As a Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, I have plenty of personal experience when it comes to overpaying for season ticket packages because of lofty playoff hopes. This year, though, it was the Twins and not the Timberwolves that put a paltry product on the field, even with Jimmy Butler inevitably being traded before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 7 at 3 p.m. EST.
The $539 I paid for a 10-game, flex season ticket package for the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 season was a relative steal compared to the $760 I paid for a 20-game, flex season ticket package with the Twins’ for the 2018 season. Neither is the cheapest season ticket package available that assures you playoff ticket priority, but sometimes the seats are the only thing that make a Twins game worth watching, whereas the Timberwolves have an ample amount of visiting teams with players and even coaches worth watching.
Picking the games I’ll attend each season is like a holiday. I determined which dozen games I wanted to see moments after the NBA schedule was released, and I chose most of my Twins games on the same day. But instead of cutting Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Oklahoma City Thunder along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks from my 10-game package, I was choosing baseball games based on promotions like Dollar Dog Day (Wednesdays) and $5 Kids’ Meal Day (Sundays). Here are the games I chose (number of tickets in parentheses) to see during the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 impending dumpster fire sale of a season.
Oct. 29, Lakers (1)
Nov. 14, New Orleans (1)
Dec. 1, Boston (1)
Jan. 6, Lakers (1)
Jan. 18, San Antonio (1)
Feb. 13, Houston (2)
March 29, Golden State (1)
March 30, Philadelphia (1)
April 1, Portland (1)
April 9, Toronto (1)
The NBA has so much to offer in opposing teams that choosing to attend 10 of 41 home games (24.4 percent) is easier than finding a similar percentage (24.7 percent) of baseball home games worth watching. Seeing LeBron James twice is a no-brainer, as is Anthony Davis once. The Brad Stephens-coached Boston Celtics are absolutely worth the price of admission regardless of whom they’re playing, as are Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. James Harden and Chris Paul visiting in a rematch of last season’s playoff matchup I had to see at least once. Golden State as a whole is another no-brainer. That roster could feature five All-Stars if DeMarcus Cousins returns to form. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are worth watching, as is Kawhi Leonard, regardless of whom they’re playing. Portland is very well-coached, Damian Lillard is fun to watch, and an April 1 matchup could have playoff implications. Even if the Jimmy Butler-less Wolves aren’t in the playoff picture, they could play spoilers down the stretch. I even got a free ticket to the home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which thanks to Jimmy Butler drama, was a must-see game.
There aren’t as many premium games in baseball. In 2018, I saw just about every premium game the Twins played, including every game they played at home against the eventual champions, the Boston Red Sox (3). I saw every game they played at home against the American League runners-up, the New York Yankees (3). I also saw six (6) of the seven games the AL Central Champion Cleveland Indians played at Target Field (two Twins home games were played in Puerto Rico). Add a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels and baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, and I still have eight games left to choose. (I had tickets to all three games against Houston at Target Field, but that was through a separate ticket deal for April games.)
My hypothesis is that the NBA offers fans of its worst teams the best value when it comes to their cheapest season ticket package because of the vast array of entertaining and exceptional teams, players, and coaches visiting. But let’s do the research and find out the best value for the cheapest season ticket packages for sports’ worst teams.
The Senators were the second-worst NHL team in the 2017-18 season, and at $60 per seat per game, their cheapest season ticket package leaves a lot to be desired. This might simply be due to the Ottawa market, which is no doubt more interested in the sport of hockey than that of the worst team in the NHL last season, the Buffalo Sabres. While Ottawa doesn’t have an NFL team to compete with the Senators, neither does Buffalo, really.
This is a smoking hot deal to see five premium games you can customize. I chose late season matchups against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto, and Washington. Those are fantastic matchups featuring the best offensive players in hockey: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews (who should be healthy by March 20), and the Stanley Cup Champion Alexander Ovechkin.
The Sabres also offer the smallest percentage of games (12.2 percent) you can purchase to qualify for playoff ticket priority. Buffalo’s other awful pro sports team isn’t nearly as friendly to your pocketbook and won’t even sell you a season ticket package if you live outside Western New York.
In a live chat with Buffalo Bills season ticket representative Sarah Beth, I was told the cheapest season ticket package was $400 for this season, but they are no longer selling them. I could purchase single game tickets, but not a season ticket package for next season.
