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The most expensive tickets in the four major pro sports leagues

Jim Bourg / Reuters

Given their success, it is no surprise the average price of a New England Patriots ticket on the secondary market is the highest in sports, at just short of $242.

The cost of tickets to watch professional sports varies considerably. In some cities, the amount can be the same as the price of dinner and a movie. For some teams, however, tickets can cost so much that most families struggle to attend a single game. The average ticket price to a Utah Jazz game is $72, while the average price for a New England Patriots game is more than three times that amount.

On top of tickets sold directly through the teams, there is a secondary market of tickets sold through other sources. There are more than 60 such secondary markets through which sports tickets are sold every year, including Stubhub, eBay and TicketNetwork.com. To identify the five teams in each major sport with the highest ticket prices, 24/7 Wall St. examined a two-year average of secondary-market ticket prices for each team compiled by SeatGeek, a search engine for event tickets.

It stands to reason that popular teams with strong fan bases can charge their fans more. But are secondary-market tickets even more reflective of demand? After examining the data and speaking with an expert on the subject, 24/7 Wall St. found that is indeed the case.

“What we’ve seen is that ticket prices on secondary market are a great proxy of fan interest and fan sentiment,” said SeatGeek’s director of communications, Will Flaherty. “When Jeremy Lin played for the Knicks, we saw over 200 percent ticket price increases on the secondary market.” Of course, regular season tickets could not have increased at this rate. The secondary-market tickets were more reflective of fan demand.

While teams do offer tickets through their own box offices, Flaherty said these often can be more expensive than going through a middleman, “If you want a very good seat … oftentimes those tickets are not available at the box office, and if they are, they’re prohibitively expensive,” Flaherty said. “And so in many cases you can not only get access to those types of tickets (through secondary sources), but you can actually get them for lower prices.” Because some ticket holders are trying to resell premium seats, he explained, seats often cost less than what the team is selling them for. “For example, your average outfield bleacher ticket for a midweek Yankees home game will cost around $20 from Yankees.com after taxes and fees, while secondary-market sites have tickets in the identical section starting at $10.”

Several key factors influence high ticket prices in professional sports. These include the long-term popularity of the team, the historical size of its fan base, the availability of seating, the number of games played each year and the short-term success a franchise is experiencing.

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Most of the teams on our list have one of the following two factors going for them. In many cases, the franchise has been extremely successful in recent years, regularly making it to the playoffs, winning championships, drawing star talent and driving up the fan base. This is the case for teams like the Miami Heat. Some teams also rely on their history and large market to bring in fans. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, have performed woefully for years, but they remain a massively popular and profitable team, thanks to their fan base. Many teams fulfill both of these criteria, including the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed average home game attendance for each of these teams; the attendance records show how popular these tickets are. Sixteen of the 20 teams on our list had average ticket sales exceeding 95 percent capacity or beyond in the most recently completed season. This popularity has resulted in highly profitable teams. Of the 16 teams that averaged 95 percent attendance or greater in the most recent season, 10 had among the top five operating incomes for their sport.

SeatGeek compiled a list of average secondary-market ticket prices over a two-year period, which is the longest period available for all four sports, including Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. To measure the success and popularity of these teams, 24/7 Wall St. examined attendance and win-loss records for each team for the past decade. In the case of the NFL, we considered attendance data from 2008 to the present. We also looked at the financial well-being of these franchises based on data published by Forbes, which include team revenue, operating income and estimated value.

These are the most expensive tickets in sports.

The most expensive tickets in the National Hockey League

5. Vancouver Canucks
Average ticket price: $158.09
Win-loss past 10 years: 921 (third highest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 18,884

The Vancouver Canucks have been the most dominant Canadian hockey team in recent years. Due in part to their success, demand for tickets is high, with secondary sales yielding a shade over $158 on average. Over the past 10 seasons, the team recorded the third-most points in the NHL, behind only the Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks. During the 2010-2011 season, the team made it to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Boston Bruins. At the end of the 2011-2012 season, the team put together a strong performance during the final stretch to earn the Presidents’ Trophy — awarded to the team with the best record during the regular season — for the second year in a row. In 2011, Forbes estimated the Canucks to be worth $300 million, the seventh most valuable team in the NHL. The team also brought in an estimated $23.5 million in operating income, more than all but the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Canadiens.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Average ticket price: $160.28
Win-loss past 10 years: 802 (13th lowest)
Championships past 10 years: one
Average home attendance: 18,566

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the only American team in hockey to make the list. The team is currently led by star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, whose performances have led the team to six consecutive playoff appearances. The Penguins also won the Stanley Cup during the 2008-2009 season. The following year, the team moved out of the Civic Arena, or The Igloo, and into the CONSOL Energy Center, and started playing there in July 2010. The new building sold out every game during its inaugural season with the team.

