Clip­pers’ tick­ets let other fans in

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

The words rat­tled through the city like one of his fan-pleas­ing dunks.

Only this time, it ap­peared Blake Grif­fin was dunk­ing on those fans.

Af­ter the Clip­pers’ de­mor­al­iz­ing loss to Golden State in front of a War­riors-cen­tric crowd at Sta­ples Cen­ter on Tues­day, Jill Painter of Fox Sports West asked Grif­fin whether it felt like a play­off game.

“Not re­ally, no,” Grif­fin said. “Home-court ad­van­tage is just not there for us. So if that’s how it feels in the play­offs, then it’s not look­ing good.”

In talk­ing about the thun­der­ous cheers for War­riors scores and the “M-V-P” chants for Stephen Curry, Grif­fin was seem­ingly tak­ing a rare and pointed shot at the long-suf­fer­ing Clip­pers faith­ful.

But he bricked it. His mes­sage was right, but his im­plied tar­get was wrong. The Clip­pers’ lack of a clear home-court ad­van­tage in some big games is the fault not of Clip­pers fans, but of Clip­pers team of­fi­cials, whose con­sis­tent and sub­stan­tial ticket price in­creases are threat­en­ing to turn Lob City into Lame City.

“They have priced me out of go­ing to ev­ery game,” said JoLai Draper, a long­time de­voted Clip­pers sea­son-ticket holder.

For 14 sea­sons, Draper, pre­vi­ously chron­i­cled in this col­umn, has sat in the up­per reaches of the lower bowl.

Like many Clip­pers fans, she main­tains her sea­son seats through the con­stant Clip­pers storms in hopes of one day watch­ing them raise a ban­ner. But be­cause those seats have be­come so ex­pen­sive, she now sells in­di­vid­ual game tick­ets to help pay for her sea­son pack­age.

The games that can gen­er­ate the big­gest dol­lars on the sec­ondary mar­ket? Hot brands such as the Cleve­land Cava­liers, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and, yes, the Golden State War­riors.

Draper ad­mit­ted two of those ya­hoos cheer­ing for the War­riors on Tues­day were prob­a­bly sit­ting in her seats, be­cause she sold the tick­ets for $125 apiece, but who can blame her?

Five years ago, at the be­gin­ning of the Blake Grif­fin era, Draper was pay­ing $34 a game for each of her two seats. Next sea­son she will be pay­ing $60 per ticket.

“Their prices have nearly dou­bled, but dur­ing that same time, my salary hasn’t dou­bled, so I have to fig­ure out a way to make it work,” said Draper, a Boe­ing pro­cure­ment agent. “If Blake wants to give me $5,000, I’d be happy to keep my seat and cheer for ev­ery game.”

By col­lect­ing $250 for her two tick­ets from a des­per­ate War­riors fan, Draper was able to take a chunk out of next year’s ticket costs. She fig­ures she has banked more than $1,500 this year sell­ing high-de­mand tick­ets, and she knows she’s not alone.

“Clip­per fans are regular peo­ple, and this is a lot of money to a lot of us,” she said. “We don’t want to give up our seats, but we can’t af­ford to go to ev­ery game any­more ei­ther.”

Clip­pers fans are in­deed regular peo­ple. That has long been a bless­ing for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has viewed it­self as the anti-Lak­ers. But the way those fans are be­ing slowly priced to­ward the ex­its, one won­ders whether they aren’t now con­sid­ered a curse.

It’s as if Steve Ballmer didn’t re­al­ize the para­dox in pay­ing $2 bil­lion for a team that was al­ways con­sid­ered Los An­ge­les’ af­ford­able NBA op­tion. He’s now try­ing to re­coup a Lak­ers-sized in­vest­ment in a Clip­pers-sized cul­ture, and it’s not pretty.

Check out what may be the most amaz­ing statis­tic in the his­tory of the NBA in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia — next sea­son, the best Clip­pers court­side seats will be more ex­pen­sive than the price of Lak­ers court­side seats.

