Coupon Alert interview: How to get NBA tickets for 5 bucks and more

Kathyrn Wilson of Coupon Alert interviewed me last week on my hoops odyssey. Here’s how it went (full URL here).

How to Get NBA Tickets for $5

by Kathryn Wilson

Author Motez Bishara scores entry to games for cheaper than the price of a beer

If you want to see the New York Knicks play, it’ll cost you about $125. If watching LeBron James dunk is on your bucket list, you’ll have to fork over about 70 bucks. But if you just want to take your kid to see his or her first pro basketball game, Motez Bishara recommends the Golden State Warriors. That’s because the author spent a year traveling by planes, buses, trains and rental cars to 28 cities in search of cheap entry to National Basketball Association games. He’s cataloged his journey in Beating the NBA: Tales From a Frugal Fan (click here for Kindle® version) and admits that there is such a thing as a $5 ticket.

“I have been to a number of games for $5, like in Oakland and San Antonio (sitting in seats with face values of $25 or $30),” he says. “That’s practically free. It’s half the price of most beers in arenas and often less than half the price of parking.”

The London-based hoops fan first fell in love with the game in seventh grade and wore out VHS tapes of Dr. J, Isaiah Thomas and Larry Bird, memorizing their every move, but his admiration for basketball quickly declined when he saw ticket prices skyrocket.

“As a conscientious consumer, I was insulted that sports teams — NBA teams in particular — were still clinging to their antiquated model to sell tickets while it was obvious that their ticket prices were not reflective of the actual market value of those seats,” Bishara says. “A point I drive home in Beating the NBA is that fans (and consumers of all goods) should pay no more than the market value of what they are purchasing, and if they can get away with paying less, then all the better.”

We asked the man who’s seen a Bucks game for FREE for tips and tricks to finding rock bottom priced tickets. Here’s what he had to say.

CouponAlert™: Why do you think basketball tickets are so expensive?

Motez Bishara: The NBA has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years. The experience of going to a game has also improved greatly. Most arenas are either band new or built in the past 10 years, and they all boast luxury concourses with premium concessions. Players are also getting paid an average of nearly $5 million a year. Although TV rights pay for a big part of their salaries, ticket prices also have to be in step with subsidizing players’ contracts along with the running costs of the arenas. Teams like the Knicks, who have just finished spending $1 billion on upgrading Madison Square Garden, and the Lakers can justify average seat prices in the hundreds of dollars. What gets me is when terrible teams with old arenas (like Sacramento) try and get away with price gauging too.

CA™: Makes sense. But what about if our readers live in LA or New York? Can they still find good deals

MB: To get the best value for money, early week games in the winter months are easiest to find deals. Bad weather often lends itself to good deals. Same with afternoon games on weekends. Many season ticket holders work in cities like New York and Boston but live about an hour or more outside of town, so for weekend games, they often prefer to sell their tickets at a fraction of cost rather than make their way back into town.

CA™: What is the cheapest NBA ticket you found?

MB: The cheapest ticket I’ve had was a freebie given away at a bar in Milwaukee. I was trying to get a ticket to watch LeBron James and the Heat that night, but my friend and I waited too late. Before we knew it, the scalper market had completely dried up. He had been a regular at Major Goolsby’s in Milwaukee for about 20 years, so he asked one of the bartenders. They happened to have a couple of spares behind the bar (worth $47 each) that they must have forgotten about or wanted to sell but didn’t bother trying to. It worked out in our favor.

CA™: What is the cheapest team to buy tickets for and what is the most expensive team?

MB: The “cheapest team” also tends to be the worst team. It’s Charlotte followed by the Pistons. But the cheapest, good team is probably Atlanta. They field a competitive team every year and no one goes to their games. You can find tickets in single digits for most games. The cheapest, very good team is Indiana.

CA™: What was the best deal (not necessarily the cheapest) you got?

MB: It was in Washington DC. I bought a $900 center first row courtside seat at just 11 percent of the price (saving $800). I go into detail on the combination of factors it takes to get excellent deals like this in the book.

CA™: Did you go to scalpers for tickets? How did you avoid getting busted by cops? Would you recommend scalpers to others or simply use them as a last resort to Internet resellers like Stubhub®?

MB: Yes, I used scalpers often, and I would recommend them to people. They can provide great deals. I prefer using them over StubHub® because there are no hidden fees attached (StubHub® takes 10 percent from the buyer and 15 percent from the seller). There are tactics I use to identify fakes and safeguard against them. I elaborate on this in Beating the NBA.

As for police, I never once had a run-in with one because of a scalper. But I have heard of one person who was arrested over it in Memphis. It’s a risk but a very small one. Exchanging tickets with a stranger for money is not illegal if you do it for less than face value. This is the case in all 50 states. The only way a cop is going to know this is if he is acting undercover.

CA™: Did you ever get scammed with fake tickets? How can you tell the difference?

MB: I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to use my street smarts. In the big cities, buying fakes happens to people a little more than it should, so be careful out there. Don’t ever pay for printout tickets. Only buy the ones that look official. I appreciate that not everyone grew up in New York or Chicago. There is a certain code to abide by when dealing with street scalpers, and I go over that in the book as well.

CA™: Let’s say a family of four wants to see a game together. What advice would you give them to get tickets where they could sit together for cheap?

MB: Four seats together narrows the chances of getting a good deal considerably. Most deals are available because one or two people cancel in the days or hours leading up to an event. The chances of finding four seats together at a seated venue is tougher that way. I’d comb the secondary marketplace for deals a good four to five days before the event and compare the prices to the box office. If a family is intent on a deal in cities like Dallas and San Antonio that sell standing room tickets in the concourse, they can potentially buy spares off a few different people and get deals that way. That’s also applicable to general admission concerts.

CA™: Have you ever seen a coupon or a promotion for a basketball ticket? If so, did the discount exceed what you would’ve gotten on your own?

MB: I have not seen coupons in newspapers or Groupon®, but teams do bundle ticket packages together at a discount. This is a tactic that’s long been used by most of the weaker teams. People are attracted to watching their opponents, not because they want to watch the Kings or Bobcats. The Pistons did a lot of promotional stuff where they gave away thousands of tickets over the past few years. It probably only served to cheapen their product. They got a new owner who put an end to that.

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