3. Montreal Canadiens
Average ticket price: $186.67
Win-loss past 10 years: 812 (15th highest)
Championships last 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 21,273

The Canadiens have been a professional hockey team since 1909, predating the NHL, and were one of the league’s original six teams. Needless to say, the team has maintained a strong fan base through bad times and good. Those times are usually good, however — the Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cup championships. This year, however, was the worst the team had seen in a very long time. The “Habs” recorded the third-worst record in the NHL and fired their coach, assistant coach and general manager. Recent troubles have not dragged down ticket prices too much; the average second-market ticket was more than $186 per person. According to Forbes, the Canadiens franchise earned $47.4 million in 2011, more than all but one team.

2. Winnipeg Jets
Average ticket price: $197.26
Win-loss past 10 years: N/A
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 15,004

The 2010-2011 season for the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers would prove to be the last in the United States for the hapless franchise. The Thrashers had been struggling both on the ice and financially. They had not won a single postseason game in their 11-season history, and they had posted a net operating loss every year since the 2004-2005 lockout. The franchise was purchased and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, giving the city a new Jets franchise, which it had been lacking for 16 years since the old Jets had moved to Phoenix. Fan fervor in the 15,000-capacity MTS Centre was exceptional during the Jets' first year back, and the stadium averaged sellout crowds in the 41 games played there. While the Jets failed to make the playoffs in their first year, they kept fans on their toes, remaining in the running until the final few games of the season.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Average ticket price: $199.62
Win-loss past 10 years: 785 (11th lowest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 19,506

The Toronto Maple Leafs have not made the playoffs since before the NHL lockout, which occurred during what would have been the 2004-2005 season. But that has not prevented the team from being the most valuable and profitable in the NHL. The Leafs had $81.8 million in operating income in 2011, $34.1 million more than the second-most profitable team. The Leafs regularly sold more than capacity in the Air Canada Centre during the 2011-2012 season. However, a large new arena designed to seat 20,000 occupants could possibly threaten the team’s profitability. According to the Toronto Star, the new arena is being built approximately 25 miles from the Leafs’ Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto.

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The most expensive tickets in Major League Baseball

5. New York Mets
Average ticket price: $63.56
Win-loss past 10 years: 49.1 percent (14th lowest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 30,108

Though New York Mets secondary-market tickets are among the most expensive in baseball, the team simply has not had the same on-the-field success as many of the other teams on this list. It costs fans buying resales an average of just over $63 per ticket to attend a game at Citi Field, the fifth most in MLB. Though demand is still high, the team’s play has been subpar in recent years. The Mets won only 795 games between 2002 and 2011 — among the bottom half of all MLB teams. Only once during that period did the Mets make the playoffs — in 2006. The Mets have had their off-field woes too. Several Mets owners — including Fred Wilpon and brother-in-law Saul Katz — were sued in connection with their dealings with famous Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and settled in early 2012 for $162 million.

4. Chicago Cubs
Average ticket price: $65.24
Win-loss past 10 years: 49.4 percent (15th highest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 37,258

The Chicago Cubs are the fourth most valuable team in baseball, with an estimated value of $879 million. Despite not winning a single World Series Championship in the past 103 years, the team retains a loyal fan base. An average of 37,258 fans came to Wrigley Field each game in 2011, and secondary-market buyers paid more than $65 a ticket, more than all but three of the 30 major league fan bases. Even more impressive is the fact that the Cubs draw such a huge crowd while being the only major league team to play the majority of their home games during the day, when many fans are at work.

3. New York Yankees
Average ticket price: $70.81
Win-loss past 10 years: 60.2 percent (highest)
Championships past 10 years: one
Average home attendance: 45,107

In 2009, the Yankees moved out of the “House That Ruth Built” and into a new ballpark. The team’s new digs hold 6,599 fewer fans than the old park, and the average face-value ticket price rose significantly after the move. Even with a smaller park and more expensive seats, the Yanks still managed to increase their attendance by 4.2 percent between 2002 and 2011. The team averaged 45,107 fans in 2011, and those buying on the secondary market paid an average $70.81 to attend games at Yankee Stadium. These figures could be a product of the team’s loyal fan base, or just its continued success. The Bronx Bombers boasted a league-leading 975 wins between 2002 and 2011 and won the World Series in 2009, their first year in the new ballpark. The Yankees are now valued by Forbes at $1.85 billion, tied with the Cowboys for the highest among all sports franchises.

