SBJ/May 21-27, 2012/Franchises

Ticket partner gets stars courtside for Heat

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh announced that they would join Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat two summers ago, the most active broker of premium tickets in South Florida felt the aftershock from the other side of the world.

Michael Lipman, owner of Tickets of America and the high-end sports and entertainment concierge service White Glove International, was in South Africa for the finals of the World Cup when word of The Decision crossed the Atlantic. He skipped the game and flew back to Miami.

“I sat in what amounted to a jump seat for 17 hours,” Lipman said. “But I got back in time to get the contract.”

The contract was an extension as the official premium ticket partner of the Heat, serving as reseller of the best seats in AmericanAirlines Arena, including the 143 in the front row on the floor. As seasonal home and weekend hangout for a glitzy cadre of actors, actresses and recording artists, South Florida offered an uncommon opportunity. Many of those who want to sit courtside are elsewhere for long stretches during the season.

“The end users of these tickets are not going to lock into a three- or five-year contract,” Lipman said. “So they have to go through the secondary market or a team partner.

“We have front-door relationships with the people who want those seats — the rappers and sports stars and their financial advisers. And, through the Heat, we have relationships with people who have the seats but can’t always use them. We deliver personal service to both.”

Like most teams, the Heat offers courtside seats only on a season-ticket basis. Beginning during the selling season before they landed James and Bosh, they pressed the terms on those seats to new heights. Prices went from about $100,000 to $150,000 for the season in the best courtside seats. Other sideline seat prices rose to almost $130,000. Duration of the contracts stretched to five, seven or even 10 years.

Pushing the prices up helped clear out inventory, which the team then turned into lengthy deals.

“There was amazing hype, and the winner was the Heat,” Lipman said. “They locked people into long-term contracts at high prices.”

The Heat is one of the few teams that offers a concierge service to help connect premium-seat holders with single-game buyers. Many teams say their premium services departments work to foster networks to move tickets between courtside-seat holders. Teams also say they will point a prospective buyer toward account holders who might be willing to sell. But the Heat has taken the service to a more formal level, signing up White Glove.

“When you’re talking about courtside, people aren’t as likely to give them away to their children or to clients,” said Mark Brown, vice president of ticket sales for the Heat. “We try to broach with them that there’s an opportunity to resell using White Glove. ”

Lipman said his company operates similarly to StubHub, taking a 20 percent commission from the gross price. Courtside seats rarely show up on StubHub or other Web resellers, thanks mostly to high asking prices and a limited pool of qualified buyers. So the lure of sitting with feet on the floor among the Miami glitterati is strong. And, for most people, the only way to do that was through White Glove.

“Teams have a limited [courtside] inventory,” Lipman said. “Most of the time all that they have are the owners’ seats. Those aren’t going to be made available to many people.

“You know they don’t want Spike Lee sitting in [owner] Micky Arison’s seats.”
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