This analysis has been updated for the current 2019 – 2020 season here.
I am a 2-year Wizards season-ticket holder. No, I don’t currently have season tickets, which might compel you to describe me instead as an ex-season-ticket holder. I, however, subscribe to the theory that season-ticket holder status – sometimes used as a badge of one’s fandom – is more akin to martial arts belts, which are progressively earned through cumulating experience, than to Costco membership, which you either pay annually to retain or you don’t. I contend that you can’t lose your season-ticket holder status, you can only develop it, moving up to higher ranks through additional years of patronage.
All this is to say that while I’ve remained stagnant as a Level 2 Wizards STH, I still harbor ambitions of someday returning to the DC12 Club and graduating to the higher ranks of its membership. Alas, Ted Leonsis’s seemingly annual price hikes, combined with the financial responsibilities of new fatherhood, are pushing that goal farther and farther into the realm of distant pipe dreams. Nevertheless, I’ve persisted in the practice I’ve maintained over the past few seasons of documenting the individual game ticket prices for the purpose of evaluating whether Wizards season tickets are or are not a good deal. Here’s the analysis for this upcoming season:
Methodology: Each year, including this one, my approach to collecting and analyzing ticket data has grown more sophisticated. In the past, I did my best to monitor ticket prices to find the best deal possible for each home game for two tickets in one of the Lower End sections – since this is where I used to have tickets (Section 117 Row S represent!!). This year, I managed to cobble together an application that pulls statistics of the ticket inventory available on StubHub, letting me see the cheapest available tickets for every section in Capital One Arena for each upcoming game. Not only does this give me more accurate and comprehensive data for this year’s analysis, I’m also now able to evaluate the STH-decision for every section in the arena.
For this analysis, I’m only focusing on the sections in the lower bowl of the arena because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much critical thinking to see that upper level season-tickets are a god-awful proposition. Why anybody would pay over $1,500 – much less the $3,200 some upper sections cost (WTF??) – for a worst experience than you can get from the comfort of your couch at home, is beyond me. For that money you can get good to great seats to a bunch of good games, so why opt instead to lock yourself into paying full price for the shittiest nosebleeds to all the crappiest games? Seriously why?
Regular-Season Numbers: The essential question when evaluating the value of season tickets is this: does buying a season ticket package get me cheaper tickets over the year than buying tickets individually?
Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to each purchasing strategy, such as the flexibility of buying tickets on a by-game basis, versus the pride and perks that come with being a STH. Putting all the fringe benefits aside, however, let’s just look at which option is cheaper by comparing the STH prices to the prices you could pay on the secondary market (i.e. NBA Ticket Exchange, Stubhub) to get into each game. The spreadsheet below shows a summary-level view of this comparison:
This isn’t an exact science, as the STH prices we’re citing are the cheapest ones for each section, as are the secondary market prices. There is likely to be rather large of prices within a single section. However, it is noteworthy that the STH discount is universally less than 7%, and even negative for the most expensive sections.
These numbers will be disconcerting for incumbent and prospective STHs. When you purchase professional basketball in bulk, you’d hope that you’re at least getting a better deal than the guy sitting next to you who’ there for his one game of the season. It seems that Ted has set the STH prices to purposefully make these numbers line up pretty closely, possibly to put upward pressure on the prices of resale tickets – which routinely undercut Monumental’s individual game prices. Strategically planned by Leonsis or not, at face value, the economics of season tickets are rather lackluster in financial appeal.
Click here for a detailed view of the STH vs per-game price comparison, with a breakdown of the secondary market prices for every home game.
A Tale of Two Markets: If season tickets save you very little money compared to buying tickets on a per-game basis, then why does anybody do it?
Because the costs of admission to the premium games are so high. More than any other American professional sports league, the NBA is star-driven. Moreover, the average sports fan only knows and appreciates the very top echelon of All-Star players, which constitutes only a handful of guys. The result? Rabid demand and extraordinary prices for only the most marquee matchups on the Wizards schedule. Everybody wants to see the Cavaliers and the Warriors, sending the prices for those games skyrocketing.
