From the perspective of one tired of binoculars

11 Nov

It’s a subjective thing, truth.

See, officially, for now and forever, 20,003 people saw Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals in Miami, also known as 102% of capacity. That would make sense, considering the Finals was a prime event, and I once bought standing-room only tickets for Chris Sabo Bobblehead Night at a Cincinnati Reds game.

Surely, LeBron could at least beat Chris Sabo, right?

Well, I watched that game. I will admit to not having counted heads in the crowd (too busy celebrating my Mavericks winning the game, I guess), but I would estimate there was, bare minimum, one empty seat there. And, unless an alarming number of attendees were dressed up for “Come As Your Favorite Empty Seat” Day, there was far less than full capacity there for that deciding game.

So, while there will always officially have been 20,003 at that game, always slightly over capacity filling American Airlines Arena, the truth of the matter is that a few dozen, hundred, thousand of those seats were filled by nothing more than a rich guy’s checkbook

There’s a running problem in professional sports. Basketball is perhaps the worst violator, but it’s endemic to all of them. It’s the Problem of the Expensive Empty Seat.

At every stadium, every arena, for every game, there are expensive, cushy seats that simply go unused. Seats that the devoted-but-unwealthy die-hards would kill for but can never get, because the rich fans claim them for all 8, 41, 81 home games of a team’s season.

Speaking as one of those devoted-but-unwealthy, it’s frustrating as all hell. I’d love to get the chance to snag a primo, Section AA seat, even if it’s for a matchup against the worst team in the league, but the shallowness of my pockets all but rules out season tickets.

Right now, going to a big-time game for me is a pro-and-con debate. I want to go, sure, but is it worth it to wade through traffic, commit to buying ballpark food, abandon my internet and couch for a few hours, if I’m going to have to squint to see any of it? Frankly, most of the time, it’s not. If I haven’t been to a game in a while, if I’m feeling a craving, I might suck it up for a game, but it’s simply not worth it to me to go regularly right now.

In short, going to a pro game right now is like buying a McRib. Once or twice a year, it’s awesome, but if I was paying for it all the time? That would get old in a hurry.

Meanwhile, the rich guys who have bought season tickets, who have access to the best seats during every home game, often leave those seats empty. For whatever reason, they don’t go to every game, skipping one or two junk games in the middle of the season (or, in the case of Miami Heat fans, one or two vitally important games during the championship series — go figure).

In reality, it’s hard to blame the rich guys. My one weekly activity is bar trivia on Tuesdays, and I find it hard to make time to be there every week. My friends can’t make it, or I get a cold, or I pick up a shift. Things happen.

Lastly, you might have noticed an NBA lockout going on. I’m no expert, but everything I’ve read says that one of the big problems NBA teams are facing is the need to get fans to continue coming to games in an era that really caters to, you know, not going to games.

Maybe I’m crazy here, but I really feel like I have a solution. Or the start of one, at least.

Say you live in Miami. You don’t make it to Heat games very often, because the only seats they have available is row ZZZ, seat 914, somewhere in outer Dade County. You don’t enjoy that, especially when you look down and see nobody filling the seats below. What if, instead of showing up at the box office and being told “Sorry, that seat you want is sold. It may or may not be used, but it is sold,” you could just…buy a ticket for that seat?

I understand that season-ticket holders drive a lot of general box-office business, and I’m not suggesting we do away with the practice altogether. But we are a high-tech world. Any and everybody out there in 2011 has a SmartPhone. (If they don’t, but they do buy season tickets, they are just silly and I don’t feel bad about inconveniencing them.)

So consider this: You (in my new hypothetical, you’re a season-ticket holder with lots of money. Just go with it) know that you aren’t using your season ticket for tomorrow’s Heat-Timberwolves game, because, well, it’s the Timberwolves. You’re going to go to the movies instead. A day before the game, the team’s SmartPhone app sends you an alert: “Will you be using your season ticket for tomorrow’s game?”

You, this season-ticket holder, simply click to confirm your use. And then, an hour or so before gametime, any tickets that haven’t gotten confirmed usage go back up for sale. Those fans who are hopeful walkups can buy those bottom-level seats and sit close enough to smell Dwyane Wade’s sweat, for whoever likes that particular treat.

Doesn’t this work for everyone? Let’s run it down:

Non-season-ticket holders: There’s more of an incentive to go to the random games, in hopes of getting a top-notch seat. So more random people will come out on Heat-Timberwolves night. Maybe they get that fantastic seat. But if they don’t — heck, they’re already there. Might as well buy that nosebleed seat. But maybe every week or two, you get that awesome seat you could never get these days.

Season-ticket holders: Well…what changes? You can use your season tickets every night if you want. Just click “yes.” Are you going to get upset if someone else sits in your favorite chair on the one night you can’t make it? Seems unlikely. The biggest con here is that you’ve got to click a button on your phone. Oh, heavens.

The team: Frankly, the team and stadium are the biggest winners here. Hey, Miami Heat, you can, totally legitimately, sell some of your best seats twice? Even though you sold Row A, Seat 1 in a season-ticket package, you can sell it for another hundred bucks? Well, shucks, okay. And hey, you know what? You’ll get more people showing up anyway! I’m more likely to settle for a crappy seat if I had a chance at an awesome one. If I know that all I can get is a nosebleed, I might not come out at all. Oh, and guess what! If those awesome seats come available an hour or two before the game, fans will show up even earlier, just in hopes of getting lucky! More concessions, more souvenirs! Seriously, teams should be jumping on this.

The TV networks: You might recall that I mentioned watching the Heat-Mavs finals on TV, and noticing the empty seats. That looks bad on TV. ESPN, TNT, ABC, whatever…they don’t care if the nosebleeds don’t get sold, because those seats never get seen on the telecast. But if the great seats are empty? That sucks. The bigwigs don’t want to see that.

Honestly, the only faction that loses here, as far as I can tell, is the scalpers, who get avoided by the walkups who can buy awesome seats at the box office instead of the shady guy on the street corner. And are we really sad if we make scalpers’ lives harder?

Look, there’s probably some kinks to work out. There are curveballs that could crop up. But really, what’s wrong with this plan? Makes the game experience better for the fans, makes more money for the teams, makes the game look better for the networks.

I don’t claim to know everything about this NBA lockout, about sports business, about any of it. Maybe I’m missing something. But I don’t think I am.

Like I said, truth is a subjective thing.

The truth is: I might not be right.

But the truth also is: I don’t see where I’m wrong.

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One Response to “From the perspective of one tired of binoculars”

  1. Brad November 11, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    Interesting concept…with that said it would never work. There are too many factors, such as ticket holders who don’t respond and those who make last second plans. As someone who attends sporting events, I love the idea. It happens a lot at UK games because of the older ticket holders who just cant make it to all the games. I look forward to future posts…

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