Do the Thunder have a Small Market Advantage over the Lakers?

Image Credit: Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

When it was announced in August that Dwight Howard had been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, it was all but decided that the 2013 Western Conference Finals would be a showdown between the Lakers and their new playoff rival the Oklahoma City Thunder.  A Lakers/Thunder matchup has many storylines, one of which is a David vs. Goliath type scenario due to their differences in market size. 

Los Angeles is the second largest market in the NBA, and while the Lakers share that market with the Clippers, they don’t share it with the NFL like the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets do.  As a result, the Lakers have always been at or near the top of the league in average ticket prices and revenue.  Last year was no exception when Los Angeles Lakers ticket prices averaged $264 at the beginning of the season, second highest in the league (behind the New York Knicks).  Despite these prices, the Lakers sell out the Staples Center regularly, averaging 99.7% attendance for the 2011-12 season.  Oklahoma City, on the other hand, is one of the league’s smallest markets.  That doesn’t stop Thunder fans from filling every seat at every home game (100% attendance in 2011-12).  This is due to the dedicated fans that purchase season tickets and don’t miss games and a much more affordable $169 average ticket price at the start of the season.  That price keeps Thunder near the league average of $134 per ticket despite the team’s success and national popularity in recent years.  

Last month the Thunder topped ESPN’s annual list of the best franchises in professional sports while the Lakers ranked 89th out of 122 total teams.  The Thunder got higher ratings than the Lakers in 7 of 8 categories in the study based mainly on fan feedback.  Most notably the Thunder ranked very high in fan relations (2nd), affordability (5th) and players (2nd) while the Lakers’ overall rank suffered mostly due to their 112 ranking in affordability and five categories where they ranked 85th or lower.   The Thunder were also 3rd among NBA teams in stadium experience while the Lakers landed in the middle of the pack in that category.  This reaffirms the common belief that Thunder fans go to games to cheer on their community team while the Lakers fans go to capture photos of Jack Nicholson courtside and check in on Facebook.

Adding to the David and Goliath storyline is the public perception of how the teams have been constructed.  The Lakers have been criticized for years for bullying teams into the trades they want and over-paying for the players they need.  This offseason only added fuel to the fire when they traded an injury prone and immature Andrew Bynum and seemingly no one else for future Hall of Fame players Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.  The Thunder have been praised in recent years for building their team the “right way” through scouting and success in the draft.  Most notably they made the most of a few bad seasons by drafting the NBA’s only homegrown Big Three- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.  

Regardless of storyline, once the regular season starts secondary market ticket prices for any game between the Lakers and Thunder will be through the roof.  The two teams both ranked in the top five in road-game attendance last season, so when they play each other there aren’t nearly enough tickets to go around.  Finding a ticket to one of those matchups will be harder than finding a Laker fan that actually puts on one of the free shirts they give away in the lower levels. 

2012-13 Laker and Thunder ticket prices are similar to those in 2011-12. Los Angeles Lakers ticket prices are currently averaging $288, now highest in the league.  Oklahoma City Thunder average ticket prices have decreased to $134, less than half the average price of a Lakers ticket.  Also not surprising, the Lakers have five times the number of tickets listed for sale compared to the Thunder. According to Thunder Obsessed 99 percent of all season tickets were renewed in 2012. Contrary, in Los Angeles, the lack of commitment to their home team is once again evident. This is good news for opposing team fans visiting the Staples Center, as long as they are willing to fork over some serious cash.  The maximum price for a ticket to any Laker game is $14,638; with that, you’ll score a suite for the Miami Heat game.  If you are willing to cough up $3400-$4400 for a courtside seat this season, you’ll no doubt land yourself in luxurious accommodations rubbing elbows with some of Hollywood’s finest.  Bargain hunters can find tickets at Staples too with minimum prices of $14 ($11 by comparison in OKC). Bring a big enough lens on your camera and you can still get yourself a picture of Jack while you’re there!


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