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Face off! Clippers season ticket holder vs. Clippers team exec on 710 ESPN Friday

April 17, 2009 | 11:47 am

(If you're a devotee of the red, white, and blue, you may already be familiar with what follows, but bear with me, because a little setup is necessary...)

A couple of weeks ago, Clippers President Andy Roeser let the gluttons for punishment otherwise known as L.A. Clippers season-ticket holders know that (huzzah!) they were in for quite a financial treat next season:

"To help make your renewal decision a little easier, we are pleased to announce that there will be no price increase in the lower level for the second consecutive year." 

Granted, the Lakers, a team with a fair bit of potential I hear, are holding prices steady, too.  So are the Jazz, and a host of other teams. Other squads, from bad ones with moderate potential to once-great-but-currently slumping, are actually lowering prices. But not the LAC. Not yet. However, once the '09-10 season begins there's a good chance the Clippers will offer deep discounts on tickets for which they're hoping STH's will pay a higher price in the weeks ahead, just as they did this year. 

That, among other things, has fanned the ire of one long time loyalist.  Rick Kaplan has, for reasons I cannot fathom, been a season-ticket holder for 25 years, sticking with the team through thin and thinner. In an open letter to other STH's along with execs Roeser and Carl Lahr, he vented:

I wonder how Mr. Sterling or anyone would feel if they pre-paid the full price for the purchase of a product or service only to find out that the next person in line (without any negotiation) was able to obtain that same product for 60% less?  Maybe the Clippers just do not get it!  Put another way, Mr. Sterling buys a new Bentley for $400,000 in September and Mr. Roeser buys a similar car in April for $160,000.  One could assume that he would be at a minimum, extremely agitated by the situation and seek recourse. Well, I paid about $25,000 for four seats this year and the Clippers have been selling those seats to anyone recently at more than half of what I paid, what is my recourse?

When I attempted to contact the Clippers regarding this inane policy (hard to get return calls from Mr. Lahr or Roeser) I was told by Mr. Lahr’s assistant that it was an unfortunate situation, but the lack of ticket demand forced the Clippers to react in this fashion.  Ah, the Clippers at least acknowledge that demand is soft and their pricing strategy reflects this lowered demand for which the marketplace has mandated the price reductions on seats to the “general public.”

There's more. A lot more. Really, you should click the link above.  Among the highlights, Kaplan later offers what he calls "the Rick plan" for season-ticket pricing, which includes a sliding scale of discounts for faithful STH's, based on length of loyalty. 

I see both sides to this. On one hand, I'd be awfully ticked to shell out a substantial investment for tickets at the start of the season, only to see the club sell the same seats a few months later at a huge discount. Some sort of recourse for fans seems reasonable. On the other ... we're talking about the Clippers, a predictably bad team with a history of doing anything (even featuring ads in the paper featuring stars of other teams) to sell tickets. There's a certain risk in buying season seats for any team. Fans get a discount on what single game buyers would pay, at least at the start of the year, but there's no guarantee the purchase will pay off in a winning season.

Especially with the Clippers.

Frankly, I don't know how a person could renew for 25 years with that team.  (Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me 25 times...)

What probably set Kaplan off -- other than another horrible season- was the tone of Roeser's letter, which glossed over the disastrous nature of the season (the last couple, really), and instead seemed to give the impression that the organization was really going out on a limb to do STH's a favor. After all, next year's squad has returning veterans, plus "the advantage of one of the top lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, who should give us a boost next season as well." 

If all the Clippers needed was a lottery pick, the 14 they've had over the last 16 seasons should have done the trick. 

It's a fun philosophical debate for sure, one that will be taken to the airwaves today as Kaplan and Clippers Senior VP Carl Lahr will appear together on 710 ESPN's Mason and Ireland Show at 1 p.m. Friday.  I'm not trying to shill here (full disclosure, I'm a frequent guest on the show and host a Lakers podcast for the station), but the opportunity to hear an angry-but-loyal season ticket holder engage a suit from the team he supports? 

That's good stuff, the sort of thing you don't hear every day. 

Whether you listen or not, it gets to all sorts of larger issues about how teams deal with their fans in a new economy. I mentioned the Lakers holding the line on fan costs next season. At the holidays, the Kings put all remaining January seats up for sale at $11.50. The Angels have always had very reasonable prices.  The Dodgers, not known as a killer bargain, are trying to show they care.

Teams still want whatever discretionary entertainment dollars fans still have, but fans don't always have a chance to hear the logic about how teams will try to get them.

UPDATE: During the interview, Lahr noted that season ticket prices in other parts of the arena will be lowered for '09-'10, but not in the lower bowl where Kaplan's seats are located.

--Brian Kamenetzky

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