The NBA may be back, but ticket brokers are still anxious to see how fans will react once the labor agreement is officially ratified and the shortened 66-game schedule is released.
The 149-day owners’ lockout of players ended early Saturday morning, November 26, when the two sides announced that a tentative deal had been reached. The agreement still needs to be approved by a majority of owners and players, which is likely to happen this week.
If the deal is approved, the NBA will return with three marquee season-openers on Christmas Day — the Boston Celtics at the New York Knicks; the Dallas Mavericks at the Miami Heat, in an NBA Finals rematch; and the Chicago Bulls at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Beyond the three Christmas games, the rest of the regular season schedule hasn’t been released. What is known is that each team will play a 33-game home/road split, and All-Star weekend will be on February 24-27 in Orlando as originally scheduled.
Additionally, each team will have to play on three consecutive days at least once. The season will end on April 26, and playoffs will begin April 28.
The great unknown: How will fans respond?
“I think they’ll forgive and forget. I don’t think there’ll be a fan backlash,” Barry Rudin, owner of Barry’s Tickets in Los Angeles, told TicketNews. “You only lost 16 games; you still get to play on Christmas. I know the diehard fans can’t wait.”
Rudin said he’s been making sales on the Lakers Christmas game, and season-ticket holders are inquiring about the rest of the schedule. “We’re anxious to see the schedule,” he said. “I’m not crazy about the back-to-back-to-backs.”
Training camps are scheduled to open December 9. Expect a free agent-signing frenzy to begin then, similar to the post-lockout NFL over the summer.
On Monday, November 28, ticket search engine TiqIQ.com showed average resale prices of $715 for the Celtics-Knicks at newly renovated Madison Square Garden; $555 at American Airlines Arena for the Mavs-Heat; and $579 at the Staples Center for Bulls-Lakers.
Meanwhile, StubHub has deactivated its NBA listings until the schedule becomes official, the site’s public relations manager Joellen Ferrer told TicketNews.
Philadelphia ticket broker Jake Conaway, general manager of Wanamaker Ticket Agency, said it may take time for work stoppage-weary fans to come around.
“I’m not thrilled to death,” Conaway told TicketNews. “Any time there’s a [work stoppage], it takes the general public time to rebound. Right now, football is number one, hockey two, then it’s basketball in people’s minds.”
Conaway added, however, that just 33 home games could prove helpful. He noted, “Right now, the phone is not exactly ringing off the hook for Sixers tickets. To be honest, we’ve sold more Phillies tickets in the past few days.”
Max Waisvisz, owner of Gold Coast Tickets in Chicago, said everyone seems to want to see how fans are going to respond. He has “been talking mostly to sellers right now because the actual schedule hasn’t been set yet.”
It’s what happens after the Christmas tripleheader that concerns brokers, such as Waisvisz.
“I think a lot of people are angry at the players,” Waisvisz said. “The Christmas Day games will give it a good kick start, but it’s going to take some time for the fans to come back. It all comes down the greed of the NBA players. That’s the bottom line.”
Teams will likely play two exhibition games each, all in NBA arenas. A four-city barnstorming tour, featuring the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, has been scrapped. The brief All-Star tour was scheduled to begin Thursday, December 1, in James’ hometown of Akron, OH.
“Most people don’t pay attention to the NBA until after Christmas anyway,” Rudin said. “We start to break even around Christmas and New Year’s and don’t start making money until late in the season and in the playoffs.”
A typical 82-game schedule averages 7.4 games per day. The 66-gamer will average 8.3, similar to the last lockout-shortened schedule, a 50-gamer that ran from February to May in 1999.
This labor deal is widely considered to be a victory for the owners and Commissioner David Stern, who in the weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend deal was talking about cancelling the season.
The agreement, in effect, gives owners and players a 50-50 split of league revenue (down from the 57 percent the players got in the old deal). It also places a tougher luxury tax on teams with high payrolls.