Sunday, 04 November 2018 15:01

Bad Teams with Good Season Ticket Packages

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.

NHL

Ottawa Senators, 10 games, $600

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.

Buffalo Sabres: 5 games, $183

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.

NFL

Buffalo Bills: 10 games (2 preseason), $400

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.

Cleveland Browns: 4 games, $200

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.

NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers: 1 game, $500

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.

Atlanta Hawks: 11 games, $448

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.

MLB

Baltimore Orioles: 13 games, $228

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.

Miami Marlins: 10 games, $130

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.

Ranking the Cheapest Season Ticket Packages for Sports’ Worst Teams

  1. Buffalo Sabres: 5 of 5 premium games at $36.60 per game

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.

  1. Atlanta Hawks: 11 of 11 premium games at $40.73 per game

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.

  1. Cleveland Browns: 4 of 4 premium games at $50 per game

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.

  1. Ottawa Senators: 10 of 10 premium games at $60 per game

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.

  1. Miami Marlins: 3 premium games out of 10 at $13 per game

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.

  1. Baltimore Orioles: 4 premium games out of 13 at $17.54 per game

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.

  1. Buffalo Bills: 2 premium games out of 10 at $40 per game

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.

Published in Money

Foul Play-by-Play investigates foul play in sports on and off the court, field, pitch and ice every week. Here's play-by-play on foul play in sports for the week ending June 17.

Headlines

Ohio Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Reds’ Bobblehead Tax Case

The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday morning in a dispute over taxes on promotional items purchased by the Cincinnati Reds and offered to fans through promotional ticket packages. Ohio state law exempts companies from paying taxes on items they buy and resell, but the issue is whether promotional items like bobbleheads are being sold as part of a ticket package or given away in an effort to increase ticket sales, which would require the Reds to pay taxes on the items.

Attorneys for the Reds argue they don't have to pay tax because they resell the promotional items as part of the ticket package, but the state tax commissioner says the promotional items should be taxed because the Reds bought the items as giveaways and aren't selling them with the tickets.

Regardless of whether the Reds’ techniques are legal or not, the attempt to avoid paying $88,000 in state taxes is pretty insensitive given the Reds’ recent history. The construction of Great American Ball Park cost Hamilton County taxpayers $349 million and deprived federal taxpayers of $142 million in revenue – third-most costly of any Major League Baseball stadium according to a Brookings Institute study. The Reds share responsibility with the Cincinnati Bengals for burying Ohio’s Hamilton County in debt, resulting in cuts to social services, including the sale of a hospital, and forcing Hamilton County Commissioners to refinance $376 million of stadium bond debt in 2016. Property owners in Hamilton County were promised 30 percent of the revenue raised by the half-cent increase to the sales tax in the form of reduced tax bills, but the county has rarely had the money to pay the stadium debt and offer the full tax rollback.

Meanwhile, the Reds could go from increasing attendance by giving away items plus tax to making money on tax-free items while also increasing attendance. And they’re not the only ones.

The Minnesota Twins are also offering more of these promotional ticket packages and fewer giveaways after winning a similar case back in 1998. Like Ohio, “goods and services purchased solely to resell, lease or rent in the regular course of business” are tax exempt in Minnesota. In fact, most states allow businesses to purchase items tax-free as long as those items are to be resold. So this is only the beginning, and already, great American ballparks are turning giveaways into takeaways, likely turning a profit on what was a cheap means of advertising and now is a cheaper means of advertising.

Senior manager of group sales for the Twins, Phil McMullen, informed me that the prices for their promotional ticket packages are based on the price of their group tickets, which explains why the markup for the promotional item appears to vary by seat location when compared to buying a single game ticket alone. The same cannot be said for the Reds, whose price for promotional items vary by seat location.

