Is the decision by the Washington Wizards to put most of their remaining single-game tickets on to Groupon — a site that offers consumers sale prices on a variety of services, ranging from haircuts to meals to just about everything in between — a tacit admission that season tickets are in the process of turning irrelevant? Or, is it a savvy way to increase the season ticket base?
Depends on who you ask: Sports marketing executive Rob Tuchman or Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.
Tuchman, an author and executive vice president at Premiere Global Sports, criticized Leonsis’ decision in a recent interview with the Washington City Paper. Tuchman, who was profiled by TicketNews in June 2009, told the City Paper that the Wizards’ decision was another sign that the idea of buying season tickets is “going away.”
“This all got started back in 2005 and 2006, when a lot of teams would see these huge prices on StubHub,” Tuchman told the City Paper. “And they said ‘Hey, the Yankees-Red Sox tickets are going for $1,000! 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.”
Leonsis, a former executive at AOL who also owns the NHL’s Washington Capitals as well as the Baltimore/Washington division of Ticketmaster, is on the board of directors at Groupon and wasted little time in responding the same day on his blog called Ted’s Take. Leonsis wrote the Wizards aligned with Groupon in order to bolster an already sizable season ticket base by appealing to casual fans.
The Wizards retained more than 80 percent of their season ticket holders from last year, when the team went 26-56 and finished last in the Southeast Division for the second straight season, and added more than 2,000 new season ticket holders following the selection of former Kentucky star John Wall with the top overall pick in the June draft.
“We get customers into the building,” Leonsis wrote. “They sample the experience and then we hope to SELL THEM plans and season tickets. That is the feeder system that Groupon creates for us.”
The City Paper reported today, October 22, that its reporter found an offer on Groupon for a $37 ticket on the Club Concourse for the Wizards’ home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday, November 2. The lowest ticket price for a Club Concourse seat, according to Ticketmaster, is $63.
Leonsis also indicated he saw Groupon as the ticketing equivalent of advertising on Twitter and Facebook in that it provides immediately tangible results. Leonsis advertised the Wizards’ season-opening “Midnight Madness” practice Tuesday, September 28 via Twitter and Facebook and was pleased when about 4,000 fans showed up.
“They only get paid for what they sell for real cash,” Leonsis wrote of Groupon. “Unlike traditional media — where you write a check and hope for a sale — Groupon delivers customers in an environment that consumers know and trust.”
The only Wizards tickets not placed on Groupon were for the games against the biggest draws in the league — the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, the revamped Miami Heat and their fellow Eastern Conference powers, the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.