February 25, 2017

Shocked By Season Ticket Prices

Last night, the Washington Wizards released 2017-2018 renewal invoices to season ticket holders. Let me say I am shocked by next year's season ticket map and pricing. Shocked in both a good way and in a bad way. And before I get too glass half empty on those couple of dozen or so of you reading this post, let me say as someone who holds both lower level corner seats and upper deck center seats to watch the Wiz play at home all year, I am extremely happy overall with the news. 

Unfortunately I will get glass half empty in this post because unfortunately the devil in in the details.

First the good news. For season ticket holders sitting in the 100 and 200 levels of Verizon Center, it appears the only ticket price increases anywhere in the entire building are in some of the VIP courtside seats which jumped from $1,050 per game to $1,100 per game. That means my lower level corner, Row E seats remain at $80 per game for next year.

I couldn't be happier with this news. This is such a bargain. After the last few years of experiencing price hikes following the ticket price slash of 2011, I get to pay the same for my lower level seats next year as I did this year. I think that's extremely reasonable on the part of Wizards ownership considering both the success the team is currently enjoying and the fact that these seats are probably among the cheapest in the NBA for that location.

Let's face it, team ownership is selling season tickets right now at potentially the height of the market. The Wizards are killing it lately (well, except for last night in Philly) based on a recent home-game-rich schedule and a not exactly challenging road schedule during the last couple of months. After next Friday's home game against Toronto, the Wizards will be faced with 15 of their last 21 on the road, including two separate swings out west. There's a possibility that this current third place run will not last. Instead of cashing in, ownership has decided to reward season ticket holders here.

A decade ago, my lower level corner tickets cost $98 per game. Next year, they will cost $80. I honestly was braced for a $20 per ticket price hike in this location. I got $0 next year. Huge win for me and all Wizards season ticket holders in the 100 and 200 levels here.

And then there's the upper deck...

In contrast to the (almost) no increase in pricing downstairs and in the club level at Verizon Center, there are increases all over the 400 level. Last year there were four separate price groups in the upper level: two price levels in the five center sections (one for the front half and a lower one for the back half); a third in the front half of the eight corner sections; and a fourth covering the back half of the corners and all throughout the end zones. Next season there will be seven different pricing groups: the center five sections and corner sections now have three separate pricings and the end zones are split into two different price groups.

On a big picture level, the cheapest seats upstairs have not increased at all; those are still available for $16 per game just like this year. Everything else went up. My upper deck seats in Section 415 went up from $30 per game this year to $36 per game next year. That's a 20% increase in price!!! As shocked as I was about the no price increase downstairs, I'm equally shocked by this hike but in the opposite way obviously.

I have a few problems with this. First, the price increases and what I will refer to as nickeling and diming for a 400 level seat is out of character with the history of pricing for this franchise. In my first 14 seasons as a season ticket holder, no ticket in the upper deck (other than when Michael Jordan was playing in D.C.) topped $16 per game. In the last four seasons (including next year) my tickets have jumped in price by 225%. Clearly new ownership has the right to set prices however they see fit but for folks who have bought upstairs for more than a decade or more, there may be some sticker shock.

Secondly, it's important for season ticket holders that the investment they are making in tickets not be undercut by the secondary market. If we can buy tickets cheaper on StubHub or Ticketmaster's resale site or anywhere else for less than we are paying, why bother shelling out more for a full season? I've been tracking the secondary market this year just like I have for the past few and my research to date indicates that I could have bought seats comparable to my upper deck seats in Section 415 through the March 5 game vs. Orlando for an average of $36.44. That's about what I'll be paying next season, although considering my season ticket package includes three half-price preseason game which I don't care about, the secondary market is actually lower than what I'll pay next year. There has to be more of a difference between the resale market and what season ticket holders are paying.

I argued earlier this month that there should be no upper deck price increase next year but also admitted I expected one. Honestly, my expectation was that the Wizards would try to get blood out of a stone here and sheepishly try to sneak in a $2 per seat increase. I didn't expect to pay 20% more for these seats next year. The Wizards need these fans in the building. I still think there's some value in them considering deep discounts for season ticket holders for seats which cannot be sold. I made this case last year. I remain committed to this idea. We need this building rocking with hard core Wizards fans.

So where does that leave me? Well, like I said earlier I'm personally very happy. I expected to see a $22 per game increase in the cost of my tickets and I got $6. Can't argue with that, I suppose. I'm also pleased with softer benefits, including access to meet the team events (although there's admittedly a lack of detail here); season ticket holder renewal gifts; and particularly the Fluid Tickets Program, which I think is a huge plus for season ticket holders. I'll be renewing for next year pretty much just as soon as I can get over to Verizon Center next.