The June 19 promotion in Cincinnati is available at three different price points in three different sections of the ballpark. The promotional ticket package is $25 per “View Level” ticket, $55 for a seat in the “Field Box” section and $80 for an “Infield Box” seat. The price of a ticket to the same game in the “View Level” section is $17. A field box seat is $41, and infield box seats range from $65 to $68. So the same bobblehead costs $8 when purchased with a “View Level” ticket, $14 when purchased with a “Field Box” ticket and between $12 and $15 when purchased with an “Infield Box” ticket. So fans purchasing the promotional ticket package will pay four different prices for the exact same product in the same store.

The Reds’ attorney says Ohio’s flawed tax code doesn’t require a specific dollar amount for a tax exemption to be claimed nor awarded, according to judicial precedent. But if these teams are indeed selling their promotional items and not giving them away, shouldn’t these markups for promotional ticket packages be consistent? I mean, the price of the promotional item shouldn’t be dependent upon the section in which you buy your tickets, right?

As a Twins season ticket holder, I don’t mind the idea of promotional ticket packages because the best giveaways are limited to the first few thousand fans and always require you to show up hours before gametime to stand in line. The best giveaway last season was a Prince umbrella that had people lining up outside Target Field four hours before gametime. I’d rather sacrifice my money than my time, so if there’s a promotional item I just have to have, I’d rather be certain of getting it than risk my time and money to end up empty handed. That said, though, I’m not going to pay more for the same item sold for less to fans sitting in the cheap seats.

Ronaldo Pleads Guilty to Four Counts of Tax Fraud, to Pay $21.8 Million

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo has reached a deal with Spanish tax authorities to serve a two-year suspended sentence and pay a $21.8 million fine in a tax evasion case, according to multiple reports on Friday.

Ronaldo is unlikely to serve any time in jail under the deal because Spanish law states that a sentence of under two years for a first offence can be served on probation.

The plea agreement is similar to that of Barcelona's Lionel Messi, who was handed a 21-month prison sentence in 2017 on similar charges but under Spanish law was able to exchange the penalty for a fine.

Between 2005 and 2010, foreign players in Spain were protected under the so-called "Beckham law" allowing them to curb their taxes. But as the financial crisis deepened, that exemption was lifted, paving the way for the cases.

Half of Ronaldo’s $93 million annual salary comes from image rights deals with sponsors, which is likely the money being moved around to evade taxes. 

Ottawa Senators' Captain’s Wife Alleges Teammate’s Fiancee Harassed Couple

Melinda Karlsson, wife of Ottawa Senators’ captain, Erik Karlsson, alleges that Monika Caryk, fiancee of Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman, has harassed Karlsson and her husband online since November 2017. Melinda Karlsson has filed an order of protection citing “over 1,000 negative and derogatory statements about me as a professional” posted on social media, including an allegation that Melinda’s use of painkillers was reason the Karlssons’ first child was stillborn in March. Karlsson also claimed that Caryk "uttered that she wished I was dead and that someone should 'take out' my husband's legs to ‘end his career.’” After the Ottawa Citizen published a story Tuesday detailing the allegations, a Facebook profile in Caryk’s name was deactivated.

Hoffman has defended his fiancee and told the Ottawa Citizen, "There is a 150 percent chance that my fiancee Monika and I are not involved in any of the accusations that have been pursued.”

Someone, it seems, is going to be guilty of defamation in this case, Mike -- either the accuser or the accused. And according to Eric Macramalla, another attorney covering the business and law of sports for Forbes and TSN, much of the social media evidence is obtainable from Facebook and Twitter, but that doesn’t mean a request for the information will result in the evidence being provided. So depending on whether that evidence is made available could determine whether this case goes to court or is settled out of court.

Regardless, it’s unlikely Karlsson and Hoffman are teammates next year. Both are under contract, but trades are reportedly being investigated by Ottawa for both players.

Cheerleader Sues Cowboys, Claims She was Paid Less than Male Mascot

Erica Wilkins, a Cowboys cheerleader from 2014 to 2017, is seeking "unpaid overtime wages, minimum wages, and all other available damages," citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The lawsuit said female cheerleaders were paid at a rate less than "Rowdy," the mascot. Wilkins said her rate of pay was $8 an hour and that Rowdy made $25 per hour. Now the mascot’s attire must constitute a higher rate of pay, but is sweating through a costume reason enough for the difference in pay?