As of Wednesday, October 31 at 5:30 p.m. EST, you could see MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes and the equally electrifying Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt along with the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs running Andy Reid’s schemes for $50. Then you could catch Julio Jones making Matt Ryan look better than he is for $50. Then Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey visit Cleveland, and the final game of your four-game, season ticket package ensuring playoff ticket priority is capped by another wide receiver making his quarterback look better than he is. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton come to town.
Even though most of the games won’t be close, you could argue that four of the most entertaining players playing professional football right now (Mahomes, Newton, Jones, and Green) could all be seen for $200. The Cavaliers couldn’t do better than that simply because they’re a worse team than their crosstown, gridiron counterparts.
The Cavs aren’t selling season ticket packages anymore, and the sales rep couldn’t look back at prices from games already played. But if you want to know how much it would cost to see LeBron visit with his Lakers from the cheapest seats in Quicken Loans Arena, it’s $460 to $500. And that wouldn't even qualify you for playoff ticket priority.
For the 10 best games on the Hawks’ schedule, including the Golden State Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers, plus one more for free at a total under $450, Atlanta offers its fans immense value. For $91 less than I paid to see the same opposing teams visit the newly renovated Target Center, Hawks’ fans can secure their playoff ticket priority, but more importantly, member access to the soon-to-be-renovated State Farm Arena, featuring suites with golf simulators and a barbershop where you can get a shave and a haircut while watching the game.
The Orioles’ Sunday season ticket package featured a game against Boston, the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Angels, but also featured games against Texas, Tampa Bay (2), Miami, and Minnesota. There’s value in allowing fans to pick the games they want to see, but paying less than $18 per game is relatively affordable. The Twins’ “Pick 10” package runs $220 and features just three premium games. Baltimore’s Sunday package features four premium games for $8 more.
The Marlins’ “Variety,” “Saturday,” and “Sunday” plans run at least $130, but I could only find a single seat in the cheapest section for the weekend plans. The variety plan, which most likely provides admission to the best games, was not available in any of the cheaper sections of Marlins Park. If we assume, however, that Miami’s Sunday package offers a similar percentage of premium games as Baltimore’s 13-game package and Minnesota’s 10-game, flex plan, then we can expect to see three premium matchups out of the 10. At $13 per seat per game, it doesn’t get any cheaper to secure playoff ticket priority in any league, but you have to watch the Marlins. At least they got rid of that hideous home run sculpture, though.
The price per game might not be as low as baseball or basketball can offer, but the freedom to choose your own games ensuring every one of them is a premium matchup makes Buffalo a go-to town for hockey. My editor in Toronto, Dan Szczepanek, said trips to Buffalo are a Toronto tradition. “It was always cheaper to drive two hours to Buffalo to watch the Leafs and Sabres, get a hotel, and spend a few days than it was to see the Leafs in Toronto.” The fact that you can establish playoff ticket priority for a measly $183 makes me want to buy a Buffalo Sabres season ticket package, and both of my teams are in the Western Conference.
Again, the percentage of premium games offered in the Hawks’ cheapest season ticket package make up for the higher price point per seat. Even if the Hawks operate the same way the Timberwolves do and make your free game the home opener, that was against Dallas and third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Luka Doncic, whom Atlanta traded for Trae Young at fifth overall and a future first-rounder. If you haven’t seen Doncic play, I assure you, he and Deandre Jordan make for premium entertainment.
It’s not all bad in Cleveland. Even with LeBron leaving and both the Browns and Cavs firing their head coaches in a 24-hour time period, you can still get premium entertainment from the teams and players visiting FirstEnergy Stadium at an affordable price. Even while Buffalo was in town, it would have cost twice as much for the same seats at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Ottawa is the last of our worst teams to provide incredible value when it comes to choosing the quality of opposing teams in their season ticket package. At $60 per game, it’s a bit pricey per seat, but the assurance of seeing the best opposing players in the NHL makes $60 worth every penny.
While just 30 percent of your games are against playoff-caliber competition, you’re paying $13 to see a baseball game. You can’t get a beer and a hot dog at a ballgame for $13.
While the Orioles’ cheapest season ticket package has a marginally higher percentage of premium games than Miami’s, the $17.54 price point per seat is more than it ought to be given their .290 winning percentage last season. The beauty of Camden Yards can’t compensate for the collosal incompetence of baseball played by Orioles at Oriole Park.