But long term I'm concerned about the price of 400 level seats, particularly considering the secondary market situation this year. The reality here is that Wizards fans can easily pick up mid-week tickets against a less popular opponent for less than $10. The best benefit of being a season ticket holder (for me) is guaranteed access to playoff tickets. At some point, continuing to increase the price of tickets upstairs is concerning to me, especially if the team fails to qualify for the postseason which this year seems all but impossible. If I were to buy my same seats in the upper deck for a Capitals season, they would cost me $58 per game; I'm hoping we are not heading there.

Last night, Ted Leonsis and the Monumental Sports group made me happy about buying Wizards  season tickets next year. My biggest fear about being a season ticket holder is that one day these will become more costly than I want to pay and I'll be shut out of this experience. For the next year until this time in 2018, I can stop worrying about that. Let's go Wizards!

February 23, 2017

Top 10 WallMojis

This blog post is a total puff piece. Just letting you know in advance.

In case you missed it, earlier this month John Wall released his own line of emojis (called WallMojis) for use on your phone, tablet and whatever other devices you use emojis on. At the low low low price of $1.99 for this tool on iTunes, you know I had to buy it as soon as I saw it on John Wall's Twitter feed right before I sat down to watch All-Star Saturday Night this past weekend. Now I've got a whole series of John Wall graphics to use in my tweets for the Wizards end of season and postseason run.

I don't know what it is with me and Top 10 lists this week. Yesterday I posted my Top 10 Wizards ever list; I thought why not match it with a Top 10 WallMojis list (and I know there are more than 10; think of them as categories). So here goes. My definitive guide to the best of the WallMojis app. The complete menu of 'mojis is shown above. And yes, I'm making up names for these things.

10. John Wall Laser Beam Eyes
There are a whole series of John Wall heads on the WallMoji app. This is my second favorite. I assume John has laser beam eyes (a la Cyclops from the X-Men) and not some torrential waterfall streaming from his eyeballs. No idea when I'm going to use this one but, hey, you never know.

9. Sittin' On The Steps Of The Plane
I'm humming Otis Redding's (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay as I write this. I have no idea why this WallMoji exists. What is John doing? Who sits on the fold down steps of an airplane and just kicks back wearing an All-Star hat? Can't imagine I'm rolling this one out sometime soon but you never know, right?

8. John Wall DC3
DC3s are raining down in Verizon Center and anywhere else the Wizards are playing this year and John Wall's the reason. He's definitely going to make rainmaker Otto Porter rich at the end of the year, just like he did with Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza and just like he could do with Bojan Bogdanovic. I swear these guys need to kick back some of their salary to John. Use these WallMojis when JW or anyone else bombs from deep.

7. John Wall Screaming
John's been doing a lot of screaming (and flexing) this year and he's doing more of it as the season's progressed and the Wizards have gotten better and better. Use the head or torso and head WallMoji as appropriate.

6. Are You Not Entertained?
Verizon Center's been everything from completely dead to (almost) completely electric. John is the biggest on court cheerleader to get the crowd fired up. Use this just like John would when timeouts are called and the Wiz are rolling.

5. Dunk Contest Champion
In his first ever Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Weekend three years ago, John became the first Wizard (or Bullet) to ever win the whole thing. And he did it with one dunk. Before this year, most people thought the 2014 version of the Contest was the worst ever. Maybe not so much after this year's debacle. Doesn't matter either way. A win's a win. It's not John's fault that someone messed up the format big time in '14. Roll these out each and every All-Star Weekend. By the way, it's my opinion GRIII just copied John's 2014 dunk twice to win this year's contest.

4. Wizards Home Jersey
Just because this is the best jersey in the NBA, home or away. Hands down. No question. Suitable for everyday use.

3. John Wall Family Foundation
Because sometime there are more important things in life than what happens on the court. Last year, John won the NBA's Community Assist Award for his social involvement in the D.C. area and elsewhere. He's the most visible Wizard in terms of giving back. This was a league wide award folks, not just a local one. There are two other JWFF WallMojis; I'm just showing two.

Two years ago, John was named to the All-Defensive Second Team. Give me a choice of any point guard in the NBA to anchor my defense and I'm taking John. When G-Wiz is pounding that drum, tweet this WallMoji.

1. John Wall Passing
Why is John passing the best of all the WallMojis? Because passing is what the best point guards in the NBA do. And in my opinion, John is the best in the league. Fun fact here: on February 1, Kyrie Irving doled out a career high 14 assists in a single game. At that point in the season, John had 14 or more in a game eight times. Point guards pass the ball. Just saying.

