The bad news for NBA fans is the league is staring at the possibility of an indefinite shutdown as soon as this year’s Finals are completed, if owners and players cannot agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. The good news is, generally speaking, tickets are cheaper than ever for those who hope to see some live basketball before the doors shut.
According to a report issued recently by Team Marketing Report, the average NBA ticket price is down 2.3 percent this season to $47.66. It’s the second straight year in which prices have fallen. Tickets dropped by an average of 2.8 percent last season, which marked the first decrease since the 2001-02 season — back when America was also in the midst of a recession.
Nineteen teams cut prices this season, six raised their tickets and five stayed exactly the same. Not surprisingly, there was a correlation between a team’s performance last season — both on the court and at the gate — and its ticket prices this season.
All six of the teams that raised prices reached the playoffs last season and four got at least as far as the second round. Among this quartet, the Orlando Magic, which lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, increased prices the most — 6.7 percent to $43 — as they enter their first season at Amway Center. The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers raised prices 2.1 percent to $95.25, the highest figure in the league, while the San Antonio Spurs (1.6 percent to $56.34) and Atlanta Hawks (1.1 percent to $36.13) had smaller jumps after falling in the conference semifinals.
Four of the six also ranked in the top half of the NBA in attendance, including the Portland Trail Blazers, which hiked tickets an NBA-high nine percent to $50.62 after welcoming 840,371 fans — third-highest total in the league — to Rose Garden Arena and falling in the first round. As the only major professional sports team in town, the Blazers are annually among the biggest draws in the NBA and hold the longest sellout streak in the history of American sports (814 games from 1977 through 1995).
The other team to raise prices this season is the Miami Heat, which raised tickets by an average of 3.3 percent (to $60.50) after a 47-win season, a first-round exit in the playoffs and, of course, the biggest and most polarizing free agent shopping spree in the history of professional sports.
Three of the five teams that didn’t raise or lower prices made the playoffs, led by the Boston Celtics, who fell to the Lakers in seven games in the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls, which led the NBA in attendance (849,760 at United Center) before falling in the first round, and Denver Nuggets, who were also eliminated in the opening round, toed the line as well. The New York Knicks and New Orleans Hornets maintained their prices despite missing the playoffs — and, in the Hornets’ case, even though they lost an average of almost 2,000 fans per game (from 16,969 in 2008-09 to 15,057).
Seven of the 19 teams to lower prices reached the playoffs last year, including the Cleveland Cavaliers (6.6 percent to $52.28), whose fortunes sunk considerably after LeBron James bolted for the Heat. The Phoenix Suns (2.6 percent to $62.50 got the furthest of these seven teams, losing to the Lakers in the conference finals. The Cavaliers (second) were joined by the Dallas Mavericks (fourth) and Utah Jazz (sixth) as the three teams to lower prices after finishing in the top 10 in attendance.
Six teams dropped prices by at least nine percent, led by the Detroit Pistons, which sliced tickets by an average of 10 percent (to $42.76) after they went 27-55 — the franchise’s second-worst record of the past 30 seasons — and were placed on the market by owner Karen Davidson. The Sacramento Kings (average price of $51.80) and Washington Wizards (average price of $24.52) each dropped prices by 9.9 percent after finishing in last place in their respective divisions while the New Jersey Nets (average price of $40.50) cut prices by nine percent following a season in which they finished last in the NBA in both record (12-70) and attendance (537,230 in their last year at the Izod Center in East Rutherford)
Of the bottom 10 teams in attendance last season, only the Hornets didn’t lower prices this year. The Memphis Grizzlies, who lowered ticket prices 3.9 percent after going 40-42 and finishing 28th in the league in attendance, have the cheapest average ticket at $23.18.