It’s time once again for Kings fans to renew their season tickets. But this year, the timing is more than a little awkward.
The renewal period is starting for the 2015-16 season just as many Kings fans remain angry about last month’s controversial firing of coach Michael Malone and the team’s subsequent struggles on the court. What’s more, about half the season-ticket holders are facing price increases for next year.
“I’m very much wrestling with this,” said Placerville resident Mark Sloan, whose center-court seats in the lower bowl at Sleep Train Arena are due to go up $10 per seat per game next year, to $129. “I think I’m one of a majority of people appalled by the firing of Malone.” He said he considers himself unlikely to renew.
The Kings, however, say they’ve gotten mostly positive responses since informing fans last week about next year’s prices. Scores of fans have renewed already, said Kings President Chris Granger, adding that part of the enthusiasm is the allure of the new arena due to open at Downtown Plaza in October 2016.
“Response has been strong,” he said last week. “People are excited about the core of this basketball team, people are excited about what we have planned downtown. And, like us, people are in this for the long haul.”
Season tickets are the lifeblood of most sports franchises. The Kings are offering a variety of perks for early renewals and are reaching out individually to many of those ticket holders who’ve voiced their discontent on the Internet.
But the Kings can’t do much about the difficult timing. The Kings started the renewal process two weeks earlier than last year, saying they had little choice. Besides selling tickets for next season, the Kings are about to start working with season-ticket holders who want to lock up their seats at the new arena – a process that will take several months. In effect, there’s twice as much work as usual.
“We have to start early,” Granger said.
Granger said half of the season-ticket holders won’t see any price increase at all. For the rest, most of the increases are in the range of $1 to $10 per seat per game. Those who don’t renew before Feb. 20 can expect additional price hikes and won’t be guaranteed the same seats they currently hold.
While this marks the second consecutive year of increases for season-ticket holders, the Kings had previously gone seven straight years during which prices held steady or dropped. “Our prices are still lower than they were in the 2005-06 season,” Granger said.
Only three NBA teams have cheaper tickets than the Kings this year. On average, a Kings game costs a family of four $377.74, including refreshments and parking, according to the financial website Nerdwallet.com. At the other extreme, an evening with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers costs $1,504.89.
“We do understand the importance of value,” Granger said. “We are not going to price unfairly or price in a way that does not resonate with the market.”
The importance of season-ticket sales can’t be overstated. A pair of season tickets can easily generate $10,000 or more, depending on where the seats are. The Kings don’t divulge numbers but have said season-ticket sales jumped sharply last season, after investors led by Vivek Ranadive bought the team and prevented its planned relocation to Seattle.
Overall attendance at Sleep Train soared an NBA-best 18 percent last year. This year, even though the Kings have stumbled after their promising start, attendance is up three-tenths of 1 percent, to an average 16,342 per game.
Eric and Kerri Krouse renewed their tickets before last Friday’s game against Miami, during a “renewal event” for dozens of ticket holders in a private upstairs lounge at the arena.
Eric Krouse said their price increase came to about 2 percent, and they didn’t hesitate to sign up. “I’m excited about the near-term future of the Kings,” he said.
The Kings are keenly aware that some fans don’t share Krouse’s optimism. In an email to season-ticket holders, Granger referred to “disagreements over the direction of the franchise” and said he understands the fans’ angst.
“Such times aren’t fun and such times can be maddening,” he wrote. “We get it.”
The team’s sales effort goes beyond emotional hand-holding. With next season the last at Sleep Train, the Kings are offering season-ticket holders their actual seats as take-home souvenirs after the building closes down. The team is also holding drawings for renewals; the top prize is a trip to this year’s NBA draft.
Margie and Russell Yoshikawa would like to see more victories. Settling into their lower-bowl seats Friday, the 20-year season-ticket holders said the team’s slump has them thinking twice about renewing.
“You can tell the team is not that happy, you can tell that the fans – everything is negative,” Margie Yoshikawa said.
Granger and the Kings’ sales team are using social media to respond to fans’ discontent. When Sloan complained on Twitter about the higher prices, Granger called him 10 minutes later.
“I was very impressed,” Sloan said. “I’d love to say ‘yes’ to them but haven’t yet.” Sloan said the price increase itself doesn’t bother him, but he’s troubled by the team’s direction and isn’t convinced that he’ll secure comparable seats at the new arena. It doesn’t help that two of his three partners in the season-ticket package have decided to drop out.
Kim Lithgow got her own phone call from the Kings after voicing her displeasure with the price increase. It came from Phil Horn, the team’s vice president for ticket sales and service, and it did the trick.
Lithgow agreed to renew even though her center-court, lower-bowl tickets will increase $23 next year, to $162 per game per seat.
“It was a hard decision, but I do love the Kings,” she said. “I keep believing that we’re going to get there.”
For some fans, the promised land is the new arena. Jenman Fong, facing a price hike of $10 per seat per game, is unhappy with the Kings’ recent turmoil but plans to renew anyway.
“The new arena’s coming,” he said. “I want to get priority for that.” Fong said he might switch to less-expensive seats, however.
Another factor is keeping many fans onboard: Ownership still enjoys a considerable amount of goodwill for thwarting the proposed relocation to Seattle.
“The alternative is no team,” Eric Krouse said. “We were so close to having no team at all.”
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.