We’re sitting on a mountain of data at SeatGeek.  Every day, our platform gathers data about how the tickets for games and concerts are priced on the secondary market.  The primary purpose of this data is to help generate our forecasts, but, as a side effect, it lets us measure the whims of fans in a way no one else can.  Which NBA team is most exciting to watch?  Pundits can speculate all they like, but nothing captures true fan sentiment as well as their willingness to pay (we’ll be tacking the “exciting-ness” question in an upcoming blog post).

With the NBA season now past its midpoint, we decided to crunch NBA prices to determine which fans are overpaying for the on-court product and which were underpaying.

We wanted to figure out how much tickets for each team should cost if you considered only the performance of the team.  In other words, if you ignored the fact that the Knicks play in a city with a ton of fans, or the fact that the Celtics play in a city with a high cost of living, how much should tickets cost? 

Using our data and the magic of OLS regression (a statistical tool) we built a model that assigned a “theoretical” ticket price to each team based on the team’s on-court performance.  The model incorporated team’s record, playoff chances, winning streaks, and individual player performance, but it ignored all variables not related to on-court performance. We then compared these “theoretical” ticket prices to team’s actual average ticket prices.

It turns out that the New Orleans Hornets are the best deal in the NBA.  The Hornets are have a winning record and are in playoff contention, yet at $32/each their tickets are second-cheapest in the NBA (the Minnesota Timberwolves are cheapest).

On average, Hornets fans pay $37 less per ticket than fans in other cities pay to see teams of equal caliber.  The San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks are the second and third best deals, respectively.  Spurs fans pay $29 less than their “theoretical” average price; Bucks fans pay $25 less.

On the other side of the coin, the LA Lakers are the NBA’s biggest rip off.  Yeah, sure, the Lakers are one of the league’s best teams, but their tickets sell for an astronomical average price of $144.  That’s $30 higher than the next-highest team (the Boston Celtics) and $79 more than the league average.  We found that the Celtics, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns are also terrible deals for fans.

External factors are no doubt at work here.  The Lakers are hot right now.  They are defending NBA champs.  They play in a huge, wealthy city.  They have a great global “brand” compared to most NBA teams.  So it isn’t shocking that fans are willing to pay a premium to see them.  But fans of other top teams (e.g. the Cleveland Cavs) get to see top-notch talent for substantially less money (in the case of the Cavs, $88.83 on average).

We notice a broader trend here, one that is unsurprising: fans in large, wealthy, metropolitan cities tend to pay more.  Fans in smaller, poor cities pay less to see teams of equal caliber.  I think (but haven’t yet had time to crunch all the data) that the difference in ticket prices between the rich/poor cities is greater than the difference between most goods in rich/poor cities.

Today we published our February edition of TicketPulse, a report that contains this data as well as some additional trends from the NBA.  Check out the full report here.