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