I know what you are thinking and it's probably "Dude, you just wasted $1.99 and about an hour of your time." Well, we'll see what you think when I'm tweeting out WallMojis during the game on Sunday. And any game thereafter if I choose to do so. All dedicated Wizards fans who tweet should drop a couple of bucks (minus the penny) on this app. You don't want to be left out after all.

Epilogue (although not really): Can I nitpick? I do have an issue with two of the WallMojis.

First, there's on WallMoji that shows the back of John's road jersey with the old horizontal white stripe on it. Now, it could well be that this is intended to show the Wizards 2011-2012 kit, but the white stripe hasn't been on the back for years.

Second, there's a John Wall Dunking WallMoji (at least I assume he's dunking) that shows him with the ball in his right hand. I don't think this is correct. Not saying John can't dunk with his right hand, just that he usually doesn't, something I chided Reggie Miller via Twitter for implying on the Wizards - Knicks broadcast way back on January 19. I'd have my guys fix this one at least if I was John.

Go grab these WallMojis, Wiz fans! Otherwise you will be missing out on the fun I'll be having the last half of this season. Back to less puff-y posts with the next one I promise.

February 21, 2017

Top 10 Wizards

The 2016-2017 NBA season is the 20th that the Washington Wizards have played under their current nickname. By and large, it has NOT been a wonderful ride. But with the team seemingly surging towards more wins than they have had in over 35 years and with point guard John Wall in the All-Star Game this past weekend for the fourth consecutive year, I thought it might be a good time to create a top 10 list of the greatest players ever to suit up for the Wizards. Sort of a mini-20th anniversary celebration.

Now admittedly, I haven't been around for all 20 years of Wizards ball. I mean, I've been alive and watching NBA basketball for all that time but not necessarily paying close attention to the Wizards. I started watching the Wizards as my primary team during their third season under the new name, bought season tickets one year later and am now in my 17th year as a season ticket holder. I figure that's close enough, especially given the team's performance (9th and 13th in the Eastern Conference) in those two years I missed. No matter what list I create, there are always going to be folks who disagree with me.

This list considers a player's accomplishments as a Wizard, not a Bullet or on any other franchise's team. I'm deliberately considering the accomplishments of players who played for the team under both nicknames as Wizards. That both emphasizes performance since 1997 and makes my job a little easier. It also is not a list of the 10 greatest players to don a Wizards blue, black and bronze (later gold) or red, white and blue jersey. Michael Jordan may be among the greatest, if not the greatest, to play in the NBA but he ain't the number one Wizard with just two years under his 38-40 year old belt.

So having said that, let's get right to my list. There are some honors listed under some players' names; these are their achievements while playing for the Wizards (everything before or after is missing) There are also some top five franchise rankings in the list below. These are the spots these players occupy on the Packers / Zephyrs / Bullets / Wizards leaderboard. I know I'm switching standards there. Just deal with it. And finally a quick spoiler alert: none of the players in the cover picture of this post made the list.

10. Marcin Gortat (2013-Present)
Two Postseason Appearances.

I really wrestled with this 10 spot. I was tempted to sneak in someone like Paul Pierce or Emeka Okafor; someone who impacted the Wizards in a teammate development way (Pierce with the whole team; Okafor with John Wall and leadership) but ultimately I decided Marcin's three plus years of steady play meant that I had to put him at number 10. 

I think Marcin's under appreciated as a Wizard. So many fans focus on the games with little offense or quick fouls and ignore the larger body of work. Sure there are bad games out there and Marcin's not the number one locker room leader some fans want him to be but look at the numbers: three plus years averaging double figure points with close to double figure rebounds (for sure double figures this year). Moreover, he's extremely durable; he's played at least 75 games each of his first three years with our team and is poised to do the same this year.

9. Bradley Beal (2012- Present)
Two Postseason Appearances. NBA All-Rookie First Team (2013); Franchise Leader 3rd in 3 Point FG Made.

Before too many people get upset with Brad at this spot, let me say I don't expect that if I made this same list two or three years from now that he'd be at number nine. At least he better not be. Not with his contract.

I believe Bradley Beal is having a fantastic year. All the promise of his first four years are coming to bear in a single season. He's also healthier than he's ever been which I am sure is a huge relief to Wizards fans beyond me. I also believe Brad should have been an All-Star this year. If not on the coaches' ballots then as a replacement for Kevin Love. He and John Wall should provide many many moments for Wizards fans to savor this season and the next few years. He's clearly the second best player on our current squad. And (again) he should be with his contract.