Since preseason games can’t be considered premium games, and the Bills are so bad the best game on their schedule annually is a visit by Tom Brady and the Patriots, there’s really nothing to like about being a Bills season ticket holder. The Jaguars were the other “premium” game on the Bills’ schedule this season, and we’ve seen how far they’ve fallen.
Seems my hypothesis was wrong. The NHL, not the NBA, provides the best value to fans of its worst teams when it comes to their season ticket offerings. The NBA is a close second, however, and the Cleveland Browns coming in third was a pleasant surprise. Baseball and the Buffalo Bills, however, have a long way to go to make their cheapest season ticket packages more appealing to fans of the sports’ worst teams.
When it comes to LeBron James, nothing is off the table, no player untouchable, especially on the Miami Heat roster. We must rid ourselves of all assumptions. We can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Hassan Whiteside. We also can’t assume Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside's massive contract spanning this year and next if he opts into his player option. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside, contract and all. He is still a very good defender. He may never duplicate his 2015-16 season and 2.4 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), but he still has value, especially when Cleveland could end up losing LeBron and get nothing in return, again.
James could simply opt for free agency and leave Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert shaking his head, empty hands in the air. But LeBron makes the most money signing with Cleveland, so a sign-and-trade deal is in his best interest and the Cavaliers' best interest as well. While we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or Pat Riley are willing to do, we do know what Riley would have to do to make room for LeBron's potentially record-setting contract of $205 million over five years. Riley has to move some players he'd rather not and take on contracts he'd rather not.
The Heat's current roster doesn't give LeBron many reasons to re-relocate to Miami, but Josh Richardson, 24, Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the best reasons right now. LeBron likely isn't interested in waiting for them to develop, though. They also won't be on the the roster if there's going to be room for LeBron's contract in Miami. Riley is going to have to draw LeBron's eyes to Miami by trading for Kawhi Leonard.
ESPN's NBA Insiders think Richardson, Adebayo, Winslow and Goran Dragic would net Miami Leonard and Patty Mills from San Antonio. San Antonio would have to send cash in the amount of at least $75,000 for each player they receive without sending a player or draft pick in return, but the money works, cutting $1,353,382 from Miami's books and leaving the Heat $17,167,521 over the salary cap, which isn't a huge problem. The real problem is Miami is giving up a lot and has no guarantee Kawhi will stay in Miami after this season. But bringing in LeBron would be the closest thing to a guarantee they could get. Kawhi has said he wants to play closer to home on the west coast, and specifically, Los Angeles, which might be what convinces LeBron to either sign a one-year deal with Cleveland and wait or a long-term deal with Los Angeles and wait. But we're trying to get LeBron to Miami, and he won't be coming alone.
There’s one player LeBron wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included.
If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth in superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth – except gravity. And while gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.
There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket next season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity rating. I only know what I read and see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate in Cleveland, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.
LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for Cleveland and Miami in a sign-and-trade deal. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make a deal work, LeBron takes a $5 million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract.
So how hard is the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts next season total $42,910,000, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. So now Riley is asking Cleveland to take Whiteside and Tyler Johnson, who has a 15-percent trade kicker clause in his contract, boosting his salary next season to $22,132,175.50 if he's traded. That's asking a lot of Cleveland, but again, Cleveland could end up losing LeBron to free agency. So if Cleveland has to take Tyler Johnson, they can demand Miami take a similarly over-paid point guard in George Hill off their hands.
Now Cleveland and Miami just need to make the money work in a sign-and-trade deal for LeBron, Korver and Hill. LeBron, Korver and Hill make a combined $61,910,000. Considering Tyler Johnson's trade kicker, he, James Johnson and Whiteside would make $62,218,138.50 in Cleveland next season. This keeps Cleveland under the luxury tax cap and would set the Cavaliers up nicely for a run at free agents in 2020, with all three contracts potentially expiring after the 2019 season (James Johnson has a player option for 2020). In order for both teams to avoid adding to their payrolls already exceeding the salary cap, Miami would have to send $308,138.50 to Cleveland as a part of the deal, which the Heat might as well include with the first-round pick they'll need to send Cleveland to close the deal.
The Heat will have to part with at least one of their first-rounders if not both of them to bring LeBron and Kawhi together, so this is just a means to give Cleveland some long-term value that's lacking in the players they're getting in return from Miami. With the Heat in need of a backup for LeBron, Cleveland could send over Larry Nance Jr. and cash for the Heat's first-round pick in either 2019 or 2020.
Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of that franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.
If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed made off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.