Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ticket Sales Can Be Counterintuitive

Remember on Monday I wrote about the dust clearing in the Dwight Howard trade?  Well let’s stir it up a little bit, but the stir won’t necessarily have Howard as the centerpiece. 

When talking and listening to coworkers at Comcast-Spectacor throughout the week, a very interesting point dawned on me.  NBA season ticket sales are about extremes, and nobody wants to get stuck in the middle-of-the-road purgatory.  This idea could have been a basis for the deal that the Orlando Magic pulled off in dumping Howard.
Dwight Howard as a Laker
No matter what your opinion of Howard may be, on the court the man is a star.  He’s a freakishly athletic, highly talented, and highly skilled star, which are all reasons why the Magic, ESPN, and the NBA put up with his antics.  Point being, when teams deal star players, ownership is involved.  General Managers don’t wake up one day and decide to trade one of the most dominant players in the sport without involving the owners.

Why?  Because star players have many more implications than simply the on-court product.  Howard impacts both merchandise and ticket sales greatly.  I cannot italicize the text enough to stress Howard’s importance to merchandise and ticket sales.  To put it in perspective, when the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum in the same deal that Howard was dealt in, the Sixers had one of the best ticket sales days in franchise history.  I’ll let that sink in.
Andrew Bynum as a Sixer
Given the newfound perspective, the impact that Howard can have on ticket sales is almost unfathomable.  So clearly going for it all is one extreme, but what about the other extreme.  Hitting rock bottom, which must be noted is less than ideal for long term sustainability, can also be a selling point to boost season ticket sales.

Hitting rock bottom can be spun into hope.  Instead of saying “we had the worst team in the league last year so you should totally purchase a family plan for the season” a team in this position can say “hey look we didn’t have the year we were looking for but things are looking up.”  Most importantly to be added in is “oh yea and we have the most ping pong balls in the draft lottery” and when the top pick is a guy like Anthony Davis, season tickets get sold.  Of course, the impact is smaller than adding the proven star player, but it is better than being stuck in the perpetual middle ground.

The middle ground is somewhere that Philadelphia fans in particular are all too familiar with.  Barely missing out on the playoffs.  First round exits.  Year after year spent outside of the draft lottery.  Everybody’s goal, naturally, is to make the playoffs, but if a team goes to the playoffs and loses in the first round year after year, then the team’s season ticket sales group is going to have a tough time.  Many people don’t buy season tickets for first round exits and a lot more people than you expect don’t even buy season tickets for the team.  Aside from business purposes, people buy season tickets to see the next big thing or to see the team make a run through the playoffs (not to be confused with into the playoffs). 

This is where the theory gets applied to the Magic dealing Dwight Howard.  Many thought that the Magic did not get enough back in dealing their star.  Many thought that they should have gotten Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers.  Gasol is a costly option at about $38.2 million over the next 2 seasons (Sham Sports), but is that why the Magic stayed away from him?  People may say yes, but I don’t think that’s true.  The Magic had the flexibility to pay Howard what he wanted, so with Howard out they would have just reallocated that money to Gasol. 
And look at that neck beard
Although Gasol is not the same star type player that Howard is, he is still worth a good number of wins.  That number of wins that he is worth could very well have pushed the Magic from hitting rock bottom to the middle ground.  But remember that you don’t want to be in the middle ground.  The additions of Afflalo, Harrington (whose contract may get bought out before he even plays), Vucevic, and Harkless are nothing compared to what Gasol would have been.  However, those 4 (or 3) give the Magic a young base to build on into the future especially with all those draft picks.  One of those draft picks could end up being a guy that sells tickets.  The Magic still have payroll flexibility so they could go after big name free agents in the coming years.  One thing is certain though, the Magic consciously chose the bottom over the middle ground in trading Dwight Howard.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.


  1. It's tough being a middle of the road franchise in any league. It's kind of like standings purgatory. You're not good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to get an impact draft pick. It's a tough position to be in, but franchises with a plan and a good front office should not be in limbo for more than a year or two before they realize they need to rebuild or make an impact trade or acquisition.

    Interesting to hear the the Sixers had such a high rate of ticket sales the day after the Bynum trade. I would think they should be able to sell out the Wachovia Center in such a big market, hopefully they get some consistency in attendance this year.

    Great post as usual my man.

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