But one year doesn't rocket you to the top of a list like this created by me. I need to see some more consistency first, which I believe I will see for hopefully the rest of this season and the next four beyond this. Beal has turned the corner in major way. And I love it. I just want to see more of it.

8. Nenê (2012-2016)
Two Postseason Appearances.

There may be some emotion behind my number eight selection on this list and I think that's OK. I'm a fan, after all, and this is a blog about being a fan.

If this current Wizards squad ever amounts to something serious, I'll always remember Nenê as the first one in the door. Once the Wizards traded away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and every other player that resembled a leader in the locker room in the spring of 2010, things devolved into chaos pretty quickly. One year later it was no better; the team had failed to instill any sort of professionalism in the 12 months since the team had been dismantled. The stakes were pretty high: John Wall was supposed to be the face of the franchise and he had nobody to show him how to be a professional ballplayer.

Enter Nenê, on the trading block in Denver because that team was convinced Kenneth Faried was going to be just as good in a couple of years if not in the moment the Nuggets pulled the trigger to swap Nenê for JaVale McGee. Thank God for this trade. Nenê was never a vocal leader in Washington, but he brought a credible presence to the Wizards team. He also showed everyone in Washington what it meant to be a team player after a period of misdirection. Nenê produced in his time in D.C., averaging double digits as a starter. Yes, there was always the next injury looming but I give Nenê a ton of credit for holding this franchise together until John Wall could assume the clear role of team leader.

7. Michael Jordan (2001-2003)
2x All-Star (2002-2003).

I hate putting Micheal Jordan on this list. I thought Jordan's two years in Washington put the franchise on hold just so Jordan and Doug Collins could try to make one more run at playing and coaching in the league. I thought his leadership in the locker room (which spilled out in public all too often) was poor and every move he engineered emphasized getting into the playoffs now at the expense of player development of anyone not worthy to play with MJ. It was completely selfish.

However, he was good, even at 38, 39 and 40. He was clearly the best player on the team those two years he was in D.C. (I know the bar was set pretty low) and he had some spectacular nights. Sometimes he just seemed to will himself to beat the other team. He scored 40 points or more six times in two seasons, including an MCI / Verizon Center record 51 on December 29, 2001, a mark that stood (Gilbert Arenas tied it years later) until John Wall scored 52 earlier this season. Those two years were exciting until they ended and you realized it was all for the glory of MJ. 

Jordan is one of only five Wizards players to make it to two All-Star Games, although the first was a fan vote and the second was likely a coaches' sympathy vote. 

6. Larry Hughes (2002-2005)
NBA All-Defensive 1st Team (2005); One Postseason Appearance.

Larry Hughes is the one guy in my 17 years as a season ticket holder that I wished had not walked away from the team. I don't feel the same way about Trevor Ariza or Paul Pierce or Jared Jeffries or any other player. I understand why Larry did it; it's hard to turn down that kind of money. But he and Gilbert Arenas were a backcourt to behold. Yep, it was fun seeing Gilbert team up with DeShawn Stevenson and for sure D-Steve was a cheaper option but I always thought Larry and Gil could have taken that team to a really good place.

Larry spent just three years in Washington, and he never played a full season (he never played more than 67 games). But the two last years he played at 601 F Street were among the best of his career and his last (the 2004-2005 season) was without a doubt the best. That year he averaged an astonishing 2.9 steals per game (albeit with a lot of gambling that paid off) and led the league in that category. Larry should have been in the All-Star Game that year; his injury right before the voting ended game coaches an excuse to not put him in the game along with Gil and Antawn Jamison. I saw Larry at the Oklahoma City game this year and told him as much. He agreed.

5. Brendan Haywood (2001-2010)
Franchise Leader 4th in Blocks; Four Postseason Appearances.

Brendan Haywood is at the five spot on this list for four simple reasons: (1) he made it to four consecutive playoff appearances with the team; (2) he was the most important defensive player in his years as an established starter; (3) he has played more games as a Wizard than any other player ever; and (4) he was my first favorite Wizards player. I warned you it was a fan's list.

I loved Brendan Haywood playing for the Wizards. Yes, he was selfish; he fought with Etan Thomas (I mean like actually fought with fists) and was reluctant to or just plain refused to mentor JaVale McGee. Yes, he was terrible from the free throw line except for that one season that Dave Hopla got him to shoot 73.5 percent.  But he was the primary starter at center in his second year in the league and held that spot (except for the 2008-2009 season when he was hurt) until the Wizards traded him to Dallas and he was the difference maker at the defensive end. He called the defensive sets for a team which sometimes had few defenders and made up for the mistakes of his teammates. The Wizards would have been a lot worse off if it wasn't for B Wood back there.

