If you're an NBA fan who's seen games in person at multiple arenas around the country, you know how widely ticket prices vary by city and team. In New York, you'll pay a whopping $129, on average, for a seat to see the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. By contrast, a ticket to see the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center will set you back by an average of just $30.
Yet incomes, too, vary a lot across NBA markets. In a quest to quantify how affordable NBA games are, we priced the average cost of tickets for a small family — along with the cost of parking, food and beverages — for every team, and compared that to the average household income in the metropolitan center each calls home.
The results, expressed as the average number of work hours to pay for a game, reveal that big-city residents generally work the hardest for their night out. Those fans typically have higher incomes than those in smaller centers, but the stratospheric ticket prices they often pay generally eat up a bigger chunk of their paycheck.
There are exceptions to that pattern, though. For example, on average, fans in Toronto, Philadelphia and Atlanta toil for less time than Oklahomans and Oregonians for their night at the game. And residents of the Washington, D.C., area have the most affordable NBA experience of all, thanks to fairly hefty incomes and a modest average ticket price of $51.
In some metro areas or regions, fans can have two, even three, teams within driving distance. As the comparisons below show, fan costs between regional rivals can vary widely.
The average Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area resident would have to work nine hours and eight minutes to cover the cost of watching a Lakers game in person. The same ticket-buyer, according to our data churning, would only need to work seven hours and four minutes to take in a Clippers game — despite the fact that the Clips play in the very same stadium (the Staples Center) and have a significantly better record than their in-house rival. In fact, from the beginning of the 2015-2016 season through Feb. 9 of the 2016-2017 season, the Clippers (.629) have a much better winning percentage than the Lake Show (.327).
The Golden State Warriors, winners of the 2014-2015 league title and the runner-up last season, are the darling of the Bay Area, counting most of their fans in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro area. The franchise plans to raise prices by 15% to 25% in the coming seasons that will throw its rivalry with the Kings out of whack. Those living in the Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade metro area might be even more likely to stick with their team once that takes effect.
The one state with three NBA teams, Texas' three franchises are all at least a three-hour drive from one another. Fans in these metro areas — San Antonio-New Braunfels, Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington — likely won't be willing to spend their potential savings on gas money (and suffer the consequences of jumping off a bandwagon). All three squads made the playoffs at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 regular season, but the Mavs have fallen on hard times since.
The Miami Heat registered the league's sixth-highest average ticket price ($76.73) for the 2015-2016 season — the second full season after the departure of superstar LeBron James — while its followers living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area recorded the third-lowest income ($48,745) among NBA cities. The average close-by Floridian would have to therefore work eight hours and 27 minutes to get inside American Airlines Arena (and still not get to watch Dwyane Wade, who joined the Chicago Bulls last off-season). That's four hours more than Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area fans would have to work to watch their Magic squad play.
New York City
A 30-minute subway ride is all that separates these franchises, although the Brooklyn-Manhattan borough rivalry isn't much fun to watch. Both teams are on pace to miss out on the postseason for a second straight campaign. And if winning isn't the reason why the Knicks' ticket prices were 96% higher than the Nets', then perhaps it's history. Fans from the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area may be willing to pay for the prestige of sitting near Spike Lee and other familiar faces inside Madison Square Garden.
We started by multiplying the average ticket price for each of the NBA's 30 arenas (via Team Marketing Report by three. That figure represented a rounding up of the average size of an American household, which is 2.58 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
We added representative expenditures for parking at the venue and for food (three hot dogs) and beverages (two beers and one soda). We then obtained the metro area's median household income and calculated what it translates into as an hourly wage, by dividing the annual income by 2080, reflecting 52 full (40-hour) weeks of work. Finally, we divided the total cost of a game by that hourly figure. This gave us the number of hours that the average household in the city would have to work in order to pay for a night out at their NBA arena.
For Toronto, the sole Canadian city with an NBA franchise, we had price data in U.S. dollars, so as to be comparable to price data for other cities. So when it came to calculating the required hours of work, we converted the average-income data, which Statistics Canada expresses in Canadian dollars, to U.S. dollars so both costs and income would be in the same currency.