Click here to read the new analysis for the 2018-2019 NBA season.
I’ve been a member of the DC 12 Club, more commonly known as Washington Wizards season ticket holders, for the past two seasons. With the playoffs approaching, it’s now time to decide whether I’ll opt into a third year of buying tickets to 41 NBA basketball games at the Verizon Center. Every week my inbox is filling up with deadline reminders from my guest services specialist and renewal sweepstakes promotions from the Monumental sales staff. I’m easily the biggest Wizards fan I know personally, but after two years of loyal patronage, it has become glaringly obvious that purchasing Wizards season tickets is a horrible investment.
I first purchased season tickets two years ago in the middle of the Wizards playoff series win against the Chicago Bulls. What most appealed to me about signing up for the commitment was that season ticket holders were guaranteed cheap prices for the duration of the playoffs. I was predicting a second-round win against Indiana and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals, so this was too good of a deal to pass up. Instead, the season ended with me witnessing three home playoff losses to the Pacers and drunkenly heckling Ted Leonsis at the conclusion of Game 6. Still, I was excited for the upcoming season and I had a strategy to recoup most of the season ticket costs. After a year where I attended 13 games and almost broke even on the resale market, I re-upped for another year of season tickets. The price had jumped almost 33%, but the WizKids were surging again and I was sure another deep run into the playoffs would help me offset some of those higher costs and increase the resale value for the upcoming season. Again our season ended with me drunk at a Game 6 at the Verizon Center, but this time it wouldn’t be filled with a season where I made a good return on my season tickets.
I’m told I have about a week to decide on whether or not to renew my season tickets. The first year it was an easy choice to sign up for tickets. Last year, I mulled over the decision and went back and forth before ultimately opting to renew. This year, it was an easy “No, thank you.” Let’s walk through the decision making process:
Rising Prices: When I first purchased Wizards season ticket for the 2014-2015 NBA season, my two tickets in section 117 (lower level behind the basket) were priced at $35/game for a season total of $2,975. The next year, for the 2015-2016 season, the prices jumped 33% to $46/ticket for a season total of $3,950. At that time, I could reasonably justify the price hike with the team’s progression, consecutive years with a good playoff run, and the promise that resale prices on regular season games would continue to rise. This year, prices for the same seats have risen another 8% to $4,250, even though the team has struggled all year to remain competitive. Of course, Ted Leonsis is running a business, and having a monopoly on NBA tickets in Washington, DC, he can set the prices however he sees fit. But, as I’ve seen over two years, this owner is getting greedy and clearly setting the season ticket price above market value.
Resale Prices: Most season ticket holders buy tickets not expecting to attend all 41 home games. My strategy when I first signed up was to sell tickets to most big ticket games in order to recoup a majority of the costs. As a real Wizards fan, I attend games to watch the home team, and I can have fun at every game, regardless of the opponent. For the 2014-2015 season, I sold tickets on Stubhub, and even after attending 13 games, I made back $2,850 of the $3,000 season ticket cost on the resale market. 13 games for an average $6 per ticket was a steal. But for this past season, I’ve only made back $2,500 on the resale market while attending or giving away tickets to 11 games. This happened even after the switch to NBA Ticket Exchange, which yields higher payouts for the seller as compared to StubHub. Unlike the previous season, I went to none of the top-ten marquee games, and found myself unable to attend, sell, or give away tickets on five different occasions. The $50/ticket for game attended I’ve paid this year was higher than the season ticket price, and an even worse deal considering how much I would have saved by buying the same tickets on the resale market. The rising season ticket price only makes the deal worse. Below is the summary of what I’ve done with season tickets thus far this year.
It is clear that no matter how many Wizards games you envision yourself attending, it is always better to buy your tickets on an individual game basis. Even though you’ll save money on the big-ticket games, those savings will be offset by all the games that the market determines are worth only a fraction of the season ticket prices. For the amount of money I spent on Wizards tickets this year, by buying on resale tickets I could have seen the Wizards take on the Cavs, Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Bulls, Cavs again, Clippers, Thunder, Kobe Bryant, and the Raptors. That’s an incredible lineup of games considering the games that I actually went to.
Playoff Tickets: The biggest perk of being a DC 12 Club member is that you are guaranteed tickets to all playoff games at a very reasonable price (My lower level tickets were about $50/game for each seat.) Obviously, playoff tickets go for much more on the resale market, and this can yield a lot of value whether you resell your tickets or decide to attend the games. The farther the team goes, the more value you accrue as a ticket holder. Admittedly, this was the major selling point for me when I first purchased season tickets. As an optimistic fan, I foresaw deep playoff runs and huge resale values for my tickets. However, the Wizards are currently outside looking in on the playoff picture, and there is a very real chance that purchasing season tickets will return zero playoff tickets. Even if we (hopefully) squeeze into the last spot, we’ll have a matchup with the Cavaliers that will surely end our season. The Cavs yield the highest return on tickets of any Eastern Conference foe, and lower level tickets will likely fetch $300 for a pair on the resale market. Still, this means that the best possible return on playoff tickets is $600, hardly enough to validate buying a season’s worth of tickets.
Free Swag: Another supposed perk of being a DC 12 Club member is that you get awesome and exclusive Wizards swag. I’ll admit that I love both the Wizards warm-up jacket and gym bag that I received in my two years as a season ticket holder. But besides those once-a-season gifts, being a ticket holder doesn’t get you much. You can redeem Monumental Rewards points for gifts and you get 20% off at the Wizards Store at the Verizon Center. Personally, I can only use so many Wizards bobbleheads or water bottles and I’ve found many options for buying cheaper team apparel and jerseys. Monumental also offers different opportunities for fan experiences, such as writing your name on the court or allowing you to shoot free throws on post-game. These opportunities are limited to specific games and are limited in their availability. In my two seasons as a season ticket holder, I’ve never been able to take advantage of one of these perks because either I was not attending that game, the opportunity was booked, or I was simply was not interested.
KD2DC?: Buying season tickets could be a good idea if you believe that Kevin Durant will sign with the Wizards this summer, igniting interest in the team and causing resale values to surge. Obviously, this is a far-fetched proposal at the present time. Kevin is extremely unlikely to leave a title contender to come to a team that is struggling to make the playoffs. His last appearance at the Verizon Center surely didn’t help our cause. Even if KD does shock the world and come home, more than likely you’ll still have a chance to get in on Wizards season tickets. From last season to this one, many season ticket holders have opted not to renew, and more are likely to do so this year with the higher ticket prices and underachieving team. This means that when the time comes for Durant to make his decision, there will still be a fair amount of season tickets available and you’ll have a chance to delay your purchase decision until that time.
Bottom Line: In case the above points were not clear enough, let me sum up the morale of this blog post in one sentence: under no circumstances should you purchase Washington Wizards ticket for the 2016-2017 NBA season. No matter how many games you plan on attending or what your budget is for NBA games, buying individual game tickets on the resale market is always a better financial decision. Personally, I’ll plan on paying $750-$1,000 for tickets over the course of the season, and try to attend a nice mix of marquee and cheap games. Weekday games against unpopular teams can be had at great prices, and I’ll likely look to attend 8-10 of these. That will leave money for a few games against the likes of the Cavs, Warriors, and Spurs, as well as room in the budget to attend some playoff games.
I hope the Wizards are indeed in line for a deep playoff push this season, as well as the addition of the kid from PG. Even if they are, and especially if they’re not, the simple finances of a being a Wizards season ticket holder dictate that being such for the upcoming season is a very poor financial decision.