February 27, 2016

Mo' Money! Mo' Money! Mo' Money!

The Washington Wizards released 2016-2017 season ticket pricing this past Friday to much self created fanfare. Their announcement on Twitter (shown above) makes the pre-game team introduction about as sexy as it can possibly be and their website features video highlights of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Nene in action against the Philadelphia 76ers, New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks. In each of those games, of course, the Wizards emerged victorious and I'm sure that's deliberate. Personally, I'm having more difficulty forgetting our home losses this year vs. the Lakers and Nuggets than I am remembering the home wins against teams with records far below .500. Maybe it's just me. I think that stuff's more important.

Once you get beyond the flashy packaging (or click the link in your personalized season ticket holder email that arrived in your e-mail in box yesterday if you already have tickets this year), you will of course find out that ticket prices have increased. Again. This is the third consecutive year that prices have gone up. In that time period my upper deck tickets have increased in price from $16 per game to $30 (88% increase) and my lower level tickets have increased in price from $50 per game to $80 (60% increase). I know other fans in other sections with different pricing than mine are experiencing similar hikes.

Now I mostly get the lower level price increase. Before the 2011-2012 season the Wizards cut the cost of these seats about in half as a concession to season ticket holders who would be subjected to a planned teardown and rebuild of the team. The price increases these past three years are steps toward restoring the price of those tickets to the pre-2011 levels. I still don't get the upper level increases any more than I did in January when I wrote about the same subject. The price of those tickets went up $1 (from $15 per game to $16 or 7%) in a span of 12 years. Now in three, they've almost doubled.

Whether we as season ticket holders agree or disagree with the pricing increases this year, we have to decide in the next couple of weeks whether we are in or out. If we are out, our tickets likely go to some fair weather fan just getting on board for what might be some good years. If we are in, we need to spend more money to do one of the things that I love best in my life. My biggest fear about being a season ticket holder has always been that the team will price me out of my pricing comfort zone. I don't think I'm there yet but pretty soon, I'm going to have to start considering other options, especially if I am no longer able to split the cost with a friend (which is getting more and more possible each year due to the increased cost).

Over the past day or so, I've swapped e-mails, texts and Twitter messages with fellow fans. The feedback I've received has been mostly negative. I mean I didn't really expect anyone to be positive about this situation. I think there are a number of interesting things about the Wizards raising prices in this way at this time. Here are a few thoughts as to why.

1. The Team Is Worse Than Last Year
Sports ticket prices are not supposed to directly correlate to how good a team is each season so to say ticket prices should go down as performance goes down is, in my opinion, a flawed argument. However, I could easily argue that performance far below expectations (which is where I put the Wizards this year) is justification for fans to expect no ticket price hike. This is quite honestly as disappointed as I have felt in a Wizards team, and I've sat through some stinker seasons.

The Wizards have claimed accurately that most seats are not increasing or not increasing much. Unfortunately, there are bunch of us out there who are being asked to pay 20% more than we are this year. It's almost as if the team decided how much they were going to increase prices at the beginning of this season and waited to see if the team ever got better before eventually saying "Screw it, let's throw these prices out and see what happens." The results might not be good.

2. It Seems To Ignore Secondary Sales Trends
There is no doubt in my mind that the ticket prices should not exactly follow secondary market prices. The last thing I want to suggest is that the team start charging season ticket holders the maximum secondary market value for each game. Buying 41 games (plus 2-3 preseason games) per year is a whole different proposition than some fanatical Celtics fan paying over market value to make sure he gets the seats he wants to the only game he'll attend that year.

But in claiming that season ticket holders are getting a discount on the cost of tickets, the team has to look at the secondary market, not just at the price they print on the tickets. You can print $41 on my tickets in Section 415 to watch the Utah Jazz all you want, doesn't mean it's worth that. I couldn't sell mine for $5 ($7 with service charges) on the TicketMaster resale site at all. As of last month, the cost of resale seats for seats similar to my upper deck tickets were only about $4 more expensive than I paid. That's not really a discount at all.

3. The Fan Base Is Still Not Solid
When I got to work on Wednesday last week, somebody asked me "Do you still go to Wizards games?" When I said yes and asked why I, the die-hardest of diehard Wizards fans, was even in consideration for that sort of a question, the response was it looked like on television that there was nobody at Verizon Center. And that observation is absolutely true. The games this month against the Pelicans (last Tuesday) and Jazz were especially poorly attended. There have also been games this year where you still hear more Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Warriors chants than Wizards chants. We need more Wizards fans.

