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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beating the NBA: Tales From a Frugal Fan

Motez Bishara claims that Americans spend more than $25 billion a year to watch live entertainment, a sum that adds up to more than $80 for every man, woman and child in the country. It is one thing to buy tickets for a specific event--even if the tickets may be somewhat overpriced, at least you know exactly what you are going to see/experience--and it is quite another thing to be locked into a season ticket deal for many years while a team goes through a rebuilding process and/or brings in players who are not positive members of the community (i.e., the so-called Portland Jail Blazers from a few years ago). Bishara recognized that the fixed price nature of ticket purchasing created secondary market opportunities and he exploited those opportunities to not only see many NBA games inexpensively but also to write a book about his NBA-related travels titled Beating the NBA: Tales From a Frugal Fan.

"I like buying tickets off the disgruntled, uninterested, or otherwise engaged," Bishara explains. In addition to shrewd face to face bargaining with on-site scalpers, Bishara scours various online ticket sites, looking for a good deal the same way that a savvy investor scans financial data before making a purchase; this method comes naturally for Bishara, who is a London-based stock portfolio manager. Bishara attended more than two dozen NBA games from January 2011 through October 2012, mainly by buying discounted tickets in the secondary market. Bishara briefly describes each game, including how he got his ticket, who went to the game with him, any interesting encounters he had and what actually happened in the game itself. Most of the time, things went smoothly but on one memorable occasion in Chicago--"the lowest point of my trip so far, by a million miles," in Bishara's words--he let down his guard and was ripped off by a scalper who sold him fake printed out tickets; Bishara initially suspected that the tickets were not good and he even walked away from the deal at first but after not being able to find any other tickets he shelled out $105 for the two counterfeits (one for himself and one for a friend). After the arena ticket scanner rejected the fakes, Bishara went to the ticket office and bought two standing room only tickets for $25 each.

Bishara's book includes a chapter that discusses the 2011 lockout; Bishara agrees with one of the points that I made during my lockout coverage: the NBA's pre-lockout business model--which guaranteed the employees (i.e., the players) 57% of the revenues even though several teams were losing money--was illogical and was not feasible for the long term. Bishara declares, "In what other business have employees been guaranteed a majority of the revenues with no regard to profit? Certainly not at Goldman Sachs, Exxon, or any other public company; there would be a shareholder revolt." The NBA players sacrificed 16 games' worth of salaries before they came to their senses.

In the Epilogue, Bishara summarizes his NBA odyssey:

Tickets very often can be had for cheaper than the exorbitant face values--dynamically priced or not--if we play our cards right.

So the next time you want to watch your home team play the Knicks or the Heat or the Lakers (or especially the Raptors), don’t be discouraged; the numbers do not lie.


On this journey that spanned 2011 and 2012, I purchased tickets on the open market for twenty-five games. In sixteen of those games I walked into the arena paying less than what the season ticketholder paid, and in nearly every instance I paid less than the box office’s single-game price.


Beating the NBA: Tales From a Frugal Fan is entertaining and it provides some interesting thoughts about the NBA's ticket pricing model. The text that I read--a proof copy in PDF form--contains a few misspellings and some awkwardly phrased sentences but hopefully those problems will be corrected in the final draft.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:04 AM

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