The Curious Case of the Atlanta Hawks’ Ticket Price Increases

Graham Chapple —  February 20, 2017

A quick ‘before we get things started’ note: the figures that I discuss, such as average ticket price, come from official Atlanta Hawks pocket/media guides (media guides prior to 2010-11 can be found here) and these revealed (under the ‘Philips Arena’ section) what the average ticket price for each area in the arena, as such, was.

Example from the 2013-14 season Hawks media guide (the Hawks removed this information in their media guides from the 2015-16 season onwards):

On November 1st 2016, the Atlanta Hawks and the city of Atlanta announced plans to renovate Philips Arena which are expected to cost $192.5 million, with the city of Atlanta pledging $142.5 million while the Hawks would come up with the remaining $50 million.

As you can see, the Hawks have grand plans to make Philips Arena the place to be on an almost nightly basis and, if the team is any good, the arena will really draw the people in. You also have the likes of Sir Foster, who provides a one of a kind experience, as well as the Hawks’ legendary 3D court projections and these, in addition to all the other factors, may lead to more people wanting to become season ticket holders, thus increasing demand. And, as we know, when the demand for something is high it drives the price up and the Hawks are, perhaps, trying to get an early start on this process by raising ticket prices for next season.

In an article written by Chris Vivlamore of the AJC in early February 2017, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin — who “oversees all business, financial and strategic operations of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena” — was quoted as saying that any ticket price increases would be “modest”:

“On average, we have modest price increases in single digits. It’s a fact that some seats are going up but in pure dollars a lot of those are less than $10. Overall, we wanted modest price increases.”

∼ Hawks CEO Steve Koonin

Vivlamore also added this:

While some ticket prices will not be increased, some will see a small percentage and some a substantial percentage. Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said most increases are less than 10 percent.

All that sounds great and the Hawks, to be fair, don’t charge an awful lot for their tickets. Since 2008, the average price for a Hawks ticket amounts to, roughly, $36.11. In fact, the average price for Hawks tickets has actually decreased. If you look at the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons, the average ticket price was around $41, and if you look at the 2000-2003 period, the average ticket price was near the $45 range. In 2016 the average price of a ticket was $36.82. From that same Chris Vivlamore article:

According to Team Marketing Report, with numbers based on the 2015-16 season, the Hawks had the fifth lowest average ticket price at $36.82. The Knicks had the highest average ticket price at $129.38.

(Quick side note: What’s also interesting is that the Hawks’ arena capacity has decreased over the years and the trend, as I understand, is to fit better quality seats while charging more money. If you were to look at a pocket schedule from the 2002-2003 season, you’d read that Philips Arena was listed as holding a capacity of 19,445. Today, the capacity is listed as 18,047. Example, the arena capacity of Philips for the 2005-2006 season was 19,445 while the average ticket price was, roughly, $37.68. The next season, the capacity dropped to 18,729 while the average ticket price increased to, roughly, $41.43. After this increase, however, anytime the capacity has dropped the price hasn’t increased the way it did for those two seasons. So it’ll be interesting to see, once these renovations are complete, if there’s a further drop in arena capacity and whether the average ticket price will increase further. On the face of it — at least in terms of the average ticket price — this seems likely.)

Because the Hawks’ ticket prices are, generally, quite low (and I’m looking at this per game rather than per season), it makes sense that this is an area Koonin and co. have targeted. However, actually raising the prices is not completely the issue. The issue is that Koonin said these price increases would be “modest” and, as it turns out, that isn’t the case.

There’s nothing “modest” about these prices that these season ticket holders have been told of by ticket reps:

Chris Vivlamore posted this on Twitter in response to a ticket price increase question and the following Tweets are all replies to this:

Some of these insane increases have actually driven season ticket holders, both long and short term to consider whether they should relocate or cancel their membership altogether.

These are just a few examples on Twitter and there’s no reason to believe that these aren’t authentic, no reason for these people to lie. I’m sure — if you tried hard enough — you could find a load of angry Tweets directed at Steve Koonin in relation to ticket price increases… But it really does make you wonder, if these increases are for Hawks members, what can new/future season ticket holders expect when they ring asking for prices for the 2017-18 season and beyond?

