SBJ/20081103/This Week's News

NBA season tix sales flat; renewals slip

The NBA entered the first week of its 2008-09 season with a leaguewide full-season-ticket sales average of 8,500, even with last year. But the economic downturn is biting into the league’s average renewal rate, as it has dropped to 80 percent compared with 84 percent to date last year.

“Out of the gate, we are literally flat on total full-season tickets, but this year we have 11 teams over 10,000 full-season-ticket sales, compared to last year when we had 10 teams,” said Chris Granger, senior vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA.

Season-ticket leaders
NBA teams with 10,000 or more full-season-ticket sales, in alphabetical order:
Boston Celtics
Chicago Bulls
Dallas Mavericks
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans Hornets
Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns
Portland Trail Blazers
Toronto Raptors
Utah Jazz
Source: NBA

Leading the NBA in season-ticket sales is the Utah Jazz, with nearly 14,000. The Los Angeles Lakers are second, with just under 14,000 full-season tickets sold. The Oklahoma City Thunder has sold nearly 13,000, while the Golden State Warriors have sold more than 12,000.

The remaining seven teams with the benchmark 10,000 season-ticket sales are the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors.

Granger would not disclose the exact order of all 11 teams that have at least 10,000 full-season-ticket sales.

The biggest one-year gain in new full-season-ticket sales belongs to the Trail Blazers and the Hornets, with each team adding 3,500 new full-season tickets so far this year. The NBA wants its teams to sell at least 2,000 new full-season tickets each year and, so far, five other teams besides the Hornets and the Blazers have reached the 2,000 mark.

The Heat is battling a run of
empty seats as three-year
deals come due.

Those teams are the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Thunder, Celtics and Warriors.

The Lakers have the highest season-ticket retention rate, with buyers renewing at a 99 percent rate. Second are the Celtics, who have renewed at a 97 percent rate coming off last year’s NBA championship.

The league’s average renewal rate ranges from the Lakers’ 99 percent retention rate to a 70 percent rate, though Granger would not disclose which teams have the lowest renewal rates.

“What is happening this year is that season-ticket holders are making their second or third payments and then saying that they can’t do it and need to drop or move into lower-priced partial plans,” Granger said. “That is something we are not accustomed to seeing.”

While the NBA won’t disclose which teams have the lowest retention rates or the lowest season-ticket base, one notable franchise that has seen its ticket base shrink is the Miami Heat, which was previously among the leaders in season-ticket sales.

A number of factors have hurt the Heat. The South Florida economy was hit early and hard by the economic downturn. Another major challenge for the team is that in the past, it sold three-year season-ticket packages, and now those deals are up for renewal as the team is coming off a dreadful 2007-08 season during which it lost 67 games.

“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” said Eric Woolworth, president of business operations for the Heat. “All the recessionary indicators hit Miami first and that coincided with a 15-win season. Fortunately, we had one of the biggest [season-ticket] bases in the league and we saw it coming and staffed up on the sale side. We are in the bottom third of the league in renewal rates, but we are in the upper third in new full-season tickets sold. We will be somewhere around the league average [of 8,500 in full-season-ticket sales.]”

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