Click here to read the new analysis for the 2018-2019 NBA season.
If you go to a few Washington Wizards games at the Verizon Center, you might discover that there is a peculiar breed of fan. These fans seemingly attend every single game, even the mid-week contests against Eastern Conference bottom feeder. These fans appear to have some obsessive compulsion that mandates that they always sit in the exact same seats at every game. It seems that each and every one of these fans owns the same red Wizards sport jacket, and you might hear them refer to a mysterious society called the “DC 12 Club”. Though all the evidence points to these fans being members of some satanic basketball cult, the truth is that these fans are in fact Washington Wizards season ticket holders.
For most sports fans from the DC area, the idea of a season-ticket holder is probably at best a very abstract concept. It’s hard enough to get folks to attend one Wizards game, so the prospect of willingly signing on to pay for admission to 41 regular season NBA games plus an additional 3 pre-season exhibition games is beyond inconceivable. Even for big Wizards fans, this is a tough sell. Having been a season-ticket holder for two years before opting out after the catastrophe that was last season, I can attest to the fact being a season ticket holder yields no value in and of itself. Individual game tickets, purchased from Ted’s Monumental Sports or elsewhere, get you into the arena just as well as season tickets, and they even grant you access to the very same game. The only rational reason for not buying Wizards tickets on a strictly game-by-game basis is that you expect to receive a quantity discount.
And yet, Ted Leonsis will soon announce the prices for next year’s Wizards season tickets. For incumbent STH’s, the news compels them to decide whether or not to re-up for another year. For the less-invested fans like myself, this is an invitation to join the likes of the DC 12 Club members.
Is there any sensible reason that somebody would purchase Wizards season tickets? How much money can you actually save? Are there circumstances where it makes sense to make this investment? Is it possible to actually make money of this deal? Let’s take a look:
How Much Can I Save With Season Ticket versus buying Individual Game Tickets?
For two years, I had season tickets in Section 117 Row S. These tickets were in the sections behind the basket, which from my experience gave you the best value for your dollar. I was a single grad school student, so I had plenty of time to attend games and no one to answer to about my how I spent my money. Still, like even the most ardent fan, I didn’t have the time nor the finances to attend every home game. So I attended about a third of the games and sold the rest of the tickets on the secondary market, trying to strike a balance between attending good games and recuperating a decent amount of my costs. Being a business student, I of course tracked what I paid versus what I made back, to gauge if the season ticket deal made sense for me going forward.
This current season, after a second consecutive year of price increases for my seats, is my first one back to buying tickets one game at a time. Still, I’ve been tracking what the prices are in my old section for each game on the secondary markets (I buy on NBA Ticket Exchange), versus what I would have paid for a year’s worth of tickets. Those numbers are in the spreadsheet below.
What you might be surprised to see by looking at the above table, is that in reality, there is a quantity surcharge instead of a quantity discount that came with buying Wizards season tickets this past season. Simply put, Ted Leonsis priced his tickets above market value. You could have bought two tickets for every game individually and saved $175 as compared to signing a deal for season tickets. That’s without even taking into consideration the fact that in all likelihood you’d have zero interest in going to many of these games, chiefly three worthless preseason games.
Regardless of what combination of games you wanted to attend, it was always cheaper to buy those tickets individually. STH overpaid for the majority of this year’s games. To put this into perspective, here is a lineup of Wizards games you could have gone to for $1,250, less than a third of the STH price: Raptors, Hawks, Rockets, Cavaliers, Suns, Spurs, Magic, Nuggets, Bucks, Hornets, Timberwolves, 76ers, Trailblazers, Grizzlies, Celtics, Pelicans, and Thunder. Even if you threw in the outrageously overpriced Warriors game, you’d still have paid only 40% of the STH price.
Luckily for fans locked into this deal, the game against the Golden State Warriors and two versus the Cleveland Cavaliers helped make the returns more favorable. Tickets for just those three games on the secondary market went for $1,100, a full $800 more than STH paid for them. On the flipside, it’s hard to be okay paying one-hundred dollars for a Monday night tilt against the Sacramento Kings in November when the guy sitting next to you paid only twenty-eight bucks.
How Will Likely Price Increases Figure Into the Equation?
