Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Culture of Cheating: the highly promoted but very elusive $15 Brooklyn Nets tickets; all gone, some ticket reps have claimed misleadingly

Want a cheap seat to see the all-new Brooklyn Nets, the team that completed an astonishing makeover this past July? It won't be easy.

Though single-game tickets went on sale yesterday (after a pre-sale), none of the promised 2,000 $15 seats--a prime talking point for team boosters and a real contrast with the NBA rival Knicks--were available.

The best price was $22, plus an $8 service charge. For a family of four, that would be $120, plus any additional service charge.

Still, the promise sounds good. The Daily News recently reported that "Two-thousand seats costing $15 have been set aside for sale on game day."

Actually, the amount set aside is far more fuzzy, since some seats have been sold as season tickets. Also, during the push to sell season tickets--now topping 10,000, a real jump for the team--some fans were told by ticket reps that the cheap seats were sold out.

Those tickets were seemingly off the table even before majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov opened his wallet by trading for Joe Johnson and re-signing Deron Williams (now dubbed "Brooklyn's Backcourt"), and otherwise shaking off the curse of New Jersey.

Such misleading tactics represent another example of the Culture of Cheating behind Atlantic Yards and the Barclays Center.

The promise and the tease

Sure, the billion-dollar (not quite) Barclays Center will be branded to the hilt (Stoli! Foxwoods! EmblemHealth!), with luxury suites and the 40/40 Club, owned by team/arena fractional owner--and alleged logo designer--Jay-Z.

But locals have long been promised "screecher" seats.

“We have 2,000 seats priced at 15 dollars and under," Brett Yormark, the Nets/arena CEO, told RealGM June 15. "It’s been our goal from day one to have affordable seating and pricing for anyone that wants to experience Brooklyn Nets basketball."



Arena developer Bruce Ratner, in a Wall Street Journal video interview Aug. 14, similarly claimed, "It was important from Day One that there would be 2,000 tickets, at least, that would be inexpensive."

That talking point, however, has been something of a tease.

According to the Nets' Ticketmaster website, nine of 19 categories of seats are sold out.

Even though that $15 category appears available, since May, well before GM Billy King executed the Nets' rapid roster upgrade, ticket reps have inconsistently claimed the $15 seats were all gone, sold as season tickets.

That seems to have been a faux sellout, nudging some buyers toward higher-priced seats.

That's not only misleading, it's not how promoters sold an arena that got hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks.

The history

When Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan--tethering an arena to 16 towers--was announced in December 2003, he claimed that "probably the overall guiding principle is inclusiveness." Thus, tickets would be “affordable for everybody.”

Six months later, Borough President Marty Markowitz, the team's biggest booster, told the New York City Council, "It must be enjoyed by Brooklyn's working families."

When news emerged in 2007 that Nets' ticket prices would leap upon the team's move, team spokesman Barry Baum said, "We want to make Nets games in Brooklyn as accessible for everyone and so we’re providing 2,000 $15 tickets.”

From Markowitz's Brooklyn!! publication
Markowitz, who recently hosted a pep rally for "Brooklyn's Backcourt," issued a promotional publication that, yes, promised 2,000 $15 tickets.

None of these boosters, however, explained how to actually acquire the tickets.

Fuzzy information

First dibs on season-tickets went to existing ticket-holders, who bought nearly 1,700 seats at various price points. This spring, the team put 1,000 tickets on sale for Brooklynites; Baum said the $15 seats would be available for season ticket purchase.

Would $15 seats, I asked, be sold as single-game tickets? It hadn't been decided, Baum said.

Consider that part of the Nets' media management. In June, aiming to promote the exclusive Vault suites designed (so they say) by Jay-Z, Yormark told the New York Post that Mr. Carter had bought the first suite. Last month, the New York Times reported that Jay-Z actually got it for free.

Ratner and his aides stress that there would be "2,000 jobs" at the arena, though some 1,900 would be part-time, and the developer's claim of 1,240 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions seems fuzzy.

The Nets have long played it coy regarding tickets. The team doled out an astounding 5200 comps a game in 2009-10 as its star-crossed residency at the Meadowlands wound down. Yormark explained, "You’ll never see us in print or just verbally discuss discounting; it’s more about value."

Now, with more to sell, it seems to be more about raising revenue.

Asking about tickets

Having attended a few Nets games over the years, I'm on their sales lists. So, when a Nets rep cold-called me at the end of May, I asked about the cheap seats.

"I think we're out of the 15-, 20-, and 25-dollar" seats, he said, pushing for a higher-priced package.

I then went to the Nets' web site and decided to "Chat Live with a Nets Rep" (and make a screenshot).

"Unfortunately our $15 and $25 season tickets are sold out," the rep wrote, pushing $29 tickets. "We will not have it available for individual games."

That sounded pretty definitive, but on July 5, after the Nets' free-agent frenzy, I tried again.

While the web site advertised $79 as the cheapest seat available, the rep indicated that season tickets could be had for $35.

The $15 tickets were all gone, the rep confirmed, but, when asked if single-game seats would be available, hedged: "I would say probably not."

I checked back on July 24. The best advertised price was $89, but the lowest price, I was told, was $45, and the $15 seats were all sold out. (The rep in this case--plausible deniability alert--may have meant that the $15 season tickets were sold out.)

I did so again on August 21; the best price on the web was $89, but the rep told me season tickets were available for $35.

When single-game tickets go on sale, I asked, would $15 seats be available? "I do not know," the rep responded. Call that strategic ambiguity.

Reasons for skepticism

I recently queried team spokesman Baum, asking how many $15 seats would be available and why ticket reps had responded as described above. His response, in full: "As we promised there will be $15 seats available for purchase before each game."

OK, some seats will be released ahead of each game, but Baum didn't specify the number available. He didn't address whether ticket reps had been misleading. (Could they have been going rogue? Doubtful.)

Some fans have grown skeptical about the bargain seats; one on NetsDaily warned of "false hopes" while another expressed confusion.

Perhaps, by game day, we'll see how many "working families" get a chance to buy $15 tickets. Whatever the number, it's already clear the cheap seats have given the Nets some valuable publicity.

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