It's just different here
Buy a season ticket package in Milwaukee, and they'll send Michael Redd to your house for afternoon tea. He'll even bring the crumpets.
I kid (I think), but as illustrated by the New York Times, it's fair to say that with the '09-'10 campaign quickly approaching and the economy still teetering like a Jenga stack, teams across the NBA are pulling out all the stops in an effort to sell as many season seats as possible to their fans. Or any fans, really. The New Jersey Nets, for example,are offering a partial season ticket package including ten high profile games and five "free" reversible jerseys, one side featuring a Nets player, the other a jersey from a star player on five of the visiting teams (no surprise, Kobe is among the quintet) included in the offer. The Warriors have offered a signed Stephon Curry print to provide a little frosting for a season ticket cake. As the NYT notes, even strong, competitive teams like the Mavs are dangling a free ticket to this year's All Star Game (held in Big D) for every full season package purchased.
But in another example- as discussed on our most recent 710 ESPN Lakers podkast- of how Planet Lakers spins through the NBA universe on a singular orbit, none of this applies to them.
The first thing visitors see upon visiting LAL's season ticket page at Lakers.com is information on how to join the wait list. While it's not quite as hopeless as Green Bay, where fans added today might expect to enter Lambeau as an STH in about 2039, should you find yourself near the tail of LA's 3K-plus strong Rolodex of would-be Staples regulars, it's probably best to bring a magazine or two to pass the time. Two years ago, coming off their loss in the Finals to Boston, the Lakers renewed at a 99% clip. Last year, thanks to the economy, that figure plunged to 98%. Freedom for about 50 people on the 3K-plus strong waiting list.
"We're very aware of how lucky we are," says Veronica Lawlor, Director of Ticket Sales and Operations. Talking to her Wednesday afternoon, Lawlor told me that the most recent figures she'd seen has the leaguewide renewal rate "in the neighborhood of the high seventies, low eighties." That makes for a unique setup down in El Segundo. "We don't have a ticket sales department for our season ticket sales, we have a customer service department," Lawlor says.
Demand is so strong that the Lakers don't need to offer partial ticket packages, something virtually every team in the league does (the LAC, for example, have myriad options). The benefits for the Lakers are clear. Season and group sales mean about 95% of Staples Center is accounted for before the year begins. The other 5% goes fast. They know they'll sell out every home game before the playoffs, making income from tickets and all the things that come with strong attendance (concession sales, parking, and so on) wholly predictable.
As an added bonus, the Lakers don't need a huge sales staff to pound the pavement, which saves a little coin as well.
Add that the Lakers sell out on the road as well- most of those aforementioned partial ticket plans promote visits from Kobe and Co, with the Warriors even creating a "Lakers Pack"- and revenues become that much easier to forecast. Factor in TV, a new radio deal, and so on, and you get a sense of how things stack up. It's not simply that the Lakers make a lot of money- they do- but that they know how and when much of it will come. Predictability makes investing in the team far easier, and, evidenced by their league high projected payroll for this year of over $91 million (with luxury tax obligations pushing salary related obligations north of $110 million)
People often talk about Los Angeles (the city, I mean) existing in a Hollywood-and-constant-sunshine induced bubble, and there's some truth to that. Certainly any metropolis in which decisions on how NBC fills its 8:30 time slot on Wednesdays can create a ripple effect is unique in character, but for most of LA County's 10 million or so residents that which impacts life everywhere else in the country does the same for them. But in the world of professional sports- certainly as bubblicious and disconnected from day-to-day realities as anything that can be said about Hollywood- the Lakers really do seem to be operating in their own orbit, at least as pertains to ticket sales.
I realize the equation joining their bottom line and a bad economy isn't that simple, but just as most GMs would trade their roster for LA's, if given a chance to swap income streams with Dr. Buss, I assume most other owners across the NBA would jump. I've said it before, I'll say it again: In the battle between roundball have's and have not's, it's good to be a have.