When LeBron James announced that he’d be returning to Cleveland to after four years with the Miami Heat, the basketball world was immediately turned upside down. The Cavs, who had not made the playoffs in the four years since his departure, became instant favorites to win the NBA championship. The Heat, who had for years been the defacto 800-pound NBA gorilla, became a long-shot with one contract. For the 2014-15 season, the Heat now have slightly better odds to win the NBA title than the Charlotte Hornets. The impact has been no less pronounced on the market for NBA tickets. For the last four years, the Heat tickets have been amongst the most expensive in the league. Last season, tickets to see the big three at American Airlines Arena had an average price on the secondary market of $276 according to TiqIQ. By contrast, Cavaliers tickets at Quicken Loan Arena had an average price of just $119, good for 13th in the league. While secondary-market prices are likely to change as more people list tickets for sale, the preliminary average price on the secondary market for tickets to see the 2014-15 Cavaliers is $320. Like the Heat last year, that would be good for the second most expensive average price this season, one spot behind the Knicks. While that increase in average price has season ticket holders in Cleveland counting their duckets, the increase in prices for Cavaliers road games has been even more dramatic.
Last season, Cavaliers road games had an average price of $116, which put them in the middle of the NBA pack. With the caveat that there are still lots of tickets to be listed for sale, the Cavaliers road average this season is a whopping $418. Last season, the road average across all Eastern Conference teams was $133. Not surprisingly, the most expensive road average belonged to the Heat, at $268. That was almost $100 more expensive than the next most expensive team, the Lakers. Road games on the Lakers schedule had an average price of $181. While losing Kobe for over half the season knocked that down considerably, even with Kobe, the Heat were in a league of their own. This year, that rarified air belong to the Cavaliers and not surprisingly, the most expensive game on the Cavaliers road schedule is their Christmas day match-up against the Heat. It will be LeBron’s first game back in Miami since returning to the Cavs. At an average price of $645, it will certainly be the most expensive game of the season for the Heat, and one of the top 2-3 most expensive games on the NBA schedule. After the game against Miami, the next two most expensive games on the Cavaliers road schedule are against the Lakers, Knicks and Nets. The current average price for the Lakers game on January 15th is $611, while the most expensive game at Madison Square Garden is $562 and the most expensive game at the Barclays Center is $608. Other notable stops on the LeBron homecoming tour are Boston, where the most expensive tickets at TD Garden are listing for $291. The most expensive game at the United Center against the Bulls are $527, while Wizards tickets at the Verizon center are going for an average of $305. As a point of comparison, that’s over $100 more than the next most expensive game on the Wizards schedule, which is against the Heat on opening night.
The NBA is unquestionably the most star-driven league and road game averages are the best evidence of that. As the this years Cavs road prices show, fans will pay top dollar to see a Megastar play even if their hometown team has little chance of actually winning. Instead of the Heat, Lakers and Knicks, last season’s top road draws could just as easily have been attributed to LeBron, Kobe and Melo. This year, those three stars will again drive up prices wherever they go. The astronomical prices that fans will be paying to see LeBron-Cavs compared to LeBron-Heat last year goes to show that fans love a good homecoming story, even if it’s on the road.