April 1, 2018

Price Check!

I know what you are thinking. I said just less than three weeks ago that I was done complaining about the cost of Wizards season tickets on this blog. Let's address the issue head on, shall we? 

First, the Wizards lost today to the hapless and nothing-to-play-for Chicago Bulls. Yes, we were on a super-rare afternoon back-to-back but if this team is really supposed to be going places, it needs to beat the Bulls even in Chicago at this point in the season. The Wizards are just one game ahead of the Miami Heat at this point. And the Heat have the tiebreaker for the division title (and higher seed) and they don't have to play the Houston Rockets or the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road.

Second, Twitter happened. I saw a tweet this morning objecting to the price of Wizards upper deck tickets, something I myself have ranted about for the last couple of years. I believe seats in the 400 level are overpriced and I also believe that long-time season ticket holders should get a discount of some sort to allow them to hold on to the tickets they've sat in through multiple, multiple losing seasons. And not just losing. Like horribly losing. That tweet got me wondering, though. Are the Wizards upper deck tickets really overpriced vs. the rest of the NBA? I took a similar look at this issue three years ago. I think it's time for a refresh on this one.

Finally, I'm not complaining. Other than in the previous paragraph.

So...here's the deal with what I've done. I've looked at the price of the front row and the back row seats in most of the arenas around the league and ranked them 1 to whatever (it's not 30, oddly enough). I did my comparison shopping at center court and nowhere else and based on the tweet I saw this morning, I did it only in the upper deck. Just one vertical slice through the building.

Some disclaimers: 

One: This comparison took me less than an hour so it's inherently not researched very thoroughly. I used data from each NBA team's website about the cost of 2018-2019 season tickets, where the information was available. If it wasn't, I moved on. That's why prices aren't ranked 1-30. I just didn't get some.

Two: All arenas are different and I'm not considering that in this quick post. The upper deck in Memphis or Detroit or Portland or wherever else may not be equivalent to the 400 level at Capital One Arena. Some buildings don't even have the same number of levels as the Wizards' home over at 601 F Street NW.

Three: Pricing of NBA tickets is way more nuanced than comparing the price of center court tickets in the uppermost level, even beyond considering the geometry of the different arenas in disclaimer two above. As you move towards the corners of the arenas to the end zones, prices may fluctuate differently in different buildings. The rankings below may be completely different when you look at that data. I didn't. I just skipped it. Ordinarily, I wouldn't do this, since I consider my tickets to be in the corner; the Wizards, however, don't so I'm paying center court prices for corner tickets. Sorry, that was a complaint.

On to the results? Well, not quite yet.

Below is a list of the prices for back row upper deck tickets for 20 of the 30 NBA teams. Why only 20? Because I couldn't find pricing easily for 10 of the teams. Following that, there is a list of the prices for front row upper deck tickets for 18 of the 30 NBA teams. What happened to the two other teams from one list to the other, you may ask? Well, Houston prices their tickets "starting at" but doesn't give a upper range and Phoenix only shows prices for available seats, and there are no seats available at the front of center court in their arena. The Suns sold all those out.

And what about the other 10 teams? Well, four teams (Boston, Golden State, the Lakers and Toronto) have wait lists and just haven't published their prices. Chicago also has a wait list but they published their prices. Of the other six, two (Cleveland and Indiana) want you to make an inquiry (I didn't, or more accurately chose not to, have time to wait for that) and one (Oklahoma City) just doesn't give any information at all (I'm kind of assuming there's a wait list here too).

The other three are the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly, like Phoenix, only shows pricing for seats that are available and it appears the entire upper deck where season tickets are available are sold out. If you want Knicks tickets, it appears there may be some but the team wants a $250 per seat nonrefundable deposit. If they have seats, they'll let you decide if you want to buy them when they tell you where they are. Don't like the location? The team keeps your $250. Finally, I just got a black screen when I clicked on the Hawks' link for season tickets, which somehow seems perfect for that franchise.