Seeing how Ted Leonsis raised Wizards season ticket prices even in the midst of last year’s miserable season, it’s a near certainty that he’ll continue to up the prices now that the team is experiencing success once again. For season ticket holders that’s obviously bad news. Now, it might make logical sense that a better team should translate to higher ticket prices, at both the individual game and full-season level. However, the truth is that the relationship between on court success and fan support for basketball in DC is not so perfectly linear.
The Verizon Center has lousy attendance, and we’ve seen in the past that not even a deep playoff run is going to do much to change that. If the median market for individual game tickets does see a bump, it will probably be offset by lower prices at the highest end of the spectrum. Resale prices this year for the Warriors game are astronomical, due to the intrigue of seeing Kevin Durant in his first return to DC since joining the Bandwagon team of the moment (who btw we should boo mercilessly). But those tickets priced should come back closer to Earth next year when that novelty wears off a little bit.
All in all, any raise in the price of season tickets are probably going to mean a worse deal for season ticket holders. Every extra dollar you pay for season tickets is probably just one more dollar that you’re overpaying.
What About Buying Season Tickets and Selling Them?
Based on regular season games, you should not try to do this. You’ll be able to accomplish this, you just won’t make any money.
The figures in the chart above are what buyers pay for tickets on the secondary market. The amount that sellers make is typically, at best, twenty percent lower once the selling platform takes out their fees or commissions. So that $4,075 figure that I could have paid for individual tickets would translate closer to $3,200 for the people who sold those ticket. You don’t a business degree to know that that is not a good return on investment.
How Do Playoff Tickets Play Into the Picture?
Considering the numbers in the chart above, it probably seems like a no-brainer that Wizards season tickets are an all-around terrible idea for fans, right? Well no, not exactly. There is one season ticket holder perk, really the only one that has any value at all, that can potentially alter the balance of this equation: guaranteed tickets to this year’s home playoff games. Those fans that commit to the full slate of next season’s tickets (sorry all you current STH’s, you get nothing) receive the privilege of buying tickets to all of this year’s postseason games at a low, fixed price. For the lower level sections behind the basket, that fixed price has historically been somewhere between $45 and $65 per ticket depending on the round, which is considerably less than what these playoff ticket will go for on Stubhub, NBA Ticket Exchange, etc. when the Wizards hype starts really rolling.
Since we’ve been defining the value of season tickets by the difference between what season ticket holders pay and what one pays on the secondary market, these cheap playoff tickets make a season ticket package more attractive. Depending on who the Wizards match up with in the playoffs, how many home games they get in each round, and how deep they ultimately go, it is possible that this playoff ticket perk will yield enough value to actually make season tickets worthwhile. If nothing else, this perk offers enough to make you take a second look. Here are some estimates for how much playoff tickets in my old Section 117 could be worth versus what they’ll cost DC 12 Club members:
What is the Final Verdict?
So what’s the final verdict on whether or not Wizards season tickets for next season will ultimately be worth the investment? Well, like most things in life it depends. In this case it depends on how far you think the team is going to make it in the playoffs. If you think the team is doomed for a first-round disappointment, then you can easily rule against season-tickets (then again, if you think this is how our season ends then you’re obviously not a real fan, so why would you even want season tickets?). If you think the Wizards will repeat recent postseason history by winning the first-round and then fizzling out in the second, then you probably still want to stay away from season tickets. That result will bring you some value as compared to buying individual tickets, but certainly not enough to warrant having to start making payments now for tickets to games months down the line.
However, if you are bullish on the team and foresee them charging into the Eastern Conference Finals to challenge the reigning champ, then this season ticket package is almost too good of a deal to pass up. A series against Lebron and Kyrie, one of the greatest to ever do it and one of the most overrated to ever do it, will be the biggest sporting event of the moment, not to mention possibly the biggest ever in DC. Watching those games would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and getting those tickets for cheap will save you a pretty penny if you go to the game, or make you one if you opt to sell. The numbers show that Wizards season tickets derive their value from the chance to buy playoff tickets for cheap. Therefore, this purchase decision is one that needs to be made on a year-by-year basis, depending on the team’s postseason prospects. If you paid for membership for the DC 12 Club last season when there were no playoff games to attend, you got hustled big time. But if you’re thinking about buying them for the upcoming season, it could actually be a good deal.
In the end, the question isn’t necessarily are Wizards season tickets are good deal, but instead how far do I think this team will go this season and am I willing to bet on that? For my part, being a diehard Wizkids fan and eternal optimist, I’m already trying to figure out how I can explain to my wife why we need to spend thousands of dollars on basketball tickets.