After four seasons of rebuilding, tanking and process-trusting, the Sixers franchise has pitched fans on the future being now. The team is done with The Process, and is on to progress, a lofty and yet attainable goal, given the team won just 10 games last season, one of the worst years in the history of the NBA.
With a healthy Joel Embiid finally on the floor looking every bit as good as advertised, and No. 1 pick Ben Simmons set to become the face of the new-look Sixers as soon as he returns from foot surgery, the progress the franchise has touted is, indeed, palpable.
And yet, Simmons isn’t slated to come back for another few months, returning big men Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel have barely played in the pre-season and the rest of the roster — save fellow rookie Dario Saric, who has been impressive if a bit raw by NBA standards — looks… just about as good as the team that lost 72 of their 82 games last year.
A week before the season starts this team is still, dare-I-say, a work in progress. And we all know that. And yet, there is a ton of excitement around what’s to come. Embiid has created a buzz around the city for professional basketball that no player on the floor has garnered since before Allen Iverson left…the first time. Simmons will be back soon, we hope, and the real progress can begin.
And still, with the Sixers opening the season at home on ESPN, there are a lot of seats available.
The Wells Fargo Center seats 21,000 fans for basketball and as of Thursday morning, there are just under 3,500 seats available for purchase. Compared to last season, when the Sixers averaged 14,881 fans at home — third worst in the NBA — seeing an arena filled with more than 17,000 fans would be a great sign. If, perhaps, this were the third home game of the year, against Orlando, on a Tuesday.
This is Oklahoma City. Sure, the Thunder are without Kevin Durant this season. But they still have Russell Westbrook, himself one of the best players on the planet. And a season opener on national TV is a big event, and Philly has shown it can routinely rise to the big event stage. This game should be sold out already.
Actually, maybe it is. (Note: it’s not.)
But maybe it is. (It’s not. But it probably will be.) Let’s explain.
This spring, the Sixers became the first team in the NBA that will feature advertisements on their jerseys. This landmark sponsorship deal, worth a reported $5 million per season, is with ticket reseller StubHub. Though it was announced in May, the deal won’t go into effect until next year, meaning this year’s jerseys are sponsor free. And yet, the partnership with StubHub will be all over the place this season, including the team website.
Back in February, the Sixers and StubHub announced a “revolutionary” new ticket platform, making it much easier for people who have tickets to sell them — the Sixers are ostensibly working as your broker — but making it impossible for the average fan to know if they’re buying tickets direct from the team or in the secondary market. From Sixers.com:
The first-of-its-kind platform offers a slew of capabilities for partners, as well as an enhanced consumer experience that will drive conversion and sell-through, including:
• One marketplace that combines available primary and secondary ticket inventory together in one seat map, without designating tickets as primary or secondary;
• White-label experience that features the partner brand front-and-center;
In other words, if you are a ticket-reselling service or just a season ticket holder who bought 82 games but only plans to go to a few and wants to sell the rest, the Sixers and StubHub teamed up to make that very easy for you to make some dough.
It also means we will never know how many tickets are actually sold for a game. Why? Technically, every seat in the gym can be sold twice or three times, at vastly different prices, with a ‘white-label experience.’ The system is built specifically so tickets bought direct from the team or from secondary resellers are indistinguishable.
Moreover, the Sixers new ticket system is structured in such a way that in real-time the team can change the prices of tickets based on what the market will bear.
We can estimate how many tickets are still being sold direct and how many are aftermarket, but with variable pricing, figuring out how much a seat costs is difficult. For example, of the 3,477 seats available for the home opener, 884 are currently listed at cheaper than $50. It’s a safe assumption those — and hundreds of others that are more expensive but in lower-bowl sections — are still unsold tickets direct from the team. The one in the nosebleeds set for $1,200? That’s probably an aftermarket price.
That said, if a ticket to the Thunder is $38 now, that same ticket will almost certainly be more as the game gets closer. Or, if you are willing to hedge your bets, that price could go down if there is still availability on Wednesday.
Surge pricing is nothing new. Airlines and ride-sharing companies routinely charge different prices for the same trip depending on when it’s booked, the time of the trip or other environmental factors.
The cheapest seat in the house for the Sixers’ season opener on Wednesday — pretty cheap, given the game — is currently only $8 against Orlando next Tuesday.
When the Cavs come to town a few days after Thanksgiving, the cheapest seat available is $50, and that specific $8 seat we found is currently listed for $75.
Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil touted this ticket deal as “groundbreaking” back in February, saying, “[w]e’re excited to launch a groundbreaking ticketing marketplace with StubHub that for the first time, seamlessly integrates and makes available primary and secondary seats in one marketplace, on one seating map, with one blended pricing purchase process. This game-changing platform will provide Sixers fans unparalleled access to available seats with a world-class, fan-friendly mobile experience.”
It’s perhaps a bit of an oversell to call the access ‘unparalleled’ or the platform ‘game-changing’ but it does make the process of buying tickets one-click easier for consumers.
Rather than going to StubHub’s site to see what the aftermarket price for a ticket is, then referencing the team’s ticket site to see what’s cheaper, it can all be done together. Of course, the dirty little secret for years in the aftermarket ticket game is that nobody actually buys a full-price ticket and then sells it online for $8. Those tickets are put up on sites like StubHub directly by the teams, under the thin guise of aftermarket sales so as not to lower the overall value of what a ticket should cost to see a game.
With this deal, that no longer exists. Perhaps the new model for ticket sales will provide a bit more transparency, white label and all.
Now, this deal with StubHub is a savvy way to dump tickets for pennies on the dollar that otherwise would go unsold. But as the team grows — and even now for higher-profile games that will sell out — aftermarket resale gets the Sixers even more money.
Let’s say you buy one of the $38 seats today for the season opener. The Sixers get that money, less the percentage StubHub takes from each ticket sold for payment processing and whatever cut they’re entitled to as per their arrangement with the team.
This game is expected to sell out, surely, so let’s say on Tuesday you decide you want to sell your ticket for a little profit. You put that same seat up on StubHub for $75 and it sells. You get your money, less the cut StubHub gets for facilitating the transfer. But now, the Sixers get a cut of that too.
They’re their own scalper. It’s genius, really, and with the new way tickets are being sold on their website, it no longer matters if the seat has ever been sold, or if it was bought and sold 50 times. In fact, if you sell your $38 for $75 and the Sixers still hadn’t sold the seat next to yours, they can up the price of that seat to match your price, because your sale proved that’s what the market will bear.
All that means this: There are plenty of seats available, and there always will be, because all 21,000 seats can be bought and sold over and over again, all on the Sixers website, and the team gets a cut of each transaction.
Soon, the Sixers will actually go from process to progress, the gym will be filled every night and the days of $8 seats will be long behind us. For now, tickets aren’t hard to come by. In a way, they’re much easier, even for the home opener, on national television.