I'm putting Brendan unapologetically at the five spot while also conceding there might be a lot of emotion behind this decision.

4. Caron Butler (2005-2010)
2x All-Star (2007-2008); Three Postseason Appearances.

Caron Butler has spent time with nine NBA franchises in his 14 year career but he spent more than twice as long in Washington than he did in any other spot. He also had his greatest success in a Wizards uniform, being named to two All-Star Games. He also acquired his nickname, Tough Juice, while playing too hard in practice at Verizon Center. Nicknames don't really make much difference to me but Tough Juice is such a great nickname that it counts with Caron.

Caron's greatest seasons statistically during the 2006-2007 season and the 2007-2008 season, the two years he represented the East as an All-Star. The work he did along with Antawn Jamison in keeping the franchise afloat was phenomenal. If there's a season this franchise could have collapsed but didn't it was that one. I'll always remember Caron for the buzzer beater at Cleveland in the 2007 playoffs to stave off elimination (at least for one game) and for the monster slam dunk he had in Sacramentto. It's number two in this video.

Good times...
3. Antawn Jamison (2004-2010)
2x All-Star (2005 & 2008); Franchise Leader 2nd in 3 Point FG Made; Four Postseason Appearances.

Antawn Jamison was the guy that first put the Wizards into the playoffs. The franchise had struck out on the postseason in its first seven years under its new name. Jamison got them there in his very first year and he kept them there for the next four years. Before Nenê joined the Wizards in 2011, AJ was the only guy who showed any sort of leadership in the locker room. He was rewarded with the captaincy and with Abe Pollin's undying affection.

Antawn earned his only two All-Star nods while in a Wizards uniform and was the model of consistency on the offensive end, averaging more than 19 but less than 23 points every year he suited up in D.C. Antawn is likely to be one of two players (along with Tom Chambers) who scored more than 20,000 career points who will not be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (hoping I'm wrong here; maybe in a down year?) and he scored more than 8,500 of them in Washington. He still has one of the quickest shots I've ever seen. I'll forget all about the baseline he let LeBron James have to beat us in the playoffs. There were few better than Antawn in the last 20 years for the Wizards.

2. Gilbert Arenas  (2003-2010) 
All-NBA Second Team (2007); 2x All-NBA Third Team (2005-2006); 3x All-Star (2005-2007); Franchise Leader 1st in 3 Point FG Made / 5th in Steals; Four Postseason Appearances.

And then there's Gilbert Arenas. I clearly love Gil. I mean I named this blog after him for crying out loud. There's only one player in Wizards history who has captured national attention with his play and his antics off the court. Where do I begin? Agent Zero. Hibachi. Oxygen tents. Walk off three pointers. Highest single game point total in franchise history. Throwing jerseys into the stands. Staying at season ticket holder events to sign every autograph even when the rest of the players have gone. Early morning shooting sessions at Verizon Center after sleeping on the couch in the players' lounge. Guns in the locker room. Trampoline dunks at the All-Star Game. His swag was phenomenal. 

Unfortunate about that whole guns in the locker room thing. More unfortunate about Gerald Wallace landing on his knee.

Gilbert is the only player who as a Wizard has been arguably the best player in the NBA. I'll admit it didn't last long but there was a time when he was dropping 60 and 56 points on a west coast road trip during the 2006-2007 season where he was legitimately in the discussion. There were rumors about the Lakers and Wizards discussing a Kobe for Gil deal and the Wiz legitimately saying no. And that was before Kobe's fourth and fifth championships. Gilbert was amazing that season and for the three that preceded it. He was instantly my favorite player (sorry B Wood) and I still love the signed gold jersey I have hanging in my closet with the "Agent Zero" personalization. Gil's the only Wizard other than John Wall and Michael Jordan to be voted as a starter in the All-Star Game and he's the only one to be named to an All-NBA team three times, or at all really. That knee injury...

1. John Wall (2010-Present)
NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2015); 4x All-Star (2014-2017); NBA Slam Dunk Contest Winner (2014); NBA All-Rookie First Team (2011); Franchise Leader 1st in Assists / 1st in Steals; Two Postseason Appearances.

As good as Gilbert Arenas was in a Wizards uniform and as many All-NBA teams as he made, he's still not John Wall. John has more All-Star appearances than Gil, he's a more complete player than Gil, he's a better leader than Gil and I can't tell you how many passes that he's thrown down at the east end of Verizon Center that have taken my breath away from my seats in Section 109. And this season has been the best of all; the leap he's made this year whether it's due to his health or Scott Brooks or just natural maturity is astounding. He's a better player than I could have hoped for this year. He's definitely for me in the top 10 discussion of players in the NBA.