I'm taking this page to mean that the Sixers' upper deck tickets are all gone.
So, with all that said, here are the prices for the last row in the upper deck of 20 of the 30 NBA franchises, with most expensive listed first.
  1. Chicago Bulls: $70 per game.
  2. Sacramento Kings: $1,806 per season.
  3. Miami Heat: $40 per game.
  4. Brooklyn Nets: $35 per game.
  5. Portland Trail Blazers: $33.60 per game.
  6. Houston Rockets: $1,364 per season.
  7. Detroit Pistons: $1,320 per season.
  8. Milwaukee Bucks: $29 per game.
  9. San Antonio Spurs: $28 per game.
  10. Washington Wizards: $28 per game / $1,190 per season.
  11. Phoenix Suns: $1,177 per game.
  12. Orlando Magic: $1,099 per season.
  13. Minnesota Timberwolves: $1,008 per season.
  14. Los Angeles Clippers: $968 per season.
  15. Denver Nuggets: $22 per game.
  16. Dallas Mavericks: $766 per season.
  17. Utah Jazz: $18 per game.
  18. New Orleans Pelicans: $750 per season.
  19. Charlotte Hornets: $14 per game.
  20. Memphis Grizzlies: $11 per game.
The Wizards are listed 10th on the list above. They are actually tied for 9th with the San Antonio Spurs, which is amazing to me that possibly equivalent seats between the most consistently successful franchise in the NBA over the past two decades can cost the same as they do for a Wizards season ticket holder. Three years ago, I put the Wizards 24th out of 25 teams in a similar study of season tickets with decidedly different parameters. While it's clear the cost of Wizards tickets have risen relative to the rest of the NBA, I'm not sure they are that out of line with other cities.

Some other things that stick out here. The cost of tickets in Chicago are insane; I can't imagine paying $70 a game for upper deck last row tickets. And they are all sold. Sacramento's tickets are equally surprising, although almost $30 per game less than in Chicago. I actually went back to Sacto's website to check my numbers were correct and they are. The only thing I can think here is only game in town and new building. Finally, if I'm in Memphis, how do I not have season tickets. $11 a game? Seriously? Charlotte too at $14, particularly if it gets me any shot at the All-Star Weekend activities next year. I'm not sure it does by the way.

As far as the Wizards place goes vs. the rest of the league, they are right in the middle of things. There's little variation in price between 14 (the Clippers) and 6 (the Rockets). Some teams list price per seat; others list price per season. Depending on the number of preseason and overseas neutral site games (read: Mexico City and London), positions may switch just a bit. But overall, this list shows Wizards tickets in the last row of the upper deck center court are not overpriced, especially considering Washington has to be in the upper half of cost of living and what I'm assuming are some of the most expensive tickets (Boston, Golden State, New York and Toronto) are not even on the list.

Had to double check but indeed, Sacramento Kings tickets are really expensive.
So what about the front row in those same sections? Well, here's that list. Remember I dropped two from the list.
  1. Chicago Bulls: $80 per game.
  2. Sacramento Kings: $3,096 per season.
  3. Brooklyn Nets: $72 per game.
  4. Portland Trail Blazers: $68.40 per game.
  5. San Antonio Spurs: $68 per game.
  6. Miami Heat: $55 per game.
  7. Milwaukee Bucks: $53 per game.
  8. Los Angeles Clippers: $2,275 per season.
  9. New Orleans Pelicans: $2,100 per season.
  10. Minnesota Timberwolves: 1,932 per season.
  11. Denver Nuggets: $43 per game.
  12. Charlotte Hornets: $42 per game.
  13. Dallas Mavericks: $1,770 per season.
  14. Detroit Pistons: $1,760 per season.
  15. Washington Wizards: $40 per game / $1,700 per season.
  16. Orlando Magic: $1,699 per season.
  17. Utah Jazz: $34 per game.
  18. Memphis Grizzlies: $31.50 per game.
Some notes here. First, San Antonio tickets are way more valuable in the front of the upper deck than they are at the back. Justifiably so, I think. Four titles in the last 20 years and the only major sports team in town I think let's you do whatever you want. Second, I'm still buying tickets if I'm in Memphis and also Utah on the basis of this list. Probably more so in Utah considering the team's play this year but on a city basis, I'm picking Memphis. Finally, I still can't believe the price of tickets in Sacramento. Who buys these things? Although, let's be honest, I likely would if I lived there.

Now, it seems like the Wizards tickets in the front row of the upper deck are priced near the bottom of the league. That's not really true. I'd consider the price of tickets from spot number 9 (the Pelicans) to spot number 16 (the Magic) to be pretty much the same. Heck, if Orlando charged $100 more for an entire season, they'd jump up four spots. The Pelicans tickets are going to go up on April 12 by the way; early bird pricing ends on 4/11. My conclusion about these tickets for the Wizards are the same as the back row: these tickets are not overpriced relative to the rest of the NBA.

All that's not to say that Wizards tickets aren't too expensive. I still think they are. All this is also not to pick on the tweet I saw this morning. I think in spirit, I am right in line with the thinking that I saw on Twitter. The one thing that I'll say about all this though is that more price hikes by the Wizards in coming seasons the likes of what we've seen over the past couple will put the cost for season ticket holders higher than other arenas in a hurry. They'll be priced like tickets for teams in New York or teams that sell out at least half their games in every season or teams that have won championships recently. The Wizards for sure aren't any of those.

March 24, 2018

VIP Last Hurrah?