2. Toronto Blue Jays
Average ticket price: $71.89
Win-loss past 10 years: 49.9 percent (13th highest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 22,445

The Toronto Blue Jays are a curious addition to this list. The only MLB team to play outside of the U.S., the Jays' lofty secondary prices do not seem to be consistent with their play on the field, or the demand for Rogers Centre tickets. At an average cost of $71.89, Toronto has the second most expensive resale ticket in baseball, this despite their averaging of 22,445 fans per game, the sixth lowest in the MLB. Further confusing matters is their 808-811 record over the past decade and their $413 million valuation, sixth worst in MLB. The Blue Jays do however, have the ninth highest operating income in baseball.

1. Boston Red Sox
Average ticket price:$88.26
Win-loss past 10 years: 57.5 percent (second highest)
Championships past 10 years: two
Average home attendance: 37,703

The Boston Red Sox have the priciest secondary ticket among MLB teams. Attending a game at Boston’s famed Fenway Park costs fans buying outside the box office approximately $88 on average. Unlike some teams on the list, the Red Sox have had a great deal of success in recent years, winning the World Series twice in the past 10 seasons. During that time, the Sox tallied 932 victories, second only to their bitter rivals, the Yankees. All that success on the field has translated to greater demand for tickets and ultimately, increased revenue. Since 2003, the team’s revenue has increased every year but one, and Fenway has seen a 15 percent bump in attendance between 2002 and 2011.

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The most expensive tickets in the National Basketball Association

5. Boston Celtics
Average ticket price: $99.43
Win-loss past 10 years: 56.6 percent (fifth highest)
Championships past 10 years: one
Average home attendance: 18,624

The Celtics — with 17 NBA titles — are the winningest team in basketball history; at one point, Boston claimed eight championships in a row. Seeing them play, though, is not cheap. Buying a resale ticket to watch the Celtics costs, on average, just over $99. An average of 18,624 people attended games played in 2010-2011, yet the Boston Garden only holds 18,624. The fact that the Celtics can average a sellout over an entire season is one of reason they are valued at $482 million, the fifth highest figure among NBA franchises. Boston’s overall revenue did fall by $5 million between 2011 and 2012, but that drop is due mostly to 2012’s lockout-shortened 66 game season, which had eight fewer home games than the year before.

4. Chicago Bulls
Average ticket price: $111.12
Win-loss past 10 years: 51.9 percent (12th highest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 22,161

The Chicago Bulls' average secondary-ticket price of $111.12 ranks fourth among NBA teams. Post-Jordan, the Bulls have yet to win a title, although they have made seven playoff appearances in the past decade. In that time, their attendance increased by 13 percent. Despite the departure of His Airness, Bulls fans continue to pack the United Center. The team’s average attendance was 22,161 in 2010-2011, the most in the NBA. Although they have yet to emulate the success they had during legendary coach Phil Jackson’s era, they have been a solid winner during the past 10 seasons. During that span, the Bulls had 417 victories — 12th out of 30 NBA franchises.

3. Miami Heat
Average ticket price: $123.35
Win-loss past 10 years: 53.6 percent (11th highest)
Championships past 10 years: one
Average home attendance: 19,935

If you are buying a resold ticket, South Beach is the third-most expensive place in America to watch a basketball game, at a little more than $123 per ticket on average. This figure is an extension of increased demand, reflected in the 30 percent jump in attendance at AmericanAirlines Arena in the past decade. The leap is in large part to due to the triumvirate of stars that joined forces before the 2010-2011 season. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh helped the Heat draw an average of 19,935 fans last year — fourth most in the NBA. After doling out the cash to sign the three free agents before the 2011 season, the Heat’s operating income dipped from $8 million in 2010 to $5.9 million in 2011. But 2012 turned that around. The interest generated by the new-look Heat has put the team back in the black, and operating income shot up to $26 million in 2012.

2. New York Knicks
Average ticket price: $161.93
Win-loss past 10 years: 40.6 percent (sixth lowest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 19,763

Madison Square Garden bills itself as the “world’s most famous arena” and the prices for Knicks games reflect that status. Attending a game costs secondary buyers just short of $162 on average. The Knicks’ success, however, is difficult to attribute to success on the court. While New York has made the playoffs the past two years, they have not won a championship since the 1970s. Still, fans continue to pack the Garden — the team’s attendance has increased by 4 percent in the past 10 years. Part of this popularity has to do with the team’s increased star power, with recent additions of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. This year’s team was one of the more exciting Madison Square Gardens has seen for a while, due in part due to the unexpected success of Jeremy Lin and “Lin-sanity.” The Knicks are also one of those teams that always will have strong backing, even during their worst performances.

