City Desk

Washington Wizards/Groupon Alliance: Your Basic Internet Bargain, or Evidence of the Death of Season Tickets?

GrouponLogo[1]Last week, with the 2010-2011 NBA season on the verge of tipping off, Ted Leonsis threw Washington Wizards tickets onto the deal-of-the-day site Groupon. A whole lot of Wizards tickets. Wizards tickets, in fact, for every home game this season except for when a very few top-shelf opponents are in town—only games against "the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Orlando Magic" are excluded from the offer.

There'll be a lot more words about this development in the next Cheap Seats weekly. But what fascinated me most looking into the deal were my discussions with sports marketer Rob Tuchman, who took the Wizards/Groupon alliance and its accompanying exemptions as another sign that the Death of the Season Ticket is upon us.

"I really do see the season ticket as going away," says Tuchman, who is executive vice president of Premiere Global Sports, a New York firm that markets ticket packages to sporting events.

Tuchman handed down his death sentence for season tickets—not just for the Wizards, for all of pro sports—after years of observing that all the growth in the ticketing realm was coming in so-called secondary market firms. These new-age scalping firms all depended on selling single-game tickets, with different prices for every game, and by now about all the pro sports franchises are themselves jumping into the mix. Big-dollar customers who buy up tickets to every game have been the target market and lifeblood of franchises here and everywhere for decades. But with the advent of every eBay and Craigslist and StubHub and, yes, Groupon, more and more one-off tickets are being sold very publicly. And, as with this latest Wiz/Groupon pairing, often the sales are arranged directly through the team.

"This all got started back in 2005 and 2006," Tuchman says, "when a lot of teams would see these huge prices on Stubhub, and they said, 'Hey, the Yankees/Red Sox tickets are going for $1000! We need to be capitalizing on this!' And so teams got into the ticket broker marketplace, and it's backfired horribly on them now. You see all these tickets going for below face value."

As Tuchman sees things, one major impact of these team-sanctioned secondary market sales and the resulting bumper crop of below-face-value tickets now available for non-marquee games—deals that any Internet user can find—is that season ticketholders feel snubbed. If the team makes it seem like only tickets to, for example, the Heat, Celtics, Lakers and Magic games are valuable, Tuchman says, the season ticketholder will wonder, "Why should I buy a whole season?"

More to come, including the Wizards rationale for the Groupon deal and defense of the season ticket...

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  • Falls Church

    Here's the reason teams will always offer some form of season ticket plans: because having them in hand allows the team to directly control its ticket sales during times when the team is prospering. All the team needs to do in order to maintain season tickets as a viable option - even at the most miniscule level - is to offer some specific benefits to season ticket holders that are not available to any old buyer. For example, playoff tickets - for which season ticket holders are generally offered first dibs. This will be enough to entice some people to buy season tickets every year, even before the Groupon tickets go on the market. Guaranteed tickets for desirable opponents is another benefit for season ticket holders. If you want to be absolutely certain you can go to those games and sit in the great seat you want, you'll buy a season ticket - even though as a result you'll end up with tickets to other games you might not necessarily want to go to. Maybe in off years there won't be a large market for that, but there will always be SOME market for it. By maintaining season tickets as an option, the team preserves its ability to tap into that part of the market when the team gets good and demand for tickets goes up. The time may come when fans want to buy up your entire season even before the schedule is announced (e.g. Red Sox, Phillies). Why would you as a team want to deny yourself the option of maximizing your profits from that?

    So the season ticket will not ever go away. What WILL go away are ticket resellers buying up a team's season tickets in hopes of turning a profit for themselves, and there's nothing wrong with that happening. Professional ticket resellers are all just scum anyway. Who cares if they get screwed? (For a local example, consider the 2005/2006 Nationals. Their season ticket base dropped by 5,000 from 2005 to 2006. Those were not disaffected fans dropping their season tickets. Those were speculators who had jumped on season tickets for the new team expecting the same kind of mania as existed for the Orioles of the early Camden Yards era. When that didn't occur, they dropped their season-tickets-as-a-gold-mine mentality like a hot potato.)

  • Hossein

    I can't disagree with this article more.

    As with anything there will be ebb and flow in season ticket holders but the reality is there will always be a small (or large) group of hardcore fans that want to have the cost savings and other benefits that come along with these plans.

    As teams do better the core will grow, as teams regress the fan base will too.

    Mr. Tuchman must be completely out of touch with natural human buying and spending habits.

  • Kev29

    I'm just pissed I didn't see this Groupon the day it was active. $37 lower level (corner) tickets counts as a good deal in my book. I'd go to more Wizards game if I could sit in the lower level for under $40.

  • Wiley

    Huh? The author of this article must be smoking something. The reason the Caps fill the building every night is because of the demand for season tickets. That isn't about to change anytime soon.

  • Ted is an investor in Groupon

    To repeat, Ted Leonsis is an investor in Groupon. It's not a sign of desperation, it's a partnership.