If you read my post earlier this month about the changes made to the lower level all-inclusive ticket packages for Wizards season ticket holders next year and you've ever had the privilege of taking part in this experience, I'm sure you are about as bummed as I am. For the last I-don't-know-how-many-years, this has been an event to look forward to once or twice or maybe more (if I'm really lucky) per season.

Whether it's been through comps from my account representative; Monumental Rewards; the Fluid Tickets program; or the mystery season ticket renewal envelopes, I've had an amazing time just about every time I've done this. Next season, all this might change. I might never get this opportunity again. So if the remainder of this season represented my last best chance to do this ever again, I picked up a couple of all-inclusive tickets behind the baskets on the east end of Capital One Arena for last night's game against the Denver Nuggets. Here's my night in pictures. I'll let those do all the talking here.
6 pm arrival. Marcin Gortat warming up. Gortat is always warming up at this time. Dude's a machine about fitness and health. Mike Scott's also out there. John Wall would be too if he was playing.
Wristband line. First stop before entry. These people wield an uncanny amount of power.
The Etihad Airways Lounge. It will be like this later on when the game's going on. When we enter, it's empty. But first...
...gotta pick up a beer. May not be the last one, either. Always tip your server, folks! Especially when it's free. Yes, I'm drinking Budweiser. I like Budweiser at games.

And a little food with that beer. It's Jamaican night, meaning beef pasties, oxtail stew. Also some Hoffmann sausages with sauerkraut and mustard. Not Jamaican but must haves.
A pre-game edge of the court walk has to be made at sometime. I'm not sure what's going on in this pic. Some sort of Indian dance set to an Indian-ized Ed Sheeran's The Shape of You.
The DCFAMILY logo in the pic above has the names of all the season ticket holders on it. One last stop by my name this year is in order.
On the other end of Capital One is the MGM National Harbor lounge. More bare bones than Etihad. We assume this is gone next year.
Some dessert, maybe? Yes, please! The cheesecake bites were a miss but, by God, these white chocolate, macadamia nut cookies are amazing. I'm glad a took a full cholesterol pill that morning.
No Bud on the MGM side so back to Etihad, by which time Otto Porter, Jodie Meeks and the rest of the Wizards are warming up. Every time I make this walk I'm shocked by the size of these guys. There's always one dude who surprises me. This game, it's the Nuggest Mason Plumlee.
Bud in hand, back to the seat for the game. They always have these notices at the VIP seats. Odd.
Almost ready for the game. I'm not showing pics of the game because that's not what this experience is about. Suffice it to say, the Wiz come out flat en route to another disappointing home performance.
The halftime show is the retirement of Phil Chenier's jersey at this game (more on that in another post I think) but they bring the ice cream out at halftime and I'm not missing a chance to wrap my fat fingers around an ice cream sandwich. Usually I'm a strawberry shortcake guy but finding none, I go with this thing.
The second half is disappointing and the Wiz end up with yet another bad home loss (see Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, Minnesota, Miami, etc.). We split with 26.3 seconds to go.
So that's pretty much it. For those of you out there who feel like I do about this change in policy, you now have just five home regular season games to do this for yourself. Get yourself to TicketMaster, or more preferably StubHub, and get yourself some tickets for one last VIP hurrah of your own. If I'm right, I'll miss this for as long as I'm denied it. 

One of the great perks of doing this and sitting in the east end of the building is being able to get close to the team after a big win. Since this team seems determined to play for sixth and last night lost to a Denver team they beat in Colorado earlier this year (another bad home loss), I skipped that part. But for the sake of completeness of what the VIP could be, I'm including a photograph of that part from earlier this year.

John Wall walking off the court after a win earlier this season. Need this guy back soon or we might be playing the Cavs in the first round.

March 21, 2018

Loyalty Milestone Changes

Friday is the deadline for Wizards season ticket holders to renew their season tickets for the 2018-2019 NBA season. If you are coming up on a multiple of five years as a season ticket holder, I'm sure you are looking forward to your anniversary milestone, just like I am with my 20th next year. Buuuuut...you might want to check that your milestone rewards are still what you thought they were. They've changed from when I wrote about these and ranked them two years ago. Most are better. But some...well, read on.

Way back in the first half of the aughts, the Wizards invented an anniversary rewards program which rewarded season ticket holders for every five years of buying season tickets. The program got instituted right before my fifth year as a season ticket holder and since then I've enjoyed the program with emotions ranging from complete indifference to genuinely feeling appreciated. I wrote about what I consider the best reward in my 15th season when I got to treat a bunch of my friends to a catered game in a Verizon Center suite for free. That was pretty awesome.

So what's changed? Take a look. I'll list each of the new rewards with the old reward below it for the same milestone and then some of my as always super valuable commentary.

