Why are Raps playoff tickets the NBA’s priciest?

At an average price of $370.62, Raptors tickets are the most-expensive in the NBA's first-round (Photo: Nathan Denette/CP)

All it takes is a peek inside the Air Canada Centre during a game or a conversation at your local with the average Toronto sports fan to know that the Raptors are, unsurprisingly, generating some serious buzz right now. Unsurprising because last night against the Milwuakee Bucks, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Co. made history, solidifying the best regular-season record in franchise history with their 48th win. With the Raptors’ ticket to the playoffs booked a long time ago, fans of Canada’s basketball team are back in droves, supporting their squad in a way we haven’t seen since, well, the last time Toronto was playoff-bound—six years ago.

What’s that? You need more than vague anecdotal evidence? Well, look no further than the secondary ticket market, where the Raptors are raising more than just eyebrows.

A recent story from Forbes revealed that the Raptors have the highest average ticket price for the first round of any team in the NBA, at $370.62.

“We took data from hundreds of sellers,” says Forbes contributor Jesse Lawrence, the Founder and CEO of ticket search engine TiqIQ.com, “and in general, found a significant premium over what tickets are being priced at in the box office. In Toronto, tickets sold out quickly, so naturally the prices are significantly higher.”

Original tickets for the first three Raps’ home games of the opening round went on sale to the public on Friday and—save for a handful of single-seaters—sold out in a matter of minutes, resulting in sky-rocketing prices from secondary sellers. In fact, the Raptors also topped Lawrence’s list with a premium over regular-season prices of 242.5 percent. The only other team with a premium higher than 200 percent is the Pacers, whose average price for playoff seats sits at $237.31. The Miami Heat is the only club whose first-round playoff prices are actually lower than their regular season averages.

In general, the factors behind this early ticket price data are rooted in fundamental principles of business. “It’s a market-driven issue,” explains Lawrence. “It’s about supply and demand—what’s available and what the fans are willing to pay.”

But there’s more to it than that. In Toronto, the cutthroat secondary ticket market comes down to a combination of factors.

For starters, the Raptors post-season drought has driven away its fair share of fans over the years. As they flock back, those who stuck it out through the hard times are ensuring that they are in the house for the good times as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs playoff absence this season also creates a void of sorts among local sports fans, whose other options for live events are limited to early season baseball and soccer. And we all know Toronto is a world-class bandwagon sports town, meaning that the Raps are attracting more and more casual fans as the post-season nears.

Rounding out the top three on the Forbes list are the Los Angeles Clippers ($317.17) and Golden State Warriors ($270.31). In the case of these teams, says Lawrence, it’s a matter of traditionally rabid fan bases (Warriors) and putting out the most competitive product on the court in ages (Clippers). But the data also reflects potential first-round matchups. “When I wrote the article,” he says, “[the Clippers and Warriors] were scheduled to play, and that potential inter-state rivalry is driving up prices.”

While the Raptors and MLSE have embraced the recent trend of dynamic ticket pricing during the regular season (establishing costs based on the opponent, meaning teams like the Bucks and Suns can be seen on the cheap, while superstar-laden clubs like Miami will cost you heavily), their recent matchups appear to be a non-factor. With two days left in the season, the Raptors are most likely to face either the Washington Wizards or Charlotte Bobcats. Both are solid teams that will make for a competitive series, but neither roster is littered with marquee names to pique the interests of the casual fan.

Looking at the numbers, the ticket prices are certainly staggering. But tally the evidence and it’s clear people are more than willing to cough up for the chance to witness the glory that is playoff basketball: Despite boasting the highest prices at the highest premium in the league, the Raptors still have the third fewest amount of total tickets available on the online secondary market—a true testament to the skyrocketing interest among Raps fans.

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