Pollin: Salaries Cause Increases in Ticket Prices
By Thomas Heath
Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals and the builder of 20,000-seat MCI Center that opens Tuesday, said that pro sports tickets are too expensive and that leagues should examine player salaries as a way to curtail the steep climb in admission prices.
"It bothers me enormously that no longer can a family of four see a game," said Pollin, whose teams have doubled their ticket prices in the past three years. "What's happened is the [player] salaries are so high, we have to keep raising ticket prices. I don't want to raise my prices again."
Washington is one of the most expensive sports entertainment cities in the country. For example, it costs $272.50 for a family of four to attend a Capitals hockey game, according to Chicago-based Team Marketing Report, an industry newsletter. That would include four tickets, soda, hot dogs, program and beer.
Pollin said NBA Commissioner David Stern has created a committee to address the high cost of tickets, which he said is pricing many of the NBA's fans out of the market.
"I've been urging the commissioner . . . to look into this," Pollin said in a meeting yesterday with Washington Post editors and reporters.
A spokesman for the National Basketball Players Association called Pollin's argument a "smoke screen."
"The increase in players' salaries has been consistent with the increase in league-wide revenues for several years," said Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Players Association. Hunter said a new $2.6 billion television contract announced two weeks ago will increase owners' revenue by about 150 percent.
The Wizards said they have increased ticket prices to pay for such star players as Juwan Howard and Chris Webber, who together account for more than half of the team's $40 million annual payroll. The Capitals also have acquired several million-dollar players.
This year, the Wizards have the second-most expensive tickets in the 29-team NBA, averaging $51.63 per game, according to Team Marketing Report. The Capitals have the fifth-highest ticket prices among the NHL's 26 teams, averaging $50.36 per game.
Wizards' fans have seen their top-priced single-game ticket increase from $37.50 to $75 in two seasons. According to team president Susan O'Malley, the Wizards have sold 10,000 season tickets at MCI Center, which will host its first NBA game Tuesday against Seattle. Last year's NBA average number of season tickets was 11,159, according to Team Marketing Report. The Capitals' 7,000 season tickets per game is well below the NHL's 11,021 average last year. Washington's first NHL game at MCI Center will take place Dec. 5 against Florida.
Last March the Wizards, formerly known as the Bullets, raised individual ticket prices to a range of $19 to $75 from a 1996-97 range of $12 to $50. The Capitals' prices went to a range of $19 to $60 from a 1996-97 structure of $12 to $45. Club seats at the new arena cost $7,500 each (enabling each ticket holder to see all Wizards and Capitals games) and executive suites for all events cost from $100,000 to $175,000.
Pollin said he was leaving US Airways Arena in Landover, for the $200 million MCI Center, which he has built and financed himself, because US Airways Arena, built in 1973, could not compete with modern, urban sports palaces. He also said he moved downtown to give something back to the city.
"I just felt that this is the nation's capital, it's been good to me all my life and I decided to move downtown," he said. "Not everything is dollars and cents."