Everyone has that friend. The guy with season tickets to your local sports team that always seems more interested in selling them than actually attending a game. As a Chicago resident, I know a few Bulls fans that fit this bill. Most of the time their grumbles fall on deaf ears, but one recent comment resonated with me. It was a complaint that Derrick Rose's season-ending injury has lowered ticket prices.
If you clicked this headline, you've likely heard of Rose's health woes. The three-time NBA All-Star and former MVP missed the entire 2012-2013 season recovering from an ACL tear. This year, Rose appeared in just 10 games before a torn meniscus knocked him out indefinitely.
Despite the on-court struggles the Bulls have faced since losing their star point guard, ticket sales are still booming. Chicago's home court, which is sponsored by United Continental (NYSE: UAL ) subsidiary United Airlines, is No. 1 in the league in attendance.
But as my Windy City brethren have pointed out: What about ticket prices?
That's where it gets interesting.
Ticket prices are plunging in Chicago
The graph above displays the average cost of an upper-level ticket at a Bulls home game. In order to obtain an adequate sample size, I chose to survey all March 2014 contests. During that month, the Bulls will host top-tier teams like the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, in addition to cellar dwellers like the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks.
As you can see, Bulls ticket values have declined over time. Since August, they've fallen by 53%. In October, before the regular season started, upper-level tickets averaged $44 each. Now they cost around $32.
Derrick Rose's injury was on Nov. 22. Did it really cause ticket prices to shrink?
A second graph answers this question:
It's a different story in Miami
In case you couldn't tell by the background image, this is a visual of Miami Heat ticket prices. Like the Bulls, the Heat play at an arena sponsored by a major airline -- this one by American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL ) . Unlike the Bulls, though, the Heat haven't lost any of their star players to injury this season.
According to the data, the cost of an upper-level seat at AmericanAirlines Arena fell by about 20% between August and November. By December most of these losses recovered. I noticed a nearly identical pattern among similarly successful, injury-resistant teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers.
What can we learn?
With this in mind, we can draw a couple conclusions.
First, it's expected that ticket prices decline a bit after they initially hit the market in late summer. One possible reason for this phenomenon? Fans may be uncertain of a team's skill level before a season starts. If the team is performing well, and all its stars are still healthy, ticket prices usually pick back up by Christmas.
Second, basketball is a physical game. If a key player is injured, ticket prices might not recover. For the Chicago Bulls, the absence of Derrick Rose has dampened fan interest significantly. If he had stayed healthy and the Bulls played up to expectation, it's reasonable to think the team's ticket price graph would look like the Heat's.
Rose hasn't ruled out a comeback, if he's healthy enough for the playoffs.
Even if team doctors deem him available for a May return, though, I don't expect it to have much of an effect on regular season ticket prices.
Additionally, there's no way to know if prices have bottomed out at the United Center, but historical data doesn't paint a promising picture. Between December 2012 and March 2013, the average cost of an upper level ticket fell by nearly 50%. One year earlier, this drop-off was smaller, but still present. Both seasons were marred with Rose injuries.
At the end of the day, it makes sense. Unfortunately for my friends trying to unload tickets, Bulls fans aren't going to shell out the big bucks to see their team play unless its MVP is able to suit up.
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