A Charlotte Hornets fan buying an individual-game ticket to the season opener Oct. 29 might pay three times what he would for another game this season.
That’s based on a system called “dynamic pricing” that the Hornets and other sports teams use to sell their tickets. Prices can change by the hour relative to supply and demand.
Hornets president Fred Whitfield said the franchise has priced its tickets this way for four years. The public became more conscious of the strategy this fall because of the attention the team has gotten for its rebranding from the Bobcats to the Hornets’ nickname and colors.
Individual game tickets can vary in price based on opponent, day of the week or, in the case of the opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, the first regular season game in Hornets uniforms.
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A top-row seat at Time Warner Cable Arena could typically sell for as little as $16. But that same seat is on sale for about $70 for the season opener and about $82 for a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers featuring superstar LeBron James.
Whitfield said in an email to the Observer that the team uses an outside company to monitor ticket supply, which can change pricing on almost an hour-by-hour basis.
The arena’s 19,077 seats are divided into 21 price points based on location, Whitfield said, and the price attached to each point can change frequently.
The highest-priced tickets this year are opening night and the Cavaliers’ one appearance in Charlotte on Jan. 2. Other high-priced games include dates against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
Whitfield said opponent is the primary factor in pricing the individual-game tickets, but day of the week is also a factor. Over their first nine seasons as the Bobcats, the franchise saw a large variance between how they drew at home Sunday through Thursday, compared to Friday and Saturday nights.
Whitfield said this pricing strategy is “highly recommended and encouraged” by the NBA.
“It helps as much with low demand (home games) as it does with high demand,” Whitfield said. “Its intended effect is to maximize every game’s potential revenue opportunity based on supply and demand for that specific game right up to tip-off.”
The Hornets operate the publicly-funded arena in a lease agreement with the city. While the city is technically the team’s landlord, city officials have no say in the team’s ticketing policies.
Dynamic pricing for sports teams started in Major League Baseball and is also employed by some National Hockey League teams. It’s similar to what hotels and airlines have done for decades to manage inventory of rooms or airline seats.
Hotel room rates and airfares can vary widely in price based on when a customer makes a reservation or what is going on in the destination city. For instance, a hotel room in New Orleans is far more expensive when a major convention or the Sugar Bowl is going on there.
Asked whether this pricing policy puts an unfair burden on low-income fans, Whitfield said 31 of the team’s 41 home games have tickets priced around $16.
Whitfield said the most cost-effective way fans can attend home games is through season-ticket plans.
“Season ticket-holders get the absolute best pricing every year. Then our partial-plans season ticket-holders,” Whitfield said. “It is tiered to be more cost effective the more games you purchase. Purchasing single-game tickets will always be the most expensive as we reward our most loyal fans, season ticket-holders.”