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The High Cost Of Sports Playoff Commerce

Bucket of popcorn and large pop: $20

Authentic jersey of favorite player: $169.95

Two tickets to playoff game: $5,000

The experience of seeing that game live: Priceless

Well, perhaps not.

That throwback MasterCard commercial theme could very much be applied to what’s happening in today’s world of sports commerce. When does the high cost of sports commerce make it so the game experience is no longer priceless?

June means only one thing for basketball and hockey fanatics: playoff season. And that season means big bucks for the organizations behind the teams bringing home those championships. Playoff season comes with high stakes for the professional athletes with their reps (and paychecks) on the line, but it also means high stakes for one other key item during the playoff season from a consumer’s perspective: high-end ticket prices.

The season of playoff commerce is well underway, and with the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup last night (June 15) — sending another flurry of fans to buy the latest gear and playoff swag — it’s sure to create another windfall of big bucks from those who can’t wait to get their hands on the season’s hottest memorabilia items.

And then there’s the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, set to play tonight (June 16), in Game 6, which could end tonight if the Warriors’ leader Stephen Curry can bring home the hardware and the NBA National Championship title. It’s worth noting for the payments community that fans at those games played on the Warriors’ home court were able to use Apple Pay to buy all their food, drinks and fan gear.

But beyond the cost of those pricey jerseys, regardless of the sport, there’s a bigger category of commerce that’s formed throughout the entire playoff season: high-priced ticket commerce. And it’s gone to new levels this time around.

Take, for example, the 2015 Super Bowl. Tickets hit an all-time high, and most reports pegged the ticket price from a place like StubHub at somewhere around $4,500 on average. Yes, that’s one ticket, for one football game.

That price, however, makes the average ticket cost for last night’s Blackhawks game seem a bit more reasonable. At least it did if that customer just wanted one ticket and planned to stand the entire game in what’s better known as the nosebleed section. Average standing room only tickets were reported to hit at least $1,000 before heading into Game 6. That’s up from about $140 face value.

As for actual seats, tickets worth $285 were being sold for close to $2,500. For those who were looking for club level seats? Well, they were being sold for more than $4,800. And then of course, there are the seats along the glass which have been circulating StubHub for anywhere between $10,000-$25,000. That doesn’t mean anyone actually bought those tickets, of course, but that shows how high the ticket commerce market has gotten.

Not to mention the gear — which could run that consumer up hundreds of dollars — fans are inevitably going to shell out more dough on to mark the “priceless” experience.

Imagine if retailers were able to hike up prices on a specific product anytime demand was high. Imagine if buying goods from a favorite retailer was like buying playoff tickets for a favorite team.

On the NBA side, the average ticket price is also skyrocketing with each game that gets closer to the final game (which could be tonight). The average ticket price for tonight’s game is….yes, you guessed it: more than $1,500. Forbes clocked in the average ticket price for Game 6 at $1,624.81. That goes up by about $800 if the series gets to a Game 7. Oh, and there’s the ticket price just to get in the stadium at more than $1,000.

Of course, in a place like Chicago, it may be that city’s only chance to actually see a championship team, since its baseball teams — The Cubs and White S0x — and football team, The Bears, have been historically bad. The ticket commerce figures for those games, as anyone could imagine, aren’t quite as impressive since fans are often left to giving away their season tickets when they can’t attend.

Still, that hasn’t stopped even fans of the worst teams from shelling out hundreds, and even thousands in some cases, a year for memorabilia and tickets.

That’s the world of sports commerce that consumers have grown to know, and love (or hate) today.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

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