Only in the D-League
I thought I’d use this lull in the D-League’s game schedule to delve into a rather interesting component of my particular situation: specifically, the unique business model of the Bakersfield Jam.
For those of you who don’t know, the Jam briefly shut down operations at the end of last season, only to reopen with a fresh take on the D-League model. The token phrase has become luxury basketball experience; what that means is several things:
First, and perhaps most importantly, the Jam franchise built its own stadium in the offseason. How, you might ask? Well, it’s a very small stadium – 420-person capacity, to be exact.
Not only does this mean a much more intimate setting, it also means that every seat in the house provides its occupying fan with a fantastic view of the game. There is a single ring of courtside seats, four open suites on each long side of the court, four luxury boxes lofted behind one basket and a bar area (also raised about 30 feet above floor level) behind the other. Suffice it to say nobody will be using binoculars inside the Jam Events Center.
Left at that, it would likely be difficult for one to imagine how the Jam would make any money. This is where the luxury element comes into play.
The Jam sells a big percentage of the 420 seats exclusively as season ticket packages, and these packages come with far more than paid attendance to 24 basketball games (one of the team’s “home” games was played at the D-League Showcase in Boise). A wide variety of packages come with perks ranging from deals at local restaurants or businesses to LA Clippers tickets.
The packages are marketed primarily to businesses – the idea being that a local Bakersfield business might see a luxury loft or courtside suite as a great holding, whether to use for entertaining clients, rewarding its own employees or some other purpose that I’m not clever enough to think of (certainly there must be several).
It is also billed as a business-to-business networking opportunity, and many of the packages include a pre-game dinner in the bar area where season ticket “partners,” as we are calling them, can meet and mingle. To further this end, the team will also hold a number of networking events – one this very day, as a matter of fact, called the “State of the Jam Luncheon” (I’ll let you know how it goes) – intended to help the affiliated businesses make useful connections.
Depending on their particular packages, some businesses also get their logos or advertisements in the gameday program, on the NBA Futurecast for home games, read over the PA, etc. I think you get the point.
So the natural next question is, simply, “Does this work???” To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. By which I mean that it is neither my job nor within my interest to check the books and run the numbers.
What I can tell you is that things appear to be working out fairly well for the team, as the suites, lofts, and majority of courtside seats are filled at each game and we continue to play games and pay employees. Furthermore, I have seen basketball played from virtually every angle in the building and can personally guarantee that the goal of having no bad seats was achieved with flying colors.
Philosophically speaking the business model fascinates me, and not only because it is something that I have never heard of or considered before.
At first, that was enough: I saw it as a stroke of genius, and one that could be revolutionary to the live sporting experience. Sure, one way to make money is to sell a lot of tickets at reasonable (though less and less so) prices. But isn’t it just as viable to sell far fewer – but far better – tickets at a significantly greater price, especially if you package it with various amenities?
On second thought, however, I realized no revolution was imminent. For one thing, the model is really only workable in basketball as far as the three major sports go. Baseball and football are simply too big; there is no elegant way to design a 500-seat arena for either sport.
Beyond that, it really only applies to minor league basketball. For the NBA’s purposes, there would be nothing to gain. NBA teams already charge exorbitant prices for courtside seats and luxury boxes, and they don’t have to offer any amenities (besides perhaps some service staff) to do so.
Major league franchises also rely far too much on the common fan (i.e. the one who just buys seats in the nosebleeds for one or two games each year) to drive sales of everything from jerseys to TV ads. I’m sure the threat of alienating the general public would keep an NBA team from ever considering a luxury-only model.
All these things said, it does work rather perfectly for a team like the Bakersfield Jam. If you are a D-League franchise paying exorbitant rental fees for a local arena that you never fill (not to mention springing for the established staff to handle concessions and all the other things that make an arena function) wouldn’t you much rather just have your own place that you can operate primarily with staffers who are already in your employ? Of course!
Put another way, if you do everything you can to fill a stadium with your fans but are unable to do so, why not build a stadium that your fans fill?
It will probably be at least a year or two before anyone really knows how successful this experiment is. But now that it’s been done, I would imagine the general idea will be repeated somewhere in the world of minor league basketball, whether it works here or not.
It just fits minor league basketball too well to be ignored.