On top of all that, John openly wants to be here in D.C. There is no question that this team is his and he wants as many fans in the building cheering for the entire team (not just him) as he can possibly get. He's already the franchise leader in assists and steals and he's likely to be second in scoring if he plays out his current contract with the team and remains healthy. All this from a guy who rival team executives say can't pass and who most everyone in the media says can't shoot. I don't see any competition for John Wall as the greatest Wizard. Just don't.

So that's my list. Call me crazy for some of these picks but that's what I believe. I took a hard look at (in no particular order) Otto Porter, Paul Pierce, Rod Strickland, Chris Whitney and DeShawn Stevenson but ultimately I went with the ten above. I expect some guys to move up the board quickly if I ever do this again. Wizards back in action on Friday in Philly. Let's go Wizards!

February 8, 2017

José Andrés Is Killing Me

Two years ago I attended the NBA All Star Game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can't think of anywhere better to see my first and likely only mid-season exhibition game. Because I wanted to soak in as much of the atmosphere at MSG as possible, I elected to enter the arena when it first opened so I could be there for absolutely every minute of the event. Doing so meant I was resigned to eating in the building before the game.

My expectations for my Sunday night meal was some overpriced hot dog or pretzel or maybe a basket of less than tasty chicken tenders with fries or something like that. What I ended up eating was a lot different: some beef short rib tacos at a stand owned by famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. When I got back from New York I wrote about my experience in this blog and suggested Verizon Center follow suit, maybe getting local celebrity chef and fellow Wizards season ticket holder José Andrés to open a joint of his own somewhere on the concourse of 601 F Street.

Fast forward to last fall and I'm wandering the 100 level at Verizon Center and along the 6th Street side of the building (which is honestly like the back of the building and probably the dead-est part of the main level) when I stumble upon exactly what I wished for: a José Andrés food stand called Beefsteak based on his five branch chain of mostly vegetarian restaurants of the same name. Finally. Some good food at Verizon Center at, relatively speaking, an affordable price. Way better than settling for a wiener or pretzel or some Papa John's or Dunkin' Donuts.

The Beefsteak menu, may she rest in peace.
Based on the intel that I gathered from sniffing around the internet and the east side of Verizon Center, Andrés' new restaurant seemed to be a pop-up type of food stand as part of an Aramark (the food and drink monopoly at VC and many other arenas in the U.S.) initiative called Launch Test Kitchen. The Launch concept is designed to get better quality food in sports arenas by engaging local chefs to bring their cuisine to the arena or ballpark. As I argued in 2015, Andrés was the perfect fit for the Wizards and Monumental Sports on this one.

Now, you can question the wisdom of bringing a mostly meatless restaurant to an environment where most fans demand quick cooked meat on buns with fried sides but I was excited just the same. I made it my mission to eat one of each type of dish on the menu and blog about what I thought about each one. I got through the Beefsteak Tomato Burger and the Frida Kale Bowl on my first two trips. I found the "burger" both super tasty and filling (the Andrés branded potato chips it came with were amazing too) at a super affordable $6.50 price. But after sampling the under seasoned bowl of kale, sweet potatoes and other veg (including sinfully swapping out grape tomatoes for the advertised cherry tomatoes), I was ready to stop my sampling and stick with the tomato sammy.

Tomato sandwich, anyone? Trust me, it's good. Like really good.
That's when I got tripped up. 

When I returned for a second 'mater sandwich, Beefsteak was gone, replaced by Pepe, José's indoor version of his Spanish sandwich making food truck. You are killing me, here! I finally find some food I love at Verizon Center and you guys take it away? But on the bright side, here's a whole new menu of grub to discover. Yes, I'll miss the tomato sammich on that gorgeous bun with the remoulade but here's a list of seemingly more arena-friendly sandwiches to take its place.

I started over, determined to get through all seven dishes. Spanish Grilled Cheese? Check. Good, not great. Love the sweetness of the membrillo (quince paste) against the tangy goat cheese but ultimately needed less bread and more cheese. Pollo Frito? Check. Greasy, greasy, greasy. Great looking sandwich but never want one again. Jamón Serrano y Queso Manchego? Check. Took me right back to the streets of Madrid from my visit in 2014; awesome! Frito Pie? Check. Perfect fried egg and sweet paprika-y pork chili but the salty Fritos ultimately won out making the dish a loss for me. Spanish Style Pulled Pork? Also check. Best sandwich I've had at Verizon Center ever; well cooked and seasoned pork but they have to strain the dried chiles a little better.

Five down, two to go. 

