You come into some things in your life thinking they’re one thing, and they aren’t at all the thing you thought they would be. Professionally, it’s called being a “college graduate”. In the sports world, at least in my experience, it’s called being a season ticket holder.
Firstly I’d like to mention that I am not at all rich. Many people think of season ticket holders as the ones they see on the NBA broadcast – the ones catching loose balls, fist bumping players, brushing up on an inbounder with a tall cup of beer. Well, cheap seats have season ticket holders parked in them too. But, it’s difficult to discuss season tickets without bringing up the elephant in the room: Money. Well, if you’re lucky, as I am, you may not need a whole lot of it. Some favorable factors you may need in becoming a season ticket holder:
1. Expendable income: Me and my fiance both have decent jobs and no kids – so I might have a little more spending money than the average person despite the fact that I might make less.
2. Sacrifice: When I first got these tickets I was starting a new career, with its new entry level pay, which was not very much at all – but I had a willingness to sacrifice many other things in order to get this experience. It was that important to me. There are many other things that go into this that I might cover at another time, so I’ll just say this for now: I needed this.
3. Live near an NBA team that’s considered a “small market” or “bottoming out”, or just unpopular: For many seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers could be considered under any one, if not all three of these conditions. There is a misconception throughout the world that Philadelphia is a basketball town – It is not, though it’s complicated. On any given year, out of the 4 major American sports, the 76ers are last on the radar in the Philadelphia area. This season they rank 29th in the NBA in attendance. The other 3 Philly teams are very popular, but they are also, arguably, by comparison, perennially “good” teams – However, during the good Iverson years, Philadelphia was always top 5 in attendance. This is what some economists refer to as an “elastic market”. It has proven ‘big market’ potential, which can lead to sell-outs and high ticket prices – it’s just not there now, which is why someone like me can afford season tickets.
I became a season ticket holder in 2011, swept away by the overachieving young “Show Ya Luv” Sixers that won one improbable playoff game against the Heat on Easter Sunday behind some late game heroics of Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams. I had 2 seats in the 2nd level, 2nd row aisle. I was told that there were plenty of season seats sold around me, and I thought that it might be cool to be a part of a social community of Sixers fans that I could talk with – who understood me, and who I understood. Having that expectation was my first mistake.
Though many seats around me were sold as season seats, they were often filled by different people every game. I soon learned that these seats were owned by ticket brokers, and there were very few people seated that I actually saw on more than one occasion. Many people that filled the seats were there for their first and last time of the season, or of their lives, getting all types of misinformation from the friend who came who claimed to know something about the NBA. If I were to offer any information regarding something relating to the game, I was often met with a general disregard like “why would anyone even bother to know that information?”. The louder and drunker the group was, the less it was likely that they would be there by the second half, as their NBA experience only included one half of basketball; the other half would be spent at one of the arena bars, which was always fine by me. So, it goes without saying, I never did develop any long lasting NBA friendships in that section.
Now since these seats are easy to come by, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one would be surrounded by Sixers fans. Let me first say that the older I get, the more I feel like my NBA fanaticism transcends my fanaticism for the Sixers. I love the Sixers – but I’m not interested in the acrimonious subplots that come with idiotic tribalism. I just want to enjoy and appreciate watching the game in peace. Well, there are those fans of other teams, especially of bigger market teams, that come into the arena and act like they’ve never been outside in a social setting before. They shout and yell and make fun of the home team, the home crowd, and the home city…and it bothers me. They have every right to do it, but I just don’t like being around it. I wish for the days in which I can sit in the cocoon of press row and just watch the game in peace, but that’s another post for another time.
There are certain perks other than having a seat to every home game of the season. Most of them don’t interest me except the ones involving the players. I enjoy those because I like talking with the players. The first such event I went to was at the Please Touch Museum in Philly. My fiance and I took pictures and met with every player on the Sixers roster post trade deadline in 2012, and it was a very cool experience. Every player (except one who I will not name) was nice and kind and thanked us for being there. They seemed to genuinely enjoy meeting the fans, and having that opportunity every season is a great reason to become a season ticket holder.
I found it hard after last season to renew both seats. Many times my second seat would be empty – my fiance had lost interest in going, and I couldn’t blame her; as a casual fan who wanted to see the train wreck of the Andrew Bynum/Doug Collins Flameout Year? So I changed my two seats in the upper level to one seat in the lower level. I didn’t really think about how this would affect my social experience of going to games, I just thought “Hey, I get to sit in the lower level for the same price and don’t have to worry about trying to beg someone to come.” I also thought “Hey, maybe those folks in the lower levels are the big NBA fans I was hoping to connect with up here.”
I follow the NBA religiously. I listen to many podcasts (contribute to one), read many NBA writers, comb through r/NBA, and participate in multiple fantasy leagues. I never pretend to be an expert on anything, but have enough respect for the game and the league to know a thing or two about a thing or two. One thing you may hear a color commentator say about a certain city is that they have “knowledgable fans”…”Fans that know the game”… And in Philly’s case, that is very true – in terms of the ACTUAL game happening ON THE COURT in front of them. There has been a professional basketball team in Philly since the first days of the NBA – they know the rules, they know the fouls, and they know the ref signals. But in terms of who the players are, and what their capabilities are? In terms of who the coaches are, and what their strategies are? Well, what I’ve discovered after 3 years of going to games is that most people that go to the games don’t have a clue. Since I’ve been going to these games alone, I have nothing to listen to except the commentary from the people around me: Pet peeve number one that I’ve heard time and time again is that our “big man needs to bang down low! You’re 7 feet tall! What the hell are you doing?” when our big man was Spencer Hawes. Or yelling at Thad Young for not getting a rebound when he’s playing center. Or hearing “Who?!” after a Sixers player name was announced. These comments, or comments like these, happen over, and over, and over, and over throughout the course of a game, and a season. It gets old guys. There are those of us that are actually there every game. It gets old fast.
Maybe one day this blog will be ‘noticed’ and someone in power will rescue me from section 106 and put me in Press Row. Until then, I still think that basketball is the best sport in the world, and the NBA, though imperfect, is the best professional sports league in the world. This is just my opinion of course, but though I complain about some details of being a season ticket holder, I’m grateful for the opportunity to watch, in person, those who I believe to be the greatest athletes in the world. The realities of the season ticket holder experience have been eye opening, but are hopefully leading me on a path to a better understanding and appreciation of the team and the league at large.
It’s not lost on me that any of my complaints would be considered “first world problems”. My family came from humble beginnings, but the beauty of America comes from the liberty and freedom to complain about stuff that you paid for – that’s what makes this country great. Long live the Sixers. Long live the NBA.