

1. This program is only awesome because the Wizards secondary market sucks right now. If the team was actually drawing fans, I wouldn't need to trade my unused tickets in for team credit; I could just get some cash from ticket sales. Or I could just not spend my money on tickets to begin with.

2. If you have credit on your account at the end of the year, it disappears. Yep, that's right, if you have a few hundred bucks in credit when the last game ends, your money goes poof. Trade in tickets wisely, kids. Don't want to be stuck burning a bunch of money. $30 in way below cost sales is better than $150 in unused credit.

3. Not all games have VIP or even good tickets available in advance. Check this carefully. When I searched the games (and I did search every game) for VIP availability, I found four and all were before mid-December. That's not to say others won't be available later. Just don't bank on it. Weekend games (including Friday) had especially poor availability for additional tickets in all parts of the arena no matter the opponent.

4. The best time to maximize return from this program is before the Super Bowl. Trust me on this one: the Wizards resale market is always awful before football season is over and it's especially bad if Washington's NFL team still has a chance. Trading in tickets is wiser for tickets before Christmas than after February 1. I have the data to prove it. Wizards tickets sell better once football is done.

5. If you buy extra tickets to a game, the app prohibits returning unused tickets for that same game. I have no idea why it does this but you might want to think about this when you are considering upgrading your tickets through the app by buying first and returning later. I learned this one the hard way. I actually lied in my example story. I bought VIP tickets for the Kings game and tried to return my seats in 109 after the fact. Couldn't do it so I ended up sitting in my regular seats for that game because they are better than sitting behind the basket.

6. Extra tickets you buy are at the gate price, not the season ticket holder price. Want some extra upper deck tickets vs. the Cavs (if they were even available)? You'll be paying $79, not the season ticket price of $30. Just something to keep in mind.

If you are a Wizards season ticket holder like me who is tired of getting pennies on the dollar for tickets you can't use, I'd encourage you to check out this feature, even if you just end up spending the $100 the team gives you. I know this is going to prove extremely valuable for me this year. We'll see if it sticks next year. If it doesn't, I got two VIP games out of it without spending an extra dime, which I consider awesome.

One final note here: while the Wizards app is thinking about the absurdity of you buying extra tickets, it displays some "did you know" facts about the team's history. Unfortunately, the folks programming those messages can't spell Earl Monroe's last name right. I told someone at the team about it. I hope it's fixed by the time I press the "Publish" button on this post.

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