As a Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, I have plenty of personal experience when it comes to overpaying for season ticket packages because of lofty playoff hopes. While nobody can guarantee how a team will perform once the games start, one thing is certain: if you wait until the team is contending to try and secure playoff tickets, you’ll definitely be gouged on price.
So while it can be an expensive practice to secure your place at the front of the playoff ticket queue, it’s better than the alternative. You might have to watch your team play poorly, but if they turn it around unexpectedly, you’ll avoid competing with fans rushing for the bandwagon. That’s why I bought a minimalist, season ticket package with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Twins last year.
The $539 I paid for a 10-game, flex season ticket package for the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 season was a relative steal compared to the $760 I paid for a 20-game, flex season ticket package with the Twins’ for the 2018 season. Neither is the cheapest season ticket package available that assures you playoff ticket priority, but sometimes the seats are the only thing that makes a Twins game worth watching, whereas the Timberwolves have an ample amount of visiting teams with players and even coaches worth watching, which is true across the association. Even if your team ends up playing poorly, selecting a package that allows you to maximize your enjoyment of the sport as a whole can often make up for a paltry product on the field.
My hypothesis is that the NBA offers fans of its worst teams the best value when it comes to their cheapest season ticket package because of the vast array of entertaining and exceptional teams, players, and coaches visiting. But let’s do the research and find out which bad team has the best season ticket package.
Ottawa Senators, 10 games, $600
The Senators were the second-worst NHL team in the 2017-18 season, and at $60 per seat per game, their cheapest season ticket package leaves a lot to be desired. This might simply be due to the Ottawa market, which is no doubt more interested in the sport of hockey than that of the worst team in the NHL last season, the Buffalo Sabres. While Ottawa doesn’t have an NFL team to compete with the Senators, neither does Buffalo, really.
Buffalo Sabres: 5 games, $183
This is a smoking hot deal to see five premium games you can customize. I chose late season games against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto, and Washington. Those are fantastic matchups featuring the best offensive players in hockey: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews (who should be healthy by March 20), and Stanley Cup Champion, Alexander Ovechkin.
The Sabres also offer the smallest percentage of games (12.2 percent) you can purchase to qualify for playoff ticket priority. Buffalo’s other awful pro sports team isn’t nearly as friendly to your pocketbook and won’t even sell you a season ticket package if you live outside of Western New York.
Buffalo Bills: 10 games (2 preseason), $400
In a live chat with Buffalo Bills season ticket representative Sarah Beth, I was told the cheapest season ticket package was $400 for this season, but they are no longer selling them. I could purchase single game tickets, but not a season ticket package for next season.
Cleveland Browns: 4 games, $200
As of Wednesday, October 31 at 5:30 p.m. EST, you could see MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes and the equally electrifying Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt along with the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs running Andy Reid’s schemes for $50. Then you could catch Julio Jones making Matt Ryan look better than he is for $50. Then Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey visit Cleveland. And the final game of your four-game, season ticket package ensuring playoff ticket priority is capped by another wide receiver making his quarterback look better than he is. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton come to town.
Even though most of the games won’t be close, you could argue that four of the most entertaining players in professional football right now (Mahomes, Newton, Jones, and Green) could all be seen for $200. The Cavaliers couldn’t do better than that simply because they’re a worse team than their crosstown, gridiron counterparts.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 1 game, $460 to $500
The Cavs aren’t selling season ticket packages anymore, and the sales rep couldn’t look back at prices from games already played. But if you want to know how much it would cost to see LeBron visit with his Lakers from the cheapest seats in Quicken Loans Arena, it’s $460 to $500.
Atlanta Hawks: 11 games, $448
For the 10 best games on the Hawks’ schedule, including the Golden State Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers, plus one more for free at a total under $450, Atlanta offers its fans immense value. For $91 less than I paid to see the same opposing teams visit the newly renovated Target Center, Hawks’ fans can secure their playoff ticket priority, but more importantly, member access to the soon-to-be-renovated State Farm Arena, featuring suites with golf simulators and a barbershop where you can get a shave and a haircut while watching the game.
