If you thought low TV ratings and a sagging resale market meant you’d have your pick of NBA Playoffs tickets this season, think again: After one down year, the secondary market for playoffs tickets has rebounded. Data from Rukkus, which aggregates secondary market prices from sites including StubHub and VividSeats, indicate the secondary market for NBA Playoffs tickets is more than healthy this year.
All but one of this year’s 16 playoff teams saw the average price of a resold ticket at least double, and 11 of the 16 saw those prices at least triple. The jump comes a year after the NBA set a record for attendance, with 21.9 million people coming out to NBA arenas during the 2014-15 season.
Last year, the secondary market for playoffs tickets actually shrank. Data compiled by TiqIQ show ticketholders in half the playoff teams’ markets felt compelled to sell their tickets for less than face value. A few teams, including the Wizards and the Pacers, saw prices fall by more than 30 percent. This year, only three of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, the Atlanta Hawks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers, saw ticket prices drop to less than face value, and they dropped by only a few dollars.
“Last year, people were barely breaking even,” Dan S., a Chicago financial analyst who uses his Bulls season tickets mostly as a side investment, said of the secondary market. “This year it was a lot easier.”
It’s been said the NBA Playoffs are all about matchups, and that maxim holds true for the secondary market too. Prices posted the steepest increases in cities playing host to series that are likely to be competitive. Tickets in Toronto and Washington, the sites of a first round matchup between the fourth-seeded Toronto Raptors and the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards, saw a lot of markup -- the average Raptors ticket costs $474.94, the most among this year’s 16 teams while the average Wizards ticket costs $316.19, fourth-highest.
“Uncertainty is a big driving force for fans,” said Ed Hirt, a professor of psychology at the University of Indiana who studies sports fan motivation. “We like it when everything's to be determined on the field.”
The reverse is true as well. The reigning NBA champs, the San Antonio Spurs, who have made the playoffs 18 seasons in a row, saw the smallest markup of any playoff team as fewer people parted with their tickets and fewer people expecting the Spurs to lose.
“So much of it is about expectations going in,” Hirt said. “People want to be there and see a winning performance.”
Proximity matters too. Despite being one of the regular season’s Cinderella stories, the Milwaukee Bucks had one of the five worst attendance totals of the regular season. Yet the average cost of a Bucks-Bulls ticket at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Bucks’ home arena, is $269.78, an increase of more than 350 percent from tickets resold during the regular season and higher than the average cost of a resold ticket in major markets like Brooklyn, Houston and Los Angeles.
Hometown enthusiasm is just part of that price hike. It is also being inflated by Chicago Bulls fans, who are less than a two-hour drive away and who are buying tickets up in such quantity that the Bucks owners felt compelled to warn Bulls fans against making the trip.
"We always say fans want to see a good game," Hirt said. "But I think by and large, people like to see their teams win."