Can Basketball Fans Score Bargains During the NBA Lockout?

After the strife-torn NBA cancelled the first two weeks of the basketball season, DailyFinance wondered: Would this mean any financial relief for fans? We hoped that somewhere in the war between the millionaires who play and the billionaires who pay, there might be some net gains for the ordinary people who spend money on NBA tickets, LeBron James jerseys and Kobe Bryant bobbleheads.

Naturally, merchandise came to mind. Basketball drives $2.8 billion in sneaker sales and $1.1 billion in apparel sales annually, according to a market study by the NPD Group. Certainly a league in the midst of angering fans with a lockout would court customer goodwill through markdowns, wouldn't it? But our research indicates that the ghost of Wilt Chamberlain has a better chance of showing up than discounts on NBA gear. We scoured websites and sporting goods stores in Manhattan, only to find business as usual.

NBA jerseys were selling for an average of $80, and one Adidas outlet in Manhattan was selling them for $90. Team hats at a Lids, where inventory was scant, were going for as high as $35. "I don't think lowering prices is an option because I don't think it'll do anything," says Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, a public relations firm. "It will be seen as a cheap stunt."

But Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD, forecasts that a prolonged delay or the cancellation of the season would translate into price breaks eventually. "With no games on television, basketball will be out of the collective consciousness of the average fan," explains Maury Brown of the BizofBasketball.com.

DailyFinance reached out to NBA marketing executives through a few channels Tuesday, and did not hear back. A visit Tuesday to the league's temporary flagship store on Fifth Avenue didn't produce answers either. It wasn't open yet. Beyond the storefront was a skeletal space with construction workers milling about. One of the hardhats said the store should be open in a week. Two NBA reps there directed DailyFinance to the executives we already had emailed.

Voting With Your Feet


The sneaker front didn't generate promising price-cut results either. Launches for the $160 Nike Air Jordan 14s and $110 Adidas adiZero Rose 2 hightops, worn by NBA MVP Derrick Rose, happened before the NBA had to ax a portion of its season. Both models avoided the bad publicity that could deflate initial sales. Certain shoe brands attract a devoted following under any circumstances, with shoppers waiting overnight to be the first to purchase them, said Jeff Lenchiner, editor of InsideHoops.com. "If you put out a product and it's selling out, it's not a crazy price."

Lawrence Norman, vice president of global basketball for Adidas, said the brand was confident that it would maintain sales momentum, in part through college and international basketball.

In the meantime, NBA fans can enjoy at least one huge savings -- on what they would have spent at the games. The Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index put an average night at an NBA arena for a family of four at around $500 for larger-market teams such as the Knicks and Lakers. The Lakers, whose average "nonpremium" tickets cost $95, were offering season ticket holders 5% interest on their full-season deposits as long as they allowed the team to keep the money through the play stoppage. The team would then apply the 5% profit to future games that are actually played -- this season or next.

Gary Romanik, a Lakers season ticket holder, opted instead to receive a refund plus 1% interest for every block of games canceled. He believes the season will not be salvaged. Asked if there was any way he could look on the bright side, the diehard NBA fan replied, "The only possible hope for me would be that instead of seeing my 10% annual increase in ticket prices, next year, they wouldn't have the gall to do it."

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