The other thing that all of this makes you wonder is this: is what Koonin and the Hawks told Vivlamore a lie? Vivlamore reported that Koonin said that “most increases are less than 10%” (key word: “most”) but this clearly isn’t the case.

The outrage is not that the ticket prices are increasing. It’s 2017 and the Hawks are among the bottom five in the league in average ticket prices to begin with, these things happen. The issue people are having is that these price increases are so dramatic, and so dramatic compared to what Koonin and the Hawks told Vivlamore. People are being run out of their seats.

The key words to come from Koonin were “modest” and while he did admit that some tickets would increase, he stipulated that “in terms of pure dollars, a lot of these are less than $10 dollars.”

O.K., so let’s break that last part down.

When Koonin says “less than $10 dollars”, you’d imagine he’s referring to single game tickets. So, let’s go through a few examples. Let’s take a section in the 200’s, oh, say…212 for example, since one of the season ticket holders I’ve been in contact with is situated there. The average ticket price for that section is, roughly, $46 dollars. Let’s add, for argument sake, $10 onto that average price, so we’re looking at an average price $56 in Section 212. If we take the original average price for that section ($46) and multiply that by 41 (the number of home games the Atlanta Hawks play in the regular season), you would get $1886 for the season. Now, let’s multiply the increased average ticket price of $56 by 41 and you get $2296 for the season for that section. That’s a percentage increase of, roughly, 21.7%.

Let’s, just for another example, take a look at the case of Ariel Steinberg, a season ticket holder in Section 211 and one of the good folks who replied to Chris Vivlamore’s thread (you can see his Tweet above). He says that his season ticket is increasing from $1499 to $2399. That’s a difference of $900 and a staggering percentage increase of just over 60%.

And those are just two examples, it seems as though there are a lot of stories similar to these two examples.

What Koonin has said — regarding how much/what percentage tickets are increasing by — simply doesn’t line up. Clearly, these increases are not “modest” and not, as Koonin claimed, close to the 10% range that Koonin said “most” of these increases would rise by.

I’m not saying Koonin is a liar (if you want to, that’s up to you) but all I’m saying is that things just don’t line up. Perhaps Koonin and co. know that some ticket holders won’t renew but know that enough people will renew/relocate with these new increased prices and they’ll still make a profit despite some season ticket holders. However this lack of, as it would appear, honesty/clarity has really upset and angered a lot of season ticket holders, both short and long term.

It remains to be seen what consequences these ticket price increases will have on the total attendance. The Hawks have issues filling Philips Arena as it is. Per ESPN, the Hawks rank 25th in the league in attendance per game with 15,847 this season. If they Hawks aren’t careful, and don’t make the right moves in free agency that would keep them competitive, that number could be even lower next season. You’ll have the diehards that’ll come support the team no matter what, but many people will not pay these outrageous season ticket prices to see a mediocre team. Ultimately, this increase in prices could cause more people to cancel their membership than perhaps they anticipated.

If this team had traded Paul Millsap in January — or lose him in free agency later this summer — the team would’ve/would suffer greatly and might not make the playoffs, giving fans very little reason to give in to these increases for next season and beyond, something that is clearly very important to Koonin and ownership. This is why I am personally of the belief that ownership stepped in and prevented any Millsap trade, signalling their intentions to sign Millsap to an extension and, thus, keeping the team competitive. Or, to be better phrase it, worth paying money to go see…

There are always two sides to any argument and, to be fair, you have to look at the things from the side of Koonin and company. This is what they have in their mind at the end of tunnel. A beautiful, up to date arena that would, on photographic paper boast a unique experience.

(Images via the Atlanta Hawks and Cox Media Group)

As beautiful as this all looks, is this lack of clarity when it comes to ticket price increases — which has led to more and more people cancelling their membership rather than re-signing — the way to go about this? The Hawks aren’t in a position like the Golden State Warriors are, who have a massive queue for season tickets. If ownership is asking its season ticket holders to fork out like this, then ownership has to also shell out and give fans a reason to pay these prices to watch this team, and that starts with bringing back Paul Millsap for whatever it takes for him to stay.

Only time will tell but, for now, there are a lot of angry and upset season ticket holders…

Graham Chapple