5 Years: Private Reception with Wizards Management and Special Guests
Former Reward: Exactly the Same Thing

So nothing's changed at the five year milestone. You get a reception of sorts I assume somewhere in the Capital One Arena (ours was in what is now the PwC Club) with probably Ernie Grunfeld, maybe Tommy Sheppard and at least one player. I know Kelly Oubre, Jr. was there this season because I know someone who is celebrating her five year milestone this year and I got a picture of Kelly hugging her texted to me during a game. Our special guest was Gilbert Arenas. But Gilbert never showed, alleging a flat tire. So I got some snacks in the arena on an off night for my five year reward. Cool.

10 Years: Trip to Philadelphia for 76ers vs. Wizards Away Game
Former Reward: Member's Name Displayed on the Wizards Wall of Fame

In my ranking of rewards two years ago, I rated the 10 year reward, which at that time was your name on a wall, as having absolutely no value whatsoever. The Wizards must have figured that out too because they ditched it for a trip to Philly to see the Wiz take on the 76ers. This is a huge upgrade. This trip used to be the 20 year milestone reward so moving this thing up 10 years and losing the name-on-the-wall thing is definitely the right thing to do. Only problem is...we'll get to it.

15 Years: Lexus Level Suite for Wizards Game
Former Reward: Exactly the Same Thing

If you are anywhere close to your 15 year anniversary as a Wizards season ticket holder, please don't cancel. This experience was and I'm sure still is fantastic. I devoted a whole blog post to it three years ago that's linked above. Do this and then quit if you can't afford tickets any more.

20 Years: Roundtrip Car Service to Wizards Game and Dinner Pre-Game
Fomer Reward: Trip to an Eastern Conference Away Game

I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to my 20 year milestone. My friend Mike and I were pretty pumped about getting on a Wizards party bus and heading up to the City of Brotherly Love for a game at Wells Fargo. We've even talked about the importance of making it to 20 so we could cash in on this reward.

And then they moved the trip to the 10 year mark, an anniversary for which I received my name on a wall which now comes just for free. It's replaced by roundtrip car service to a home game (I'm assuming the game's not in Philly but that would be even better than a bus trip) and dinner pre-game. Are you kidding me? I get cheated on my five year anniversary by an Arenas no show, now I feel I got cheated on my 10 year anniversary and I'm now looking forward to something less enthusiastically for my 20 year reward? I'm furious about this. Can't tell you how disappointed I am. The Wizards should let people in my class (and similar) get both this reward and get on the bus to Pennsylvania when we hit 20.

Just a note here: the former 20 year reward was a trip to an Eastern Conference away game, but I know the most frequent destination was Philadelphia so I'm considering the former 20 year reward as the 10 year reward. I still can't believe this is happening.

25 Years: DC12 Club Wine Club Subscription
Former Reward: Participate in the Pre-Game Captain's Meeting at a Pre-Selected Home Game

Finally, someone saw the light of day and the absolute absurdity in rewarding 25 years as a season ticket holder by having your photo taken at half court in an experience that lasts about maybe a minute. 25 years and thousands upon thousands of dollars for a quick pic with Marcin Gortat and whomever the other team sends to center court? No thanks. The new reward (and who knew there was such a thing) is a DC12 Club Wine Club Subscription. I'm assuming this is valuable and not just a couple of $10 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from Safeway or Trader Joe's. Maybe I'll find out someday.

As an aside here, my friend Mike offered the opinion that the former reward was better. It's not but he doesn't drink wine. If it were a year's worth of Bud Light, he'd feel the way I feel about this. I hope I'm not too optimistic. Again, maybe I'll find out someday.

Just in case I offended anyone, I get wine at Safeway and Trader Joe's all the time. I'll take it. Just hoping for something different is all.

30 Years: Dinner Reception with Members of Coaching Staff
Former Reward: Two Tickets to the Owner's Suite for a Pre-Selected Wizards Game

Honestly, I'd rather have the old reward, although there might be a problem since there's not really an owners' suite anymore because Ted and Co. sit downstairs courtside while Abe Pollin (who instituted the rewards program) had a box at the top of Section 101 with a private elevator to the garage below. The only thing that could make the new reward comparable to the former anniversary milestone would be if the dinner was private (i.e. just you). If it's in a group, isn't it the same as the five year reward but without players?

If they wanted to make this really special, they'd give two of the Owner's Seats courtside to the folks sticking it out for 30 years. Just saying. I've done about everything I've wanted to do as a Wizards fan short of watching the team succeed more except sit courtside. It's just way too expensive.

The view of the court for our 15 year suite game; of course the Wizards lost to Brooklyn.
35 Years: Roundtrip Limo to Wizards Game and Lexus Level Suite
Former Reward: Exactly the Same Thing

This reward stuck and for good reason. If it's cool to get a suite for you and your friends, it's even cooler to get a limo ride there and back. I'm never making this one, but I want this.

