When the Warriors’ new arena in San Francisco opens for the 2019-2020 season, it will be the first building in the NBA where fans will have to buy personal seat licenses just for the right to purchase season tickets.
The precise details of the plan haven’t been unveiled, but ESPN reports that 12,000 seats of the 18,000-seat arena will be reserved for season tickets, and that all of them will require PSLs. ESPN reports that half of those PSLs will cost more than $15,000, while an earlier report from SportsBusiness Journal said that the pricing would be similar to that of the 49ers, who sell PSLs ranging from $2,000 to $80,000.
PSLs exist in every NFL stadium, but are relatively rare in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks considered them for their new arena, but decided it wasn’t a workable business model. Bucks president Peter Feigin said the Warriors—one of the greatest teams ever assembled, and playing in one of the richest markets—are the only team that could get away with it.
“That’s a surreal world, when you look at how flush they are in Silicon Valley,” Feigin said. “You look at the demand in the immense corporate base, and the amount of high-net-worth individuals. The market is such an anomaly, these guys were doing a $6 million, $7 million gate for playoff games[.]”
Let’s be entirely clear on what PSLs are: Fans must pay for the right to pay for tickets. It’s pretty odious. But a couple mitigating factors in this case make it not so bad. For one, the Warriors’ new arena is privately financed. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t public subsidies involved, though. Infrastructure and transportation upgrades will cost more than $50 million.) The sale of PSLs provides a lot of up-front cash to cover the $1 billion cost of the arena—if we use the median cost, it’d amount to $180 million—and getting that money from willing ticket-buyers is infinitely preferable to just using taxpayer money.
For another, the Warriors will pay fans back the cost of their PSLs after 30 years, making this functionally a zero-interest loan. (On the other hand, the Warriors will not allow fans to sell their PSLs to other fans for more than they paid. You’re not going to turn a profit on this, as you might be able to with other teams’ PSLs.)
PSLs are a great racket—a source for hundreds of millions of dollars conjured up out of thin air. They’re de rigueur in the NFL, which is at or maybe slightly past peak profitability, because when things are good, owners are going to squeeze every bit of money they can out of their customers. With the NBA ascendant, you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of this.