If you’re a full or partial season ticket holder to the Clippers, then you probably received the glossy renewal folder in the mail over the past week or so. Prices have dropped for season ticket holders in some sections of Staples Center and have remained the same for others. If you follow the team, you also know that the market value of a Clippers ticket has dropped precipitously in recent months, and the organization has been slashing prices to get people inside the building. For some season ticket holders who pay for their packages in full months before training camp, this is a source of agitation. Whether that agitation is justified depends on whether you perceive pro sports teams as public trusts or luxury items.
Not so long ago, if you wanted a ticket to a pro sporting event, you had a limited number of options. You could purchase season tickets, thereby assuring yourself a seat to every game, both regular and postseason. On game night, you could go down to the arena, walk up to the ticket counter and pay face value for a ticket. If the game was sold out and/or you wanted premium seats, you went underground and bought from a scalper.
Today, not only can you find seats on any number of general sites — Craigslist, Ebay — but online brokers like StubHub have changed the game entirely. I can now legally sell my Dodgers tickets on Stubhub at market value, either above or below face value — the laws of supply and demand will dictate that. Want to know the market value of a specific seat for a single game? Easy.
Whether they’re trying to unload $100 tickets for pennies on the dollar or implementing “dynamic pricing,” or hosting a Stubhub booth on their premises, pro sports franchises readily acknowledge that the market for their product is elastic. A pair of seats that fetches $40 to a Tuesday night game against Sacramento might go for five times that on a Saturday night against the Lakers. The Clippers know that, and they know you know.
To those outraged that they’re consistently being asked to pay more than their tickets are worth, my advice is to negotiate. Calculate the market value of your Clippers’ season tickets and offer that amount to your ticket rep. If you hold a pair of $27 seats between the baselines in the first few rows of the upper bowl, you know those tickets aren’t worth more than $20 on the open market. Your first offer to the season ticket rep should be in the $1,650 range — well below the $2,376 the Clippers are asking. If you have friends or people in your section who approximate the value of their tickets similarly to you, then you should join together to enhance your purchasing power.
If the Clippers tell you that prices are fixed and non-negotiable, then you have a tough decision to make. If you cave, there’s no shame in that — so long as you acknowledge that you paid a premium for continuity, ritual, and the comfort of knowing you’ve got a seat if the Clippers happen to play meaningful basketball at some point. Don’t be outraged when the guy sitting next to you in March paid a quarter of the price for his seat. You value those things and he doesn’t.
My intention isn’t to needle the Clippers, or their sales team who, in my experience, are polite, responsive professionals. They’re not trying to rip you off any more than the home seller asking $529,000 for a $400,000 house. This isn’t about kicking the organization while it’s down. If you have season tickets to the Nuggets, Magic, Hawks, Bobcats, Dodgers, Padres, Seahawks, Flames, LA Phil, or Geffen Playhouse, the same principles should apply. We negotiate home purchases, car leases, and gym memberships. The bank that holds my mortgage just went into receivership, and my assumption is that the FDIC will turn around and negotiate the sale of my loan at a discount. We’re in a recession — everything is negotiable. There’s no reason why season ticket packages to professional sporting events shouldn’t be subject to the same rules of the free market. The only reason they wouldn’t be is if sports fans behave irrationally — and who’d believe that?