It’s gotten a lot more expensive to watch the Warriors play basketball. Golden State fans are paying the highest prices on the ticket-resale market to attend home games this year. On the road, the Warriors are vying with LeBron James’s Cavaliers and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant retirement tour to be the league’s biggest box-office draw on the road.
That’s a big change from previous years, according to data from SeatGeek, a search engine scouring dozens of ticket-resale sites. (Resale prices move more freely than face values, which depend on teams’ more-rigid pricing rules.) Last season, the Warriors ranked third in average ticket-resale prices both at home and on the road, despite winning a league-high 67 games and playing some of the most thrilling ball in the league. Two seasons before that, a 47-win Warriors team ranked near the middle of the league in box-office mojo, selling tickets at prices around one-third of what they’re getting this year. Since the 2012-13 season, Golden State has had by far the biggest jump in home ticket-resale prices and trails only Cleveland — which went from no-LeBron to yes-LeBron during that period — in increasing its road-ticket appeal.
Golden State’s appeal this season is hardly a mystery. The Warriors are defending champs. Before they lost to Milwaukee on Saturday, they’d won their first 24 games, the best start for a team in a major U.S. pro-sports league ever. Stephen Curry is canning enough threes to tilt the NBA paradigm, often from 30 feet out, and drawing crowds for his warmups hours before tipoff. Several friends of mine in New York City have suggested getting together this season to watch the Warriors on TV; none has suggested we watch a Knicks or Nets broadcast. (Several people suggested that we go together to just one game: Warriors at Nets.)
But while the Warriors’ magnetism is obvious, the NBA’s ticket-price standings aren’t as clear-cut as the win-loss column. According to sales data for games this season through Sunday — provided by SeatGeek at FiveThirtyEight’s request — the Warriors’ average road-game ticket-resale price of $144 trails the Cavs’ by $1 and the Lakers’ by $2. StubHub, a ticket-resale site, sent us data that also includes sales for the rest of the season’s games. That shows the Warriors ($173) trailing the Cavs by $9 but leading the Lakers by $17 in road-game ticket prices. Both data sets show that the Warriors are comfortably in first place in average home ticket prices. And they agree that Golden State’s box-office draw is way up from a few years ago.1
Merely looking at average ticket prices undersells how much of a draw the Warriors have been. They’ve made the box offices of usually sleepy arenas come to life. Of Golden State’s 15 road games, four have been against teams that rank in the bottom-five in home ticket prices on the resale market and eight have been against teams that rank in the bottom 11. Once you adjust for the teams that Golden State has visited, the Warriors have had by far the league’s biggest upward pull on road-game ticket-resale prices; ticket-resale prices for their road games are an average of 117 percent higher than the average resale price in those arenas this season. The Cavs are the next closest at 102 percent.
|VISITING TEAM||PRICE INCREASE|
|Golden State Warriors||+117%|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+90|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+19|
|San Antonio Spurs||+16|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+10|
|New York Knicks||+1|
|New Orleans Pelicans||-9|
|Portland Trail Blazers||-19|
The phenomenon that appears to have a chance of overtaking the Warriors’ box office supremacy is Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour with the Lakers, who are now 4-21. Bryant announced his retirement just before an eight-game Lakers road trip, and seven of those games were the biggest Lakers road draws of the year, relative to their hosts’ average ticket prices. The buyers weren’t there to watch the Lakers, but to see one of Bryant’s last visits to their town as a pro. The priciest ticket by far this season, according to StubHub, is the Lakers’ April 13 game in Los Angeles against the Utah Jazz, who are now 10-13. It’s Bryant’s last regular-season game and — barring the single unlikeliest playoff run in the history of time — his final game in the NBA as well. If public interest in squeezing the last drops of enjoyment out of Kobe’s senescence persists or even accelerates as the finality sets in, the Lakers could keep pace with the Warriors and Cavs, which is really saying quite a bit.
Speaking of the Cavs, LeBron James remains a draw. Two of the 10 biggest box-office bumps for games this season have been Cavaliers road games. But the Warriors have five — four of those this month, as their win streak mounted.
The excitement as the Warriors stacked win on top of win enriched ticket holders who decided to sell off their seats. SeatGeek sent us day-by-day median listed prices for each of the games the Warriors have played this season, from 60 days before tipoff to the day before. (Listed prices this time, not sale prices, because daily sales volume isn’t high enough — especially weeks before tipoff — to be a reliable gauge of market shifts.) For each date, we averaged the Warriors bump over each home team’s median ticket price for the season, for each remaining game. And we found that from opening night until days before the end of the streak, the average Warriors premium on ticket prices kept growing, until prices were being listed at more than four times the median sales price for the teams hosting the Warriors late in their just-completed road trip.
The streak is over, which means Warriors ticket prices could regress to the mean — at least until late in the season, when demand could spike if Golden State’s march to 73 wins remains plausible.
Prices for Wednesday night’s Golden State home game against Phoenix fell steeply after the Warriors’ loss to the Bucks on Dec. 12 — though average prices on Tuesday were still $196 — or $21 more than the Warriors’ league-best average home ticket-resale price. Not bad for a team on a one-game losing streak.