This article was written by a writer who works for the Sacramento Bee. It's in regards to Kings season ticket holders, however, it really applies to every small market team in the NBA. Actually, I would think that it would apply to every fan in the NBA since most of us are have-nots rather than haves.

June 20, 2005

Commentary: Mark Kreidler
Sacramento faces king-size problem with rising ticket prices

Three weeks ago, I laid out a fairly simple premise: As Sacramento Kings ticket prices continue to rise, more and more of the team's longtime, diehard fan base is being squeezed out of the market for live games. These folks are finally reaching their squeal points.

I thought the notion was right. But it's fair to say I didn't know how right it was.

The ensuing days have been filled with e-mails and calls from frustrated fans. It's as though a vein has been opened. A rich conversation is flowing through it.

And from that conversation emerges a fuller picture of the contemporary Kings fan, a picture the owners, the Maloof family, need to understand.

Prices are sky high. The product, while still respectable, has fallen off. There's no momentum on a new arena.

But this much is still clear: The Kings' fan base exists in huge, solid numbers. That's true whether any of these people ever see a game in person again.

The catch being, some of them simply won't.

What's at play here is a genuine struggle on two sides. On the one, there is the Maloofs, who must ask the ticket-buyers to fund its NBA aspirations in part because in Sacramento it lacks the corporate luxury-box money and the broadcast revenue that form the basis of larger-market teams' revenue pools.

On the other hand -- well, you don't need me to tell you again. They can tell you themselves.

In 1998, Tom Werth purchased two season seats at Arco Arena (45 games in all, counting the full-price preseason exhibitions) for $5,715. For 2005-06, those seats will cost $10,350.

After holding the seats for his family for years, Werth two seasons ago took on a partner to defray costs. Now he has two partners, including a man willing to take all of his playoff seats, a development that Werth -- a true loyalist -- nevertheless greets with relief and plans to expand to the next regular-season schedule.

"They're chasing themselves out of town with their high ticket prices," Werth said.

The idea that a ticket sold is a ticket sold misses the point. It does matter who fills those seats. The diehards aren't merely a vocal accoutrement in the Arco experience; they're the people who buy the merchandise, talk up the team, hit the Internet.

They wanted a winner but probably never dreamed of the cost. They value what the Maloofs have done to raise the fortunes of the franchise yet can't believe that process now leads them to the brink of giving up the live games.

And when a team cuts out the loyalists, no matter how it justifies the financial need to do so, what it risks losing is more than mere volume. It risks losing touch.

There's a common touch missing here, no question. When Jeff Phillips ponders his decision to pony up more than $15,000 for his two seats, it isn't just the money -- it's the process.

The Kings want Phillips -- and every other season-ticket holder -- to cut a check for 50 percent of that total by July 1, which coincidentally is when the NBA's lockout may begin.

Phillips wrote to the team, wondering why a $1,000 deposit isn't sufficient -- why he has to come up with half the money months and months before he sees a game.

"The response I got was that they need to make sure we are committed," Phillips said. "I said, 'If I put up $1,000, I am committed.' To me, this is a ploy to get our money and receive interest on it for several months before the season starts.

"I love the Kings and am a devoted fan, but this price thing is taking the joy out of it for me. God bless the Maloofs if they can continue to get these prices, but I am getting close to being knocked out of the market."

It's an interesting and common sentiment. The fans aren't at war with the Maloofs at all. They're frustrated far more than actually incensed. And they're frustrated not only because they no longer can afford to watch the team they care about, but because they worry about what that implies -- especially as concerns a new arena.

Desmond Jolly said, "I go to see the (WNBA) Monarchs. We only make about $200,000 a year."

It might be sarcastic, but it unquestionably speaks to a larger truth. Anybody listening?

Mark Kreidler writes for the Sacramento Bee.