40 Years: Overnight Trip to a Pre-Selected Wizards Away Game
Former Reward: Exactly the Same Thing

Two rewards in a row are the same as they used to be. I guess when you get this high up on the season ticket holder tree, there's only so much you can hand out. I'd do this. Heck, I do it almost every year on my own. This is worth something, especially if you've never taken a road trip. Hopefully, it's not a trip to Philly.

Vegas, baby!!
45 Years: Two-Night Trip to Las Vegas for NBA Summer League
Former Reward: On-Court Recognition and Choice of Overnight Trip to an Away Game or Trip to an Eastern Conference Away Game

Who doesn't love Vegas? I'd head to the desert for a couple of days of Summer League on the Wizards' dime, even if it's way way more crowded than it was when I started going there in 2007.  I'm hoping the team puts you in a nice hotel and not at the Excalibur where we pretty much always stay. This reward (which used to be the 50 year reward) is an enormous upgrade over the former reward, which was essentially the former unappreciative 25 year reward combined with the 40 year reward. Or in other words, you'd get pretty much the exact same thing for 40 and 45 years.

50 Years: Overnight Trip to Choice of Wizards Road Game 
Former Reward: Trip to Las Vegas for Summer League

If you make it to 50 years, they should take you to EVERY road game or as many as you want. Heck you have to be retired at this point, right, so fitting every road game into your schedule shouldn't be difficult. I assume you get to pick. I'd probably go somewhere expensive to get to, like Sacramento or something. Maybe Sacto's a bit sleepy but after 50 years as a Wizards season ticket holder you probably need sleepy. As an aside here, there are no current 50 year season ticket holders. According to the names on the court at Capital One Arena, the earliest season ticket holders date from 1970.

So that's the scoop! Coming up on 10 or 25 years? You ought to be thrilled. If you are near the 20 year mark, I'll meet you at the Budweiser Brewhouse before a game some time and commiserate over a beer or two. Ask Roxy at the back bar to point you in my direction. I can talk for a good 10 to 20 minutes on that subject. I'd love for the Wizards to take me up on my suggestion and offer the 10 year reward on a grandfathered basis in addition to the new 20 year reward. Consider it, Wizards. Please!

March 17, 2018

Back For Season 19

Last week I made the decision to renew all four of my Wizards season tickets for the 2018-2019 season. I handed over my credit card at the Renewal Suite (aka Suite 124) before the most recent game we shouldn't have lost at home (against the Timberwolves) and had $11,560 added to my credit card. That's a lot of money and it took a lot of thought but I decided ultimately that I've had some pretty cheap seasons over the years with the Wizards, I can afford one more really expensive one. I'm sure next year they will ask for more.

I'm also sure next year's decision will be harder. I made this year's decision knowing that the price might be too rich for my friend Mike to participate as he has these last 15 years. I might have to make a different decision next year if he's out and I have to bear the entire cost of these seats myself. I wanted to get to at least 20 years but if the cost is just too high, I might be stopping at 19.

All that means I'll be back at 601 F Street for an unspecified number of home games next season. It will not likely be anywhere close to all 41. I'll likely be replaced by Golden State Warriors fans, Cleveland Cavaliers fans, Houston Rockets fans and Boston Celtics fans for between four and six games and I may have to give up a few more. It sucks that I will likely miss most of the big regular season games next year and it sucks more that there may be road team fans in my seats in those games but all of that sucks way less than the cost of season tickets going up (for me) over 19%. I offered some suggestions in 2016 to get more season ticket holders to every game. I guess nobody at Monumental Sports is listening to my suggestions if they are even hearing them.

At this point, I guess I can give up seeing the Wizards win a big regular season game. What I really need is the Wizards to win a big game in the Eastern Conference Finals or the NBA Finals. Winning games in the regular season or the first or second rounds of the playoffs is no longer good enough at this price point. We need some better results.

So for all my hard earned and spent cash, I've got 41 sets of tickets to home games next year plus three preseason games. Why preseason games aren't free for season ticket holders is beyond me. I get that the arena needs to pay staff during these games and it costs money to open up the building, but preseason games in the NBA are a complete joke. When the Cavaliers visited the Wizards last October 8, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose all sat out. Thank God some poor schmo bought my ticket for that "contest." The team should give these tickets to season ticket holders for free. They could make them all electronic and non-re-sellable / non-transferable so we couldn't profit off them if they wanted. But they absolutely should be free.

By renewing early (before March 16) I get $25 per seat of food and beverage credit that I have to use sometime during the rest of this season (regular season only; no playoffs). Hey, $100 is $100. It's not like I'm not going to spend $100 on beers during the remaining seven home games. I also get the standard array of Wizards benefits like tickets to the Meet The Team Party, open skating at Kettler Ice Arena and the like in addition to a brand new seat next year at Capital One Arena. Of all the advertised benefits for season ticket holders, I'm looking forward to the advertised VIP access at Wizards SummerFest the most. I'm not sure that even has been held since about 2014. If they don't have it, do I get some of my money back? I'm guessing no.