Earlier this season, my account representative with the Wizards told me the team now had over 10,000 season tickets sold, which is considered around the league as a success. Despite that success in selling seats, we still need folks who are multi-year dedicated Wizards fans. Raising prices might erode that number. Wizards fans are not Caps or Nationals or Washington's football team's fans. There's no history of strong support. The last thing the team needs is defections. If I were the team, I'd consider deeper discounts for longer tenured ticket holders. But that's just me. I think it would encourage folks to ride out the bad years and stick with it.

4. They Are Nickel-ing And Dime-ing Us
As I already mentioned, I have no problem with the price of my lower level seats next year, just really the timing and what I see as a large increase all at once. But the upper deck tickets at $30 per game and the dividing sections vertically to create different price points in the same exact section is just petty and greedy.

$28 for an upper level seat at VC is fine for me (well, actually it's not but..); I don't need it to get any higher at all. But adding on another $2? I mean what's the point? I guess from the team's perspective, it's only $85 more per seat ($2 for 41 regular season games and $1 for 3 preseason games) but from my perspective it's absolutely unnecessary. The next step here is another $2 each of the next couple of years and all of a sudden I'm really questioning why I'm paying $34 for a seat that six years ago was only $16. They should have laid off on this increase. I've already said my peace on this more than once.

5. They Don't Need The Money
Last year the Wizards were one of several teams who claimed they lost money. While the players' union disputes this because they claim the teams are excluding certain revenue streams, I guess I'm inclined to let this claim stand as is. But even if that was true, it's soon in no way going to be true.

Next year, the new nine year, $24 billion television deal will kick in. That's billion with a B. The NBA's revenue stream will almost double under the conditions of that deal, meaning the owner's portion will almost double and the pot of money allocated to players' salaries will almost double. But you know what won't double? Labor costs of arena staff and team employees; building costs; transportation; and pretty much everything else associated with the operation of a professional basketball team. Ticket revenue, which once stood as a significant portion of income of a team, is going to be relatively meaningless. There were a lot of discussions during the lockout in 2011 about whether the owners or players are the ones that generate the revenue. I got news for both: it's the fans. No fans = no advertising = no money. I would love it if the new television deal kept season ticket prices a little lower. Won't happen, but it's my blog dammit so I get to say it.

6. The Offseason Looks Exciting
Or does it?

What once looked like a foolproof strategy to lure a big name free agent (and let's face it, we were pinning our hopes on Kevin Durant) to Washington maybe doesn't look so great anymore. The Wizards have positioned themselves to have a ton of salary cap room this summer so they can sign a marquee free agent. They have deliberately kept contracts short or affordable on pretty much every player except for John Wall so they could make the biggest splash possible in the offseason.

The problem? Well, there are two big ones. First, Kevin Durant is really the only significant unrestricted free agent thought to be available. Sure, LeBron might opt out to sign another one year with a player option on a second in Cleveland but let's not get carried away. And why would KD come to Washington except because he has a soft spot for home? Durant will either stay in OKC on a deal similar to LeBron's or he'll sign somewhere to win a title.

Secondly, EVERY team has significant salary cap room this summer because of the new TV deal. Instead of the Wizards being one of two or three teams with cap room to sign a max deal free agent, now pretty much every team can. Competitive advantage gone. We are more likely to get 30 year old Al Horford or waste time pursuing Harrison Barnes than we are getting Durant to sign with his hometown team.

7. Most Season Ticket Holders Might Not Be Ready For This
The most interesting part of this season ticket price hike for me is the unique position the Wizards have put themselves in. With the team slashing prices in 2011, they created a class of season ticket holders that might not understand how much a lower level ticket to an NBA game costs. Think about it, if you bought right after the price cut, you might have bought tickets at about half what they used to cost. Now if that price seemed like a bargain, you might be prepared for some increases later on. But if not, if you thought it was a stretch, you might be inclined to abandon ship once ticket prices start getting steep again. Like now.

Now for a team with a longstanding fan base, that might be OK, but the Wizards are not a normal team. For the last two years, the Wizards have placed the names of every season ticket account holder on the court and have organized them and identified them by tenure. Based on an analysis of these names last season, approximately half of the Wizards season ticket holders were in their rookie year last year. You lose those folks, that you have just signed up, by raising prices and you could quickly be back at 5,000 seats sold. It's a tremendous gamble. It may not happen, but I bet some folks are out based on this year's hike. And those are just the people this franchise can afford to lose least.

So after all that ranting, for next season, I'm probably in at the current increased pricing. I've benefitted from lower prices the last few years and I enjoy going to Verizon Center to watch the Wizards play year in and year out. This is admittedly one of the toughest years I've been through because it seemed the team had solved the culture and performance problems of the past. I need to think again on that one.