That’s right. That’s not a mis­print. The best Clip­pers court­side seats are $2,840 per ticket, which in­cludes food, park­ing and ad­mit­tance to a pro­posed Clip­pers-only hos­pi­tal­ity room. The Lak­ers court­side seats are $2,750 per ticket with no food or park­ing.

Throw out the ex­tras and they are closer to equal, but, se­ri­ously? In what uni­verse does that make sense?

That Clip­pers court­side fig­ure rep­re­sents a 39% in­crease from this sea­son. A cou­ple of rows back, the prices are go­ing up 21%.

Not that any of this is af­fect­ing the Clip­pers ticket sales or home record. They cur­rently have an 180-game sell­out streak at Sta­ples Cen­ter and, in the last two sea­sons, the NBA’s third-best home record.

Gil­lian Zucker, Clip­pers pres­i­dent of busi­ness op­er­a­tions, emailed an­swers to ques­tions about this chang­ing Clip­pers spirit.

In re­gard to ris­ing prices, she wrote, “Most of our fans saw only a 2% to 4% in­crease in their ticket prices. We are con­fi­dent that with our low en­try-level price point and fair, com­pet­i­tive pric­ing for a world-class prod­uct, we are de­liv­er­ing great value.”

As for fans re­selling tick­ets, she wrote, “We have not dis­cour­aged fans from re­selling tick­ets.... We just want to strongly en­cour­age them to re­sell them to Clip­pers fans so that we can main­tain a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage for our team.”

That re­quest, how­ever noble, is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to ful­fill. If you re­sell your tick­ets through the Clip­pers’ web­site — the eas­i­est method of re­sale — there is no way of know­ing who is buy­ing them.

As for the court­side seats be­ing more ex­pen­sive than Lak­ers tick­ets, Zucker wrote, “This is a re­sult of hugely in­creased de­mand for pre­mium seats, and a stel­lar on-court prod­uct. There are a host of other new benefits with the ul­ti­mate goal of pro­vid­ing the best VIP ex­pe­ri­ence in all of sports.”

But the fans are won­der­ing about that too. There have been com­plaints that the only thing dif­fer­ent about the games this sea­son is the sight of Ballmer do­ing hand­stands on the base­line.

Fans are up­set with Doc Rivers as a gen­eral manager, with the co­he­sion on the court late in games, and with the idea that the Clip­pers still don’t look like a team that can ad­vance to its first con­fer­ence fi­nals.

“We were all over­whelmed with Steve Ballmer com­ing in, all the hoopla, all the new mo­men­tum,” said Robin Salzer, who has had sea­son tick­ets since the fran­chise moved to Los An­ge­les in 1984. “To be hon­est, I thought they’d be do­ing bet­ter. I re­ally thought this was the year they’d go to the West­ern fi­nals.”

Salzer’s seats went up from $250 to $300 a ticket for next sea­son, and he said he un­der­stands as the prod­uct im­proves, the price soars, but he still won­ders.

“The Clip­pers have al­ways been a blue-col­lar team, and with that blue-col­lar per­sona goes blue-col­lar prices,” he said.

For now, the play­ers have to un­der­stand Grif­fin is right, “It’s not look­ing good,” for later this month be­cause noth­ing com­mands a higher price on the sec­ondary mar­ket than a hot play­off ticket.

Draper prom­ises to at­tend as many play­off games as fis­cally pos­si­ble. But she also knows the re­al­ity of what will hap­pen while she’s there.

“It hap­pens all the time, I’ll be look­ing down at my phone a sec­ond, I’ll hear a huge cheer, and I’ll look up think­ing we did some­thing good,” she said, sigh­ing. “But it turns out, that cheer is for the other team.”

Danny Moloshok As­so­ci­ated Press

BLAKE GRIF­FIN said ri­vals’ fans took away Clip­pers’ home-court ad­van­tage.

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