I love being a Wizards season ticket holder. Yes, I know we have one of the worst track records of success among the 30 NBA teams in the 18 years I've been doing it so far but I still love showing up for games, participating in season ticket holder events and just being proud to be a Wizards fan. I promise this post is the last time I will complain about the price of season tickets for a while. I just needed to put it down that the rising costs are making this long time ticket holder think twice or three times about the value I get out of this experience. I know someone will take my place if I quit; well, maybe not during the down times I've seen since 2000.

For Wizards season ticket holders still thinking about it, you have six more days to renew. If you decide you are in, don't renew online. Get yourself to the Renewal Suite at Capital One Arena next Friday and renew there. If you do that, you'll get the chance to select an envelope off the renewal board which will give you an extra prize. We got VIP lower level wristbands in our envelope this year. Just saying you may as well get everything out of your renewal costs that you can. See you next season if you are in.

March 12, 2018

Jersey Patches

I can't believe it's March and I haven't published a blog post about the advertising patches that have been popping up on NBA jerseys all over the United States (Canada too, I guess, but just in one spot, not all over) in the last six months or so. I'm using last week's announcements by the Dallas Mavericks with 5miles and the Los Angeles Clippers with Bumble as an excuse to remedy that situation. Before I start ranting in earnest, let me say the Clips couldn't have picked a more perfectly named partner.

Want to know how I feel about advertisements on jerseys? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. Quite frankly, I hate them. But I'm going to try to be a bit more nuanced in this post and soften my stance a little. We'll see how that goes.

Maybe a little history is in order. If you watch soccer on TV, you will probably struggle to recall a time in the last 30 years when the teams you were watching did NOT have a sponsor company's name emblazoned across their chests. That's because sponsorship deals for European football clubs have been standard fixtures since the 1980s. I can't recall any across the jerseys of my favorite teams growing up in England but that's because the first club in major English soccer latched on to this idea in 1979, the year I left the country.

I don't, despite my earlier statement about hating these things, object to advertisements on soccer jerseys as much as I feel I should. Maybe it's because there are, in most cases, just one company's logo on the shirts. Maybe it's because traditionally there were no jersey numbers of team names on the fronts of the shirts. Adding a logo was just filling blank space on the shirt. It didn't require any adjustment to the other parts of the uniform.

For the most part, this single endorsement rule has held up, although recently, there have been secondary advertisements popping up on the sleeves of some teams, like the Huddersfield Town jersey shown above. I like this less. Some sports have gone to a more extreme level. My favorite rugby league team, Wakefield Trinity, puts on jerseys for each game that are covered in advertisements. How many are there on that jersey? Nine? Ten? More? It's craziness. Way too much.

Soccer is, not surprisingly, the dominant sport in England and most of the rest of the world. Over the last three plus decades, revenues from jersey advertisements have poured in to add cash to the vaults of clubs whose games at the time when they were adopting advertisements on their kits were largely not televised. I'm sure they helped out a ton financially.

Fast forward 20 or so years to the United States. Major League Soccer, the third or fourth attempt at professional soccer in this country, decided to introduce jersey advertisements into their league. They are the first major professional sports league in the USA to do this. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm considering major sports leagues here at home to be MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, MSL and WNBA. Debate that list if you feel you need to.

For me, this introduction of jersey advertisements in this league in 2007 is fairly seamless. We as consumers were already softened up to this idea by the rest of the world and, again, the ads are not taking away from anything on the uniform. There's nothing where the sponsor name is going.

Four years later, the WNBA would introduce advertisements onto their uniforms. I'm surprised it took that long. Honestly, if there's a league in need of all the advertising revenue it can handle, it's the WNBA. These advertisements probably literally saved a few franchises from going out of existence. My philosophical objection to a single (or maybe two in some cases) advertisement on a jersey to help a franchise or league from going bankrupt is waived. I'm all for this.

Then last year, on the heels of one of the richest television deals in major sports history, the NBA decides it needs more money and allows its 30 teams to negotiate deals with sponsors to advertise in the space on the jersey on the left chest. This comes in conjunction with the new uniform deal negotiated with Nike which includes, for the first time, the right for the jersey manufacturer to add their logo to the NBA jerseys.

The Lending Tree advertisement is unreadable from a distance. Too many letters and not enough space.
So first, let me say the NBA does not need this money. Maybe that's not a good argument for them not pursuing it. But it's totally unnecessary for the NBA team's owners to do this from a monetary standpoint. 