But going forward is honestly a question. I always envisioned myself as a 30 year season ticket holder. Heck, I've even suggested to the Wizards that they offer me a guaranteed price for multiple years and I'd somehow come up with the cash payment right now. I don't want to walk away just yet, but I also don't want to feel that I am being pushed out with no consideration despite my now almost 16 years of loyalty. I'd like to think that's worth something. I've never really been ticked off about price increases. I've always been pretty understanding and pro-management in this regard. This one ticks me off just a bit.

February 22, 2016

CBS Loves The Wizards

Last week on this blog, I called out CBS for it's shabby mistreatment of the Washington Wizards (before later admitting they probably had every right to dis the Wiz) on one of my favorite network shows, Madam Secretary. Well apparently, I spoke or wrote too soon. I really should watch all of CBS' shows in any given week before I make such sweeping accusations. Turns out the Wizards got some love last week on one of that network's other Washington, D.C. based shows.

As I mentioned last week, I'm not much of a network TV guy. However, I do know someone who is an expert in this subject matter and last night she brought to my attention that NCIS, the NUMBER ONE RATED SHOW ON TELEVISION according to the Neilsen ratings folks, gave some love to the Wizards in their broadcast last week. Now I don't know the show much at all except from what I can read on closed captioned re-runs which sometimes play in my building's gym when I'm working out so forgive my clumsiness with the characters. After all, I really have no idea who's who.

Last week was the show's 2016 Valentine's Day themed show. Towards the beginning of the episode, Michael Weatherly's character Tony DiNozzo was complaining about the commercialism of V-Day and the expectations placed on men to get things just perfect every year when he utters the following line (and yes, I'm putting it in a separate paragraph in bold and in larger font just like I did last week):
"You know what I'd like just once? Somebody to come up to me and say Happy Valentine's Day! Go to a Wizards game!"
Now this show is more like it, CBS! I love this stuff. Although honestly, I don't have time to add another show to my week so I'm not going to watch future episodes necessarily. I'm just now getting up to speed on the new Hawaii Five-O since I got back from the islands. CBS definitely has my attention big time already right now.

Anyway, last week's episode sprinkles this Valentine's Day stuff throughout the entire plot where Mark Harmon's group is investigating a death in a deep sea vessel until the Wizards crop up at the end where Weatherly is given what he really wants, a ticket to a Wizards game. He ends the episode with (in bold and large font again):
"Look at that: a Wizards ticket. Best Valentine's Day ever!"
Sounds right to me. Thanks for restoring my faith, CBS. I think I should shut up about the Wizards on network TV shows.

February 19, 2016

CBS Mocks The Wizards

I'm not much of a network TV guy. I mostly watch sports (i.e. Wizards and NBA playoffs) and HBO's various series in addition to a movie now and then. In fact, until a couple of years ago, I hadn't really watched any sort of network (and by network I mean ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC) television show at all for years and years. But recently I've been convinced that there might actually be something worthwhile watching for free on my cable system (free meaning at a cost of about $100 per month that is) so I've started paying more attention.

One of my favorite current shows is Madam Secretary, which follow Tea Leoni in a sort of Hillary Clinton-esque Secretary of State role solving crises for the United States both internationally and here at home in Washington, D.C. I like the show because it's set near to where I live but also because I think the plots are relevant to recent news events and I think the cast is pretty good. The first season was way better than the current shows but what else am I going to watch at 9 p.m. on a Sunday evening?

So I'm fresh back from the All-Star break and a 10 day trip to Hawaii and I'm catching up on my DVR-ed shows when a disturbing sequence occurs at the McCord (the last name of the Tea Leoni's character) house on Madam Secretary. Her three kids are complaining about their mom working late again when their dad (played by Tim Daly) mentions that their mom's job comes with a lot of perks. The response from their oldest daughter is (and I think this is worth putting in a separate paragraph in bold and in larger font) as follows:
"Box seats to the Wizards is not my idea of a perk."
Whoa! Back up a second. What?!?!?! Lest residents of D.C. and the fictional Secretary of State's family need reminding, the Wizards are actually the most accomplished of the four major Washington sports teams over the past two years. Yes, I'm deliberately narrowing the sample size here to suit my argument. The Washington Capitals, Washington football team and the Washington Nationals have all made a single appearance in the postseason the last two years and the Nats and the football team have failed to advance beyond the opening round. Although admittedly the football team won a division title.

