Watching sports on the TV is great and all, but the ultimate fan experience is getting in the stadium and cheering on your team from the stands. Before TV and radio, if you wanted to watch a game, you had to watch it live. And even though there are other ways to catch the game now, the NBA has made huge strides in creating a vibrant atmosphere for fans at games.
How much do NBA tickets cost? According to SeatGeek, the average price of an NBA ticket is $94, although the average price will vary from team to team. Ticket prices can vary based on the type of game (regular-season or playoffs), the area of the seat (tickets closer to the court are generally more expensive), and the nature of the game (rivalry game, debut game, etc).
Why do NBA ticket prices vary?
NBA tickets are not a set price for every team or for every game, but often reflects the demand for those tickets. Starting with the team itself: are they a big market team or a small market team? Are they a successful contender or are they currently struggling at the bottom of the league? The most expensive ticket prices are for the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the New York Knicks; the Warriors are the champions and Los Angeles and New York City are the two biggest markets in the NBA. Likewise, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder are small market teams who are struggling; tickets to those games are cheaper.
This element extends to the game itself: what 2 teams are playing? Is a big market team coming to town, or is it a rivalry game, or is the new young star here to make his debut? Teams can anticipate this demand and adjust ticket prices. For example, if the long-time rivals Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are playing, you can expect ticket prices to be higher than average. Another example is when a hyped rookie makes their debut; tickets for Zion’s first game skyrocketed by 1000% after it was announced he would play.
It also matters if the game is a regular-season game or a playoff game. Regular season games, especially midweek games, can get pretty cheap. But as demand dictates, playoff games are quite expensive, especially if it is tickets for the NBA Finals. A Game 3 ticket is cheaper than a Game 7 ticket; no one can clinch the series in a Game 3, but someone has to win in a Game 7.
Last but not least, the area of the stadium is the biggest and most consistent indicator of the ticket price. The average NBA stadium can house about 19,000 fans, and so seats are spread out throughout the arena. The cheapest tickets are the upper level seats, where fans are the highest and furthest away from the action. As you get closer to the court, tickets start getting more expensive. The highest ticket prices are for VIP seats and courtside seats, where you are getting the same view as the coaches and players on the bench.
Because demand for NBA tickets tends to fluctuate, there is a large resale market for tickets. Quite often, when a team puts up tickets for sale, they will sell out very quickly, especially for the highly anticipated games. Many of these tickets are bought up by people who understand the demand, and resell them for much higher prices than they were originally listed for, which is another reason why prices can vary so significantly.
How much money do NBA teams make from ticket sales?
NBA teams make quite a bit of money from ticket sales; the reported figure for the average gate revenue for an NBA team is $1.48 million per game. Teams like the Golden State Warriors ($4.175 million) and the Los Angeles Lakers ($3.091 million) make a lot more, while teams like the Memphis Grizzlies ($681.9 thousand) and the Minnesota Timberwolves ($584.4 thousand) make a lot less.
Ticketing revenue is a significant but not the most major source of revenue for NBA teams (that would be broadcasting revenue). To put it into perspective, in the 2010/2011 season, ticket revenue was about 29.14% of the total revenue of the NBA , while in the 2018/2019 season (the last pre-pandemic season), the ticket revenue was about 22.09% of total revenue.
Are NBA tickets getting more expensive?
In short, yes NBA tickets are absolutely getting more expensive. Especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased inflation that has followed, ticket prices are increasing every season. Comparing the 2021-2022 season to the 2018-2019 season has shown a 10.2% increase in average ticket prices. But this trend of increased prices is not a new one: ticket prices have been steadily increasing over the last 10 seasons. Factoring in the resale market also shows wild and heavily fluctuating ticket prices.
Fans are still buying tickets, but there has been a slight decline in ticket sales in the last few years. There has been a 7% decline in attendance from the 2018-2019 season to the 2021-2022 season, and nearly half of the league (14 out of 30 teams) have on average sold out less than 90% of their seats, with some teams as low as 75-80%. While a decline can be attributed to the COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates, analysts are also pointing to increased ticket prices as a reason for decreased attendance.
NBA games are meant to be the ultimate fan experience, but there are concerns that the experience NBA teams are delivering is pricing out the fans they were meant for. Increasing ticket prices is one of the main reasons attributed to the decline in ticket sales and attendance; while teams need to get their money, especially in a tough economy, fewer fans are willing to, or even able to, pay the price. It could spell disaster for the NBA if this trend continues, as ticket revenue remains a significant portion of total revenue.