Second, I know it's not requiring anything moving around on the uniform, so based on my argument about soccer jerseys, I should be OK with adding something, right? Not so much. There's too little space in the spot where the league has designated the ads be restricted to. Some look just plain awkward and some are about impossible to read. Does that make the ones that fit well or are graphically clear more acceptable? Oddly enough and surprisingly, for me the answer is yes. Before you get all up in arms about this, just read on. There just aren't many that satisfy this criteria for me.

So far, 21 of the NBA's 30 teams have elected to sell advertising space on their jerseys. The Golden State Warriors are getting $20 million per season from Japanese company Rakuten. That's the richest deal by far. The second most money generated from a club selling its soul for money is a reported $7 to $10 million per year to the Cleveland Cavaliers from nearby Akron, Ohio based Goodyear. It goes down from there. The split of this money by the way is half to the players, a quarter to the rest of the teams and a quarter to the team whose unis sport the logo.

Among the 21 companies who have bought in, there are some banks, some software companies, some internet apps, Western Union, Harley Davidson, Disney, Fitbit, a couple of food companies and the charity arm of a software developer in addition to the two companies mentioned in the paragraph above. Are any of these sponsorships acceptable in any way to me? Reluctantly, I have to say yes.

Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age but I find from a local business standpoint Harley Davidson (in Milwaukee),  Zatarain's (in New Orleans) and Disney (in Orlando) appropriate for sponsoring these teams. I've written posts in the past on this blog ranking team names. I've always thought highly of teams with names with local origins. I'm appreciative of teams making local connections with businesses, although I hate the orange of the Harley Davidson logo on the decidedly non-orange Bucks jerseys and Disney is becoming way too big and powerful. Too much Disney these days.

I also appreciate the Utah Jazz partnering with a charity (5 For The Fight, which raises money to combat cancer) and on a totally different level the Philadelphia 76ers partnering with StubHub and the Minnesota Timberwolves hooking up with Fitbit. At least these two products and services relate to sports or athletics in some way.

Hate to say it but if I had to have a jersey patch on my uniform, the Goodyear patch is one of the best.
Graphically speaking (I'm an architect after all), I can't get on board with many of these jersey ads because they either just don't fit well into the space provided (particularly the horizontal advertisements with a lot of letters like the Charlotte Hornets' Lending Tree patch which is just unreadable) or the colors clash with the team's colors a la Harley Davidson in Milwaukee. In the end I've boiled this whole thing down to two acceptable patches: the Goodyear one on the Cavs' jerseys (I appreciate the way the company altered their colors to the Cavs' admittedly awful color scheme) and the StubHub one on the Philadelphia 76ers unis. Both are acceptably shaped to fit into the available uniform space and have some local or topical tie to the franchise or league.

I am grateful that the Washington Wizards have not sold out and allowed some company to post their logo on our gorgeous uniforms (particularly the home whites). It makes me feel like there is something worth believing in about this franchise in the midst of a mini-collapse without John Wall. On the other hand, I'm dying for some influx of cash so die-hard fans like me don't have to pay more for season tickets next year. In the end though, even with $20 million extra cash like the Warriors have per year and which the Wizards won't get, spreading that revenue out between the players, the rest of the teams and 20,000 fans or so to discount season tickets would only get the average fan a savings of $250 per seat per year. I think I'd rather have our unis advertisement free. Although any help I can get on season tickets would be appreciated too. Less than two weeks to decide.

March 6, 2018

Is Wizards VIP Dead?

We are now a couple of weeks into the annual Wizards season ticket renewal period. I published a post last week on this blog offering my thoughts on my almost 20% increase in cost for next year. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do about my renewal, but while pondering if I really want to spend about $2K more for season tickets next year, the Wizards have slid back into 5th place on the heels of their first three game losing streak of the season. Great timing!

One of the subtleties that I didn't pick up on at first when the renewal information was posted (blame it on sticker shock!) was the changes to the all-inclusive VIP program for next year. While this doesn't really affect me at all when it comes to ponying up some dough for the next season, it will affect me in a big way one or two nights next season and I assume every season after that. I tried not to be too melodramatic in the title of this post but I think starting next year, VIP access for the average fan is going to effectively end. And I think that's really too bad.

So let's pull back a little. Whether you know it or not, during every Wizards home game, there's a bunch of people seated in the areas closest to the court who have access to an all-inclusive food and drink area on the lowest level at Capital One Arena. At the east end of the arena, there's the Etihad Airways Lounge which was redesigned a couple of seasons ago; at the west end of the arena, there's the slightly more dressed down and utilitarian space sponsored by MGM National Harbor. Both areas serve the same sort of food and drink so the biggest difference between the two spaces is the décor unless they only have your favorite flavor or beer at one end, which happens sometimes.