1. Los Angeles Lakers
Average ticket price: $169.80
Win-loss past 10 years: 62.7 percent (third highest)
Championships past 10 years: three
Average home attendance: 18,997

If you are buying away from the box office, entrance to the STAPLES Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, is the priciest in basketball, at an average of roughly $170 per ticket. Still, Lakers fans are clearly willing and able to pay the fee for supporting their team. The Lakers drew an average of 18,997 fans in 2011-2012 — eighth most in the NBA. That figure becomes significantly more impressive in light of the STAPLES Center’s capacity of 18,997. Whether it is the nine playoff appearances and three championships in the past 10 years, or the glitz and glamor of the notable celebrities who frequent the arena, the Lakers’ pricey resales are a hot commodity. And so too, it appears, are the Lakers. The franchise’s estimated value leaped 40 percent from $643 million in 2011 to $900 million 2012.

The most expensive tickets in the National Football League

5. Green Bay Packers
Average ticket price: $213.43
Win-loss past 10 years: 61.9 percent (fifth highest)
Championships past 10 years: one
Average home attendance: 70,512

The Green Bay Packers’ unique story as a nonprofit, publicly owned corporation began in 1923. Today, 360,000 stockholders serve as stewards of this very healthy team. Secondary-sale Packers tickets demand an average of a little more than $213 each, the fifth highest figure in the NFL. The Packers are also one of the most successful teams on the field. They have appeared in five Super Bowls in their franchise’s history, winning four. Green Bay’s success continued in the past decade with the team winning 99 games — a number bested by only three teams — and the Super Bowl in 2010. Their home stadium, Lambeau Field, is located in one of the most sparsely populated metropolitan regions to host a professional team.

4. Dallas Cowboys
Average ticket price: $214.71
Win-loss past 10 years: 53.8 percent (11th highest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 85,512

The Dallas Cowboys were once dubbed “America’s team” and the name stuck. Despite notching no Super Bowl victories in the past decade and making the playoffs just four times in that time, Cowboys secondary tickets are the fourth most expensive in the NFL, averaging just short of $215 each. The franchise is valued at $1.85 billion, tied with the New York Yankees for the most valuable team in North America. This valuation is due in part to the Cowboys’ move from Texas Stadium to Cowboys Stadium, which increased capacity by nearly 15,000 seats.

3. Chicago Bears
Average ticket price: $219.82
Win-loss past 10 years: 51.3 percent (13th highest)
Championships past 10 years: none
Average home attendance: 62,145

A top 10 franchise in terms of value, the Chicago Bears have had only middling success in recent years. Chicago has tallied just 82 victories in the past 10 seasons, 13th of 32 NFL franchises. The Bears had no Super Bowl wins in the past decade, though they appeared in one back in 2006, losing to Peyton Manning and the Colts. Still, Soldier Field patrons pay an average of almost $220 onthe secondary market for the right to watch their Bears take the field, part of the reason the team’s revenue has increased every year for the past 10 seasons.

2. New York Giants
Average ticket price: $238.45
Win-loss past 10 years: 55 percent (eighth best)
Championships past 10 years: two
Average home attendance: 79,475

The New York Giants, though they play their home games in New Jersey, averaged the second most fans per game of any NFL team in 2011 at 79,475. Those fans buying tickets on the secondary market paid a little more than $238 a ticket, second most in all of sports. The Giants have also been one of the most successful teams on the field. In the past decade, the G-Men have won two Super Bowls — in 2007 and 2011 — and made six playoff appearances. The team’s revenue rose every year in that period and jumped $52 million between 2010 and 2011. In 2010, the Giants moved into the brand-new MetLife Stadium, which has a permanent capacity of 82,566, the highest permanent capacity of any NFL stadium.

1. New England Patriots
Average ticket price: $241.86
Win-loss past 10 years: 76.9 percent (highest)
Championships past 10 years: three
Average home attendance: 68,756

The New England Patriots have been a fixture in the postseason during the past decade, missing the playoffs only twice and winning three Super Bowls. Given that success, it is no surprise the average price of a Pats ticket on the secondary market is the highest in sports, at just short of $242. There has been no change in attendance at Gillette Stadium over the past four years because during that time the Patriots sold every seat for every game. The franchise’s finances have mirrored the success on the field, and at $1.4 billion, it is the third-highest valued team in NFL. That figure is even more impressive when considering that Robert Kraft bought the team in 1994 for only $172 million.

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