Straight from the streets of Madrid.
But then it happened again. They switched the restaurant, this time to Oyamel, the Verizon Center version of José's Mexican joint just down 7th Street from the phone booth. Again, you are killing me!! I got two sandwiches I really love in the ham and cheese and pulled pork and now I have to start all over with just two more left on the full menu? 

Now don't get me wrong here, I love that José's in Verizon Center. I think we need to do everything that we can to keep this quality of food in the building. And I will, by the way. I'm coming here every chance I get. But you are seriously messing with my blogging, dude. I wanted one of each dish!

So my new deal with Oyamel is to eat what I like and not skip around and I'm certainly not trying to eat the whole menu because I know I'll be like Sisyphus pushing that rock uphill. In the couple of weeks that this new stand has been live, I've had the Torta Cochinita (compared to the stuff I had in Mexico just one week prior I'm not getting this again) and the ham and cheese quesadilla (officially the Divorciados de Jamón y Queso). I think the quesadilla is amazing. It's smoky and cheesy and salty and warm and chewy and the salsas add roasted and tangy flavors. I might branch out but honestly, I think I've got a winner at $8 per serving here. Can't ask for much more out of stadium food.

Oyamel: the current (as of February 6, 2017) José Andrés stand at Verizon Center. 
The Launch Test Kitchen line frequently has what I'll call handlers near the line - people stationed near the stand to guide people through their experience. I'm sold already. I don't need any guidance. The title of this post is totally tongue in cheek. I'm glad this restaurant, no matter what it's called and what it serves, is in Verizon Center. I'll take the tomato burger or ham and cheese sandwich or pulled pork or quesadilla over anything else at VC. Keep it coming. 

I understand there may be one more change based on comments from the "handlers". Bring it on! But I'm done trying to sample everything. That's a fool's errand at this point. Thank you Aramark and José Andrés for this. I'm looking forward to years of eating quality food before Wizards games. But please, settle it down and pick a theme. I can't keep up with all the change.

To the rest of my fellow fans and Wizards season ticket holders, please stop buying generic fast food and make your way over to Oyamel or whatever it's called when you get there. Show some love for local food rather than mediocre national chains or generic stadium fare. If you're disappointed with the results, you can blame me and then go back to what you normally eat. We've got a good thing going on the east side of Verizon Center. Let's make it worthwhile for everyone to keep it going.

At $8 per serving, I'll take this quesadilla over anything else at Verizon Center.

February 1, 2017

It's Season Ticket Renewal Month!!

Welcome to February, Wizards fans. So far this season's been pretty good, right? We got a 15 game home win streak (and counting) in the books and after a 2-8 start are looking really pretty darned good and right in the thick of things in the East. Heck, we are in first place in the division. Now that January's over, it means the start of the end to the home game fiesta the team has been enjoying and some hard challenges on the road. That might make the team's grip on the playoffs slip a little. We'll see how badly they want to hold on to that dream.

I'm sure ownership, and not just the fans, are thrilled with the team's turnaround from their October and early November days, because it's now time for Ted Leonsis and Co. to ask their season ticket holders to pony up a little (more) dough for the privilege of watching the Wiz play during the 2017-2018 season. In 2016 and 2015, the Wizards released their tariffs for the coming year in the mid twenties of February; in 2014 it was a little earlier than that. I expect that the Monumental Sports executives will be licking the envelopes themselves they'll be in such a rush to get the renewal invoices out the door this year.

So the obvious question here is...will season tickets increase in price this year? My opinion is yes, they will for sure. And in some sections of the building they should not. Let's take a look at the case for both. As usual, I'll be approaching this subject from the viewpoint of a fan who sits in the corners of the building in the 100 level and the center of the arena in the 400 level because that's precisely where my seats are. I'm not necessarily being selfish here; I just happen to have more data about those spots in Verizon Center than any other locations.

But first a little history.

If you bought season tickets a decade ago (for the 2007-2008 NBA season), you'd be faced with a bill for $94 per game for corner seats in the 100 level and $15 per game in the upper deck center. The price was the same no matter where in the section your seats were, meaning you paid the same price for seats in the front row as you did for seats way in the back. Those prices generally held for the next four seasons through the end of the 2010-2011 season, John Wall's first in the NBA. Sure, the lower levels went up $4 per game and the nosebleeds added $1 to the price. That's essentially staying the same for me.

Then the team decided to rebuild so they offered fans a deal and cut prices in some locations of the building. They also offered to freeze prices for three years. For my lower level seats, this meant a reduction in price to $50 (a 47% savings); for my upper deck seats, there was no price change and they remained at $16 per contest. That deal lasted through the 2013-2014 season. It's important to note that new season ticket holders during this period might think the reduced prices are the going rate. Good for attracting new fans; not so good if they think they are paying full price because they might leave when prices go back up.