Kellen Winslow II Arrested on Suspicion of Multiple Sex Crimes

Former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow II was arrested at his home in the San Diego suburb of Encinitas on suspicion of multiple sex crimes. Winslow, 34, was stopped by police in his SUV and was identified as the individual involved in a residential burglary at a mobile home park.

Winslow allegedly prefers his victims mature. He’s accused of kidnapping, raping and forcing oral copulation of a 54-year-old woman in March, kidnapping, rape and sodomy of a 59-year-old woman in May, burglary with the intent to rape a 71-year-old woman in June, and burglary with the intent to rape an 86-year-old woman, also in June. Winslow posted $50,000 bail and was released. On June 7, Winslow was arrested on a felony charge of first-degree burglary in Encinitas. He was freed after posting $50,000 bail on that charge. Not much to be said except these charges are disgusting and you’d hope no one would be capable of committing such crimes.

Rams Ordered to Pay Reggie Bush $12.5 Million for 2015 Injury

A slip and fall by Reggie Bush on the Rams’ stadium sidelines in St. Louis back in 2015 has resulted in a $12.5 million award ruled to be paid to Bush, who sustained a torn lateral meniscus which ended his season. Attorneys for the Rams said they plan to file a motion for a new trial.

Cheats of the Week

Bronze Balls: The Raiders are concerned that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be subject to league discipline, sources tell Michael Gehlken of the Review Journal. The belief is that Bryant has violated the league’s substance abuse policy once again, which would put his entire 2018 season in jeopardy. Bryant is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

Silver Syringe: Defensive tackle Roy Miller’s chances of continuing his career for a tenth season took a hit Friday afternoon, as the NFL suspended Miller for the first six games of this season, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. Miller has yet to sign with a team.

Two-bit Cheat of the Week: Cowboys defensive lineman David Irving is being suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse, sources tell Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. This isn’t Irving’s first violation of the NFL’s drugs policies. He was hit with a four-game PED suspension last June. This puts your Cowboys in a tight spot with defensive tackle Maliek Collins nursing a foot injury. Hey, maybe they’ll get defensive end Randy Gregory reinstated.

Historically Foul Play 

Let’s get nostalgic and talk about foul play of the past, when news was delivered on paper and milk in reusable glass bottles. Here’s your sports-crime history lesson we call Historically Foul Play.

On June 16, 2009, US Cyclist Tyler Hamilton, 38, received an eight-year ban for testing positive for a steroid called DHEA. Hamilton had announced his retirement two months earlier when he was made aware of the failed drug test, but the US Anti-Doping Agency wanted to assure Hamilton would be suspended for the remainder of his cycling career. Hamilton was accused of using blood transfusions, human growth hormones, testosterone, EPO, and insulin after failing drug tests earlier in his career. During the 2000 Athens Olympics, where Hamilton won a gold medal, his A sample showed signs of blood doping. The B sample was mistakenly frozen so that it could not be tested, so Hamilton was allowed to keep his gold medal. He tested positive again one month after the Olympics and was banned for two years. Hamilton kind of makes Lance Armstrong look good, doesn’t he?

Statistically Significant Foul Play

Time to get statistical and make some informed inferences in a segment we call Statistically Significant Foul Play, where we do an analysis of statistics that indicate foul play.

Foul Play-by-Play, its hosts, nor its partners practice nor condone the accusatory promulgation of foul play by athletes for the sake of the hot take. Cheats are innocent until proven guilty. That said, in this case of statistically significant foul player, I’d like to admit into evidence the following significant statistics indicating foul play.

The rate at which batters are being hit by pitches so far this season is .385 per game played, the highest rate since 2001’s .39 hit batters per game played. But is that more of a result of batters crowding the plate or pitchers pitching inside?

Published in Sports