The Wizards, on the other hand, have been playing in each of the last two NBA playoffs and have advanced to the second round each year. In addition they probably have one of the most dynamic players in the sport (John Wall, in case that wasn't obvious) putting on a show on a nightly basis in the beginning of his prime. And box seats to the Wizards are NOT a perk? I'd be there every night if I had access. Shame on you, CBS!!!

Admittedly, it is difficult to overcome 35 years plus of mostly mediocrity (at best) though so I really can't fault CBS for this cheap laugh at the expense of my favorite team of all time. Sigh!

February 18, 2016

Getting Desperate?

The picture above is my view at about 3:30 p.m. today. That's an unusual scene on NBA Trade Deadline day for me. I'm typically at home all day or at least in the afternoon furiously checking Twitter and all sorts of online blogs and columns to find out all the latest rumors and trades. Heck, a couple of years ago, I said this day should be a national holiday. But the combination of just getting back from vacation and being behind at work; a rare Thursday night Wizards game tonight right after work; and the fact that the Wizards weren't going to make any deals (hah!) forced me to work today. So after a 3 o'clock meeting, I caught up on what's really important about today and checked out the damage from a moderately busy day of player movement around the league.

And lo and behold, the Wizards DID make a move. And it's likely not as insignificant as trading Andre Miller to Sacramento for Ramon Sessions last year. Just like a couple of years ago when we took a flier on Marcin Gortat for a year, the team answering the phone on the other end of the line was the Phoenix Suns. Now at the beginning of the day, this is exactly the team I wanted the Wizards to trade with. To me, a Bradley Beal / Kelly Oubre / Kris Humphries swap for the Suns' Brandon Knight seemed like a good deal for both sides. It got the Suns a couple of young players to build around and got the Wizards one of my favorite players who can fill it up on any given night on a future cap friendly max deal. ESPN's trade machine even showed the Wizards picking up three wins this year in the process. Woo hoo!

However, that was not the deal that the Wizards made with the Suns. True, we did send Kris Humphries away along with DeJuan Blair and a (ugh!) future first round pick but got in return Markieff Morris. Yes, the same Markieff Morris that got a technical foul for not being able to choose which side of the lane he was going to stand during a free throw in a game against the Wizards in December. The same Markieff Morris (along with twin brother Marcus) charged with felony aggravated assault. The same Markieff Morris who has fought with a teammate and thrown a towel at his coach this season. The same Markieff Morris who has complained and whined about the discount he and his brother gave the Suns so they could play together only to find out that the team decided to trade Marcus to Detroit without so much as a hug for either of the Morrises.

So now the obvious question for the Wizards is why? Well it's not so dumb as it seems. Yes, Morris is clearly not one of those locker room glue guys. He's been a problem all season in Phoenix and the Suns were reportedly looking for any way to get him out of town. They must be thrilled to get a first round pick in return.

But when playing right, Morris can actually be fairly productive. Last year he played all 82 games and averaged over 16 points and 6 rebounds in a little more than 30 minutes per contest. And he's cheap. At about $8 million per season, that kind of production, if he can leave his baggage back in Phoenix, is a bargain. And he's locked up for three more years after this one. His salary only increases our commitment by a little less than $4 million next year (Humphries was under contract for next season at about $4.6 million) and therefore doesn't affect our offseason Kevin Durant fantasy or our Bradley Beal pending max deal mistake. The team is still sticking to the pie in the sky plan which I have to give them credit for doing.

This is likely a gamble worth taking. The Wizards have some strong locker room personalities to keep Morris in line in addition to two former teammates from their days in Phoenix (Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat) who can vouch for him. It's a risk for sure but the cheap price tag makes the risk moderate at best. And the upside is significant, even after you consider the lost first round pick.

Considering the Wizards recent draft pick history, losing a first rounder might not hurt that much. And I'm certainly not upset about losing either Blair or Humphries. In a moment of reality show judgement type weakness let me say I was never thrilled with Kris Humphries being a Wizard. As much of a disaster as his public marriage to Kim Kardashian was (which I don't fault Hump for at all), the one episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians that I ever watched (I was working out in my building's gym, I swear), his behavior was pretty deplorable. I say bring on the Markieff Morris era!!!

Now I just wonder how Randy Wittman and Morris will get along...

February 4, 2016

What About Portland?

I used to hate the NBA All-Star Game. Maybe hate's a strong word. But in years past I really had no use whatsoever for the mid-season exhibition basketball game where most of the players that I love to hate showboat while nobody (and I mean nobody) plays defense. Even when Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were making appearances in the game over a four year span about a decade ago, I never really tuned in for very long.