For a Wizards fan, this experience, if you can manage to get it once or twice a year, is really special. I'm a moocher at heart so I love the all you care to eat and drink experience (I can eat and drink a lot when I put my mind to it) but more than that I love the fact that you get to walk along the edge of the court just feet from the players warming up. It gets you connected to the game experience in a different way than just sitting in your seat elsewhere in the building.
Over the past several seasons, I've been able to make it to a game as a VIP one or more times per year. Years and years ago, our account representative was allowed to get us a pair of wristbands to games about once per year if we requested it as a perk. When the Monumental Rewards program went into effect, the once per year courtesy experience went away but VIP wristbands were available for purchase using reward points. Eventually, the team limited purchases to once per month then moved to the auction system and then eliminated them entirely once the VIP area was renovated and reinvented as the Etihad Airways Lounge. I quizzed my account representative about the removal of all-inclusive access via Monumental Rewards and he pretty much told me the people who paid for VIP seats didn't want other people (read: riff raff) who hadn't paid at their level in the space.

I spent one season (the 2015-2016 season) effectively locked out of the VIP experience. Then the team introduced the Fluid Tickets Program, which allowed season ticket holders to turn in seats they can't use in exchange for account credit to use towards the purchase of other seats. Lo and behold, there would be some all-inclusive tickets available from time to time. Last season the program worked great; this season the opportunities have been more limited as people (I think) have found there's very little use in turning in high priced tickets because there are few occasions where you might actually redeem your credit.

Now, just as the opportunity for reasonably affordable access to the Etihad Airways lounge seems to be getting squeezed again (I've even resorted to buying tickets on the secondary market to enjoy this experience this year) via reduced availability on Fluid Tickets, the team appears to have shut down access almost entirely through changes to their ticket policies.

Let me summarize.

This season, anyone who holds tickets inside the hockey boards gets access to the all-inclusive experience. That means the courtside seats at the two ends and north (non-scorers table) side of the court; the Owner's Seats and the seats behind them right next to the players' benches; the three rows behind courtside at the north and south sides and one row behind courtside at the two ends; the four corner boxes of 12 seats; and the 10 or so rows of seats behind the baskets beyond the walkway in the end zones. Next season, the 9 of the 10 rows of seats behind the baskets are going to be shut out of the VIP areas; only the first row beyond the walkway will retain all-inclusive access. By my math, that reduces the number of people with VIP access from 1,122 per game to 718.
So what? Who cares, right? Well I do. And if you ever get to experience the all-inclusive lower bowl treatment and want to do it again, so should you because the price point is going to be way higher. That means the price point on the Fluid Tickets Program is going to be that much higher (plus the inventory is lower, remember) and the price point on the secondary market is going to be higher. How much higher? I'm thinking double. And I'm really thinking there won't be any on the Fluid Tickets Program.

The lowest priced VIP tickets next season? The strange fenced-in corner areas the team added a few years ago.
This season the cost for VIP tickets on the secondary market has been between about $110 and $190 for a game against a reasonably unpopular opponent. That's for tickets sold to season ticket holders in the mid-$100s. Next year the lowest price for a season ticket with all-inclusive benefits is $230 per game and those are in the strange caged in sets of seats in the corners of the arena. Keep in mind there are only 48 of those in the entire building. The next lowest price is $300 for the first row of seats behind the basket beyond the walkway at that location. The prices are going up from there. The odds of any of those seats being available on the secondary market for less than $175 or so? Way low. And forget Fluid Tickets having these below season ticket discount value (if they even have them at all).

The bottom line here? Fans not willing to spend $250 or more on a seat with lousy sightlines (because these seat DO all have lousy sightlines) ain't getting into the VIP area next season. Honestly, for the average fan (or riff raff, if you prefer) being able to get a reasonably affordable all-inclusive experience on the lower level in what will now be a pretty empty Etihad Airways Lounge (with 1/3 of this season's folks kicked out!) just won't be possible any more. Congratulations, Monumental Sports, you've finally made this experience about as exclusive as you can get. If you aren't paying a lot for this, they aren't going to let you have it any more. It pretty much sucks! This one hurts way more than the other benefits I've lost over the years.

The lousy view from this year's end zone seats. The best thing about these seats was the all-inclusive benefit.
While I'm wallowing in self pity about this issue, I have to say that I feel terrible for the people who have been sitting in the seats where the all-inclusive benefits are going to be removed. Yes, they are getting a price break this year and a few bucks per game of concession money (not really much consolation for losing all-inclusive) but they are now forced to pay a lot of money for seats with view just not commensurate with the price point or go find some seats elsewhere. The irony of this second option of course is all the good seats by now are pretty much taken. The team has totally pulled the rug out from under these folks.

For a team that seems to every so often advertise that they value loyalty to their season ticket holders, killing this benefit just so people with a lot of disposable income can have a little more elbow room in their all you can eat and drink room just doesn't seem consistent with that ethos. I guess there's not a whole lot we can do here, right? Just not a fan at all of this move.