The table below shows the prices on the secondary market for the Top 7 games by ticket price on the Wizards calendar. Cells highlighted in green show where STH prices constitute at least a 25% saving over individual game prices.
This is perhaps Monumental’s biggest selling point. A Wizards fan (probably more casual than diehard) wants to see the squad take on the NBA heavyweights, but every time he looks for tickets to one of the good upcoming games, the costs are crazy high. He starts envying the folks who got into these games for a fraction of the prices he’s looking at, and considers signing up for season ticks for the upcoming season.
There is a flip-side to this pricing dynamic, however. It’s true that being a STH gets you a great deal for the most hotly anticipated tilts of the year, but it also locks you into a bad bargain for a larger slew of less stellar matchups. The table below shows the prices on the secondary market for the Bottom 12 games by ticket price on the Wizards schedule. Cells highlighted in red show where individual game prices constitute at least a 25% saving over STH prices.
As you can see, over the course of a season, any money/savings you accrue on the top tier games are wiped out by what you lose/overpay on the games at the lower end of the spectrum. Thus, it’s wiser to get your tickets a game at a time, even if you really want to go to all the expensive contests – you may pay a surcharge for those games, but at least you don’t get stuck with a heavy bill for tickets to games nobody else wants to attend.
Playoff Numbers: If there’s any potentially redeeming quality about the DC12 Club, it’s the cheap access STHs get to the Wizard’s home playoff games. This pitch is what got me to originally sign-up for season membership, and the lack of this benefit after the 15-16 season is what made it a no-brainer not to renew that year. Of course this playoff benefit has to be taken into account when evaluating the worth of season tickets.
The value of the perk is a tricky thing to gauge, however, when the Wizard’s chances for playoff success, and even the identity of their potential opponents, is very up in the air. How many home playoff games will we get? Will it be one series worth or three? Will the series stretch to Game 7 or will be swept out? And equally important, what team will we be matched up with? Any DC playoff ticket will be a hot commodity, no doubt, but there’s a huge difference between the frenzied buzz that would surround a matchup with Lebron’s Cavs and the modest intrigue that we might expect from a first-round matchup with the Pacers.
These things are impossible to know. The best we can do is use the data we have to project the playoff ticket prices, and then keep a close eye on the standings. The table below gives a rough estimate of how much STH access to playoff tickets are worth for a 1st round series against our various potential opponents. Note: These numbers are calculated by STH price minus secondary market price (assuming playoff tickets on StubHub, etc. go for 1.5X the price of the identical regular season match-ups) times an expected 2.5 home games.
The figures show that there is a very wide range of outcomes. Depending on who we face-off against in the playoffs, and whether or not we beat them, and if we do beat them then who we face-off against next, the yield from the STH playoff access can fall anywhere between minimal and gargantuan. The ideal situation from this perspective would be for the WizKids to fall to #7 to take on the Celtics in the first-round, beat them in six games, and then go on to play the Cavs in a 3-seed vs 7-seed matchup. The nightmare situation would be for the Wizards to get bounced by the Pacers in a first-round series.
You’ll have to decide for yourself what you want to make out of this playoff benefit. You certainly have to take it into consideration, and there is the possibility of it yielding tremendous upside. However, there is so much luck and uncertainty involved that banking on any playoff returns is as good as gambling.
Wrap-Up: In the end, the analysis shows that Wizards season tickets – especially after price hikes – are a poor deal, with the one caveat that a favorable combination of playoff success and lucrative match-ups could potentially push the numbers from red into the black.
For me, though I’d love to be able to call myself a STH, the flexibility and value you get from cherry picking tickets on secondary markets is too good to pass up. Low prices for unheralded matchups are a gold mine for hardcore fans – there’s no such thing as a bad game when the main attraction for you is always the home team. And the ignorance of the average fan means you can score cheap tickets to great games – you mean I can see Anthony Davis, the Greek Freak, and the Raptors all for cheaper than STHs? Yes, please!
Maybe one day I’ll be able to rejoin the likes of the DC12 club. Barring a major price decrease, the introduction of some additional value-add benefits, or the serious potential for a playoff run to the NBA Finals, I don’t see it happening any time soon.