Then last year everything changed. I snagged some tickets to the big events on All-Star Weekend in New York City and saw the true value of the experience. From the game itself on Sunday to All-Star Saturday night to practices to press conferences to autograph hunting all over the city, it was a non-stop weekend of NBA superstar immersion. And it was quite honestly pretty fantastic. I never could have imagined such a transformation in my attitude about something based on a frigid long weekend in America's best city (sorry, D.C. but it's true!).

Washington last hosted the All-Star Game in 2001, my first year as a Wizards season ticket holder. I didn't do much at all that weekend basketball-wise except attend the Rising Stars Challenge on Saturday afternoon. I bought a $10 (yes, you read that right) ticket at the box office and spent a couple of hours watching the rooks and sophs go back and forth while sitting one row closer to the court than now-majority owner Ted Leonsis (Ted was in his box; I was in the last row in the 100 level at what was then MCI Center in front of his box).

That year I was actually offered tickets to the All-Star Game. I think the deal from the Wizards was that if I bought 100 upper deck tickets for a regular season game and donated them to charity, they'd get me some 400 level seats for the All-Star Game. I passed, not having a spare $1,000 or more kicking around for such an indulgence at that time in my life. But after last year's All-Star experience, I started to wonder if D.C. was due for another All-Star weekend. I mean in the past 16 years since I've been a season ticket holder, both Houston and New Orleans have had the game twice. Why can't Washington get another shot? Aren't we due?

Me and Earl Monroe hanging out at All-Star Weekend 2015.
So logically, the answer to that question is NO! There are 30 teams in the league now so theoretically every team should get to host the All-Star Game once every three decades. But that's clearly not the way it works for Houston or New Orleans, so why can't Washington be an exception too? The Wizards / Bullets have hosted All-Star Weekend a total of three times in the 65 (including this year) year history of the event: 1969 (in Baltimore), 1980 (at the Caps Center in Landover, MD) and 2001 at our current arena on F Street. Maybe if the NBA waits the same 21 years between games like they did last time, maybe we get the game back here in 2022. Maybe.

Probably not. As it turns out, there are far more cities that are "due" than Washington is. In fact, it ain't even close. Boston holds the longest current All-Star Game-less streak at 52 years, including this year; 53 if you consider they aren't hosting it next year (Charlotte, NC is). Boston was home to the first and second ever NBA All-Star Games and hosted the event four of the first 14 years it was played (remember the league was a lot smaller back then). But they haven't played it in beantown again since 1964 when the league had a total of nine teams. That's a long time.

Other cities have never hosted the game at all. Oklahoma City which has been the home of the Thunder for nine years (including this one) has not yet been granted an All-Star Game. Nor has Sacramento, which has been the home of the Kings since 1985. But while the game may never have been played in those two cities before, the franchises that became the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings have hosted. The Thunder had the event in 1974 and 1987 as the Seattle SuperSonics and the Kings hosted All-Star Weekend in 1956 and 1966 as the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals respectively. Neither franchise has waited as long as the Celtics in Boston, although Sacto comes close.

Besides OKC and Sacramento, there are two other cities that have also never had the All-Star Game. One of these, Memphis, is a relative newcomer to the NBA, moving from Vancouver in 2001, although it seems like the Grizzlies, whose name worked way better in Vancouver, have been in that city forever. So while I feel for the Memphians who crave this event at the FedEx Forum, if I were running the show I'd put both Boston and Sacramento ahead of them. Yes, I'd put OKC at the back of the line here.

And then there's Portland. The Trail Blazers entered the NBA in 1970, 45 seasons ago, at a time when there were only 17 teams in the league. They've been in the same city under the same name for their entire history and as yet have never been awarded an All-Star Game. Since Portland entered the league, and including this year, the All-Star Game has been held in 28 different cities or metropolitan areas. Seven cities have had the game twice; three have been hosts three times; and Los Angeles (if you include Inglewood as Los Angeles) has had it four times. The game has been played in five football stadiums over that period, one city that no longer has a franchise (San Diego) and what that has never had a team located there (Las Vegas). But Portland's never had it. Not even once.

Apparently the city has put in an application to host the game in 2017 or 2018 but the NBA is concerned about the number of hotel rooms in town. It seems to me that the league could find it in it's heart to let a franchise which has been in the same place for almost 50 years have the event once, even if it means a lot of staying in the suburbs or elsewhere. There's one thing for sure: Portland's due!

Large scale graphics of jerseys at Barclays Center 2015: John Wall (woo hoo!!!) and LeBron James (BOOO!!!!!!)