Since that time, ticket prices are up. In some cases, way up. Since the price freeze ended, the team has both raised prices and split the pricing in the lower level corners; they have done the same upstairs. The end result has been increases of $5, $11 and $14 over the previous three seasons downstairs for a total increase over that span of 60% and $4, $8 and $2 upstairs for a total increase over that span of a whopping 88%. That all seems like a lot but remember the lower level seats I bought this year are still $18 cheaper per contest than they were during the 2010-2011 season. Not the same for my upper deck tickets which are significantly higher than they have ever been.

So obviously some tickets at Verizon Center to watch the Wiz are cheaper than they were a decade ago. That might suggest that it's OK for the team to initiate another price hike, at least in the expensive seats. But what's been charged before is not the only measure we can apply to justify an increase in pricing. There are two other local indicators we and the Wizards should look at: (1) what's going on with the secondary market and (2) are people showing up to the games?

Over the past three seasons, I've tracked the pricing of Wizards tickets on the secondary market so I could better understand the value I'm getting for my money. I've done the same this year. I consider the per game price for my lower level corner tickets to be $82.93 and the price for my upstairs tickets to be $31.10. Yes, this is higher than the season ticket holder price; I've divided the cost of the preseason tickets we are forced to buy by 41 home games and added it to the per game price. This year's comparison shopping through today? See below:

Yep, you read that right. Tickets through the end of January were available cheaper on the resale market than they cost season ticket holders. A couple of notes here. First, I expect this number will increase for two reasons: (1) there are games remaining in the schedule vs. Cleveland and Golden State which will drive the per game average up and (2) nobody goes to Wizards games before Christmas. Well, maybe not nobody but when football's still on, folks tend to not go to watch hoops at Verizon Center.

Secondly, and much more important to me, season ticket holders are supposed to get a discount for buying a season at a time. Well we do vs. the gate price (the price printed on the ticket by the team regardless of the ability of the team to sell that ticket at that price) which is all the team guarantees. I would argue that we should also get a discount over the secondary market. Right now through this point in the season, we are not. And that's both troubling and a reason for the team not to raise prices.

Tuesday, January 31 vs. the Knicks. Right before the anthem.
While season ticket holders might care about the price of resale tickets as compared to what we pay, the team may not. While I'm sure they would prefer an active secondary market, especially since they make money off every Ticketmaster re-sale, they might not care so much providing the building was packed and rocking every night.  After all, if Verizon Center is THE place to be on hoops gamenights in the District, why not just raise gate prices and season ticket holder prices and damn the secondary market.

If there's anyone over at Monumental Sports that feels this way, I'd be surprised. Right now, the Wizards are currently sitting 25th in attendance (that's out of 30, folks!) in the league. That's not good. Paid attendance in the building averages 15,626 against a capacity (as reported by Wikipedia) of 20,308. I'd compare the Wikipedia number to an actual sellout this year but...

Paid attendance is just that. The amount of tickets that were sold. Based on my personal experience in the building this year, I'd be highly surprised if 15,626 were the number that showed up on average. I've tweeted pictures often this week showing empty rows and sections at home. It's not a good environment some nights and particularly weeknights.

Where does all that leave us? Wild variations in price growth or shrinkage over the last decade, a secondary market that doesn't seem like it's going to be much different than season ticket holder pricing and a half empty building on some game nights. Doesn't sound like it leaves the Wizards in a good spot relative to ticket price increases.

Having said all that, here's my call. First, I believe ticket prices will increase this year and my prediction (I'm a glass half empty guy today) is that they will increase most spots in the building. Yes, the slow resale market is a concern but the team's recent surge should solve that which will both hurt and help season ticket holders; this needs to be watched. Secondly, I believe prices for corner lower level seats should increase based primarily on the fact that they are currently cheaper than they were in the middle of the last decade. Finally, I believe ticket prices in the upper deck where I sit (in Section 415) should NOT increase but will. I believe the team will try to squeeze every drop there. 

We'll have to wait a couple of weeks to see how this all plays out. We'll see what kind of oracle I am. In the meantime, I think the team should think about the importance of retaining long time season ticket holders. The best way to do that is to keep prices reasonable. If it were me, I'd reward loyalty by keeping long time ticket holder prices lower than new subscribers. I know that benefits me but that's my thought. Getting non-fairweather season ticket holders to renew is the best way to build back our fan base; I know too many people who (probably justifiably) bailed on the team after last season's increases.