Baltimore Orioles: 13 games, $228
The Orioles’ “Sunday” season ticket package featured a game against Boston, the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Angels, but also featured games against Texas, Tampa Bay (2), Miami, and Minnesota. Paying less than $18 per game is relatively affordable, but there’s value in allowing fans to pick the games they want to see. The Twins’ “Pick 10” flex package runs $220 and features just three premium games. Baltimore’s “Sunday” package features four premium games for $8 more.
Miami Marlins: 10 games, $130
The Marlins’ “Variety,” “Saturday,” and “Sunday” plans run at least $130, but I could only find a single seat in the cheapest section for the weekend plans. The variety plan, which most likely provides admission to the best games, was not available in any of the cheaper sections of Marlins Park. If we assume, however, that Miami’s “Sunday” package offers a similar percentage of premium games as Baltimore’s 13-game package and Minnesota’s 10-game, flex plan, then we can expect to see three premium games out of the 10. At $13 per seat per game, it doesn’t get any cheaper to secure playoff ticket priority in any league, but you have to watch the Marlins. At least they got rid of that hideous home run sculpture, though.
Ranking the Cheapest Season Ticket Packages for Sports’ Worst Teams
1) Buffalo Sabres: 5 of 5 premium games at $36.60 per game
The price per game might not be as low as baseball or basketball can offer, but the freedom to choose your own games ensuring every one of them is a premium matchup makes Buffalo a go-to town for hockey. My editor in Toronto, Dan Szczepanek, said trips to Buffalo are a Toronto tradition.
“It was always cheaper to drive two hours to Buffalo to watch the Leafs and Sabres, get a hotel, and spend a few days than it was to see the Leafs in Toronto.”
The fact that you can establish playoff ticket priority for a measly $183 makes me want to buy a Buffalo Sabres season ticket package, and both of my teams are in the Western Conference.
2) Atlanta Hawks: 11 of 11 premium games at $40.73 per game
Again, the percentage of premium games offered in the Hawks’ cheapest season ticket package make up for the higher price point per seat. Even if the Hawks operate the same way the Timberwolves do and make your free game the home opener, that was against Dallas and third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Luka Doncic, whom Atlanta traded for Trae Young at fifth overall and a future first-rounder. If you haven’t seen Doncic play, I assure you, he and DeAndre Jordan make for premium entertainment.
3) Cleveland Browns: 4 of 4 premium games at $50 per game
It’s not all bad in Cleveland. Even with LeBron leaving and both the Browns and Cavs firing their head coaches in a 24-hour time period, you can still get premium entertainment from the teams and players visiting FirstEnergy Stadium at an affordable price. Even while Buffalo was in town, it would have cost twice as much for the same seats at U.S. Bank Stadium.
4) Ottawa Senators: 10 of 10 premium games at $60 per game
Ottawa is the last of our worst teams to provide incredible value when it comes to choosing the quality of opposing teams in their season ticket package. At $60 per game, it’s a bit pricey per seat, but the assurance of seeing the best opposing players in the NHL makes $60 worth every penny.
5) Miami Marlins: 3 premium games out of 10 at $13 per game
While just 30 percent of your games are against playoff-caliber competition, you’re paying $13 to see a baseball game. You can’t get a beer and a hot dog at a ballgame for $13.
6) Baltimore Orioles: 4 premium games out of 13 at $17.54 per game
While the Orioles’ cheapest season ticket package has a marginally higher percentage of premium games than Miami’s, the $17.54 price point per seat is more than it ought to be given their .290 winning percentage last season. The beauty of Camden Yards can’t compensate for the colossal incompetence of baseball played by Orioles at Oriole Park.
7) Buffalo Bills: 2 premium games out of 10 at $40 per game
Since preseason games can’t be considered premium games and the Bills are so bad the best game on their schedule annually is a visit by Tom Brady and the Patriots, there’s really nothing to like about being a Bills season ticket holder. The Jaguars were the other “premium” game on the Bills’ schedule this season, and we’ve seen how far they’ve fallen.
Seems my hypothesis was wrong. The NHL, not the NBA, provides the best value to fans of its worst teams when it comes to their season ticket offerings. The NBA is a close second, however, and the Cleveland Browns coming in third was a pleasant surprise. Baseball and the Buffalo Bills, however, have a long way to go to make their cheapest season ticket packages more appealing to fans of the sports’ worst teams.