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As NBA Finals start, Warriors fight claims of ticket monopoly

More than 19,500 people piled into Oakland, California's Oracle Arena to watch Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, on average, every game this season. And now those very popular tickets have become the focus of a lawsuit.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors
Getty Images
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors

The National Basketball Association's best team can expect to draw droves of fans when it tips off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

But the Warriors' brass has come under fire for how its tickets—some of the most popular in the league—are sold. EBay-owned resale ticket site StubHub alleged in a lawsuit earlier this year that the Warriors and Live Nation-owned Ticketmaster have locked up a "monopoly" on the team's primary and secondary ticket sales. (Tweet this)

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Ticketmaster and the Warriors filed motions to dismiss the complaint late last month. The Warriors say their system—which directs buyers to Ticketmaster—protects fans by ensuring that tickets are not counterfeit.

A hearing next month will help determine if the lawsuit moves forward.

"There's no competition, because a party has monopoly power," said Ali Keegan, chief counsel for StubHub. "We're saying that they're tying the primary and secondary market together. It's anti-competitive and puts higher prices on consumers."

The complaint comes as Ticketmaster makes competitive gains in the resale market, where StubHub is currently the biggest player. While primary tickets remain Ticketmaster's biggest business, its secondary ticket transactions volume grew by 55 percent last year, according to Live Nation's 2014 annual report.

Though the current case could potentially hold implications for ticket buyers, StubHub will likely find it hard to prove a monopoly, said Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at Baruch College who consults on sports antitrust law.

"The antitrust claim overall seems like a very difficult one for StubHub to win," Edelman said.

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Many sports franchises, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, recommend that fans resell tickets on a particular platform to ensure validity. StubHub's complaint revolves around an assertion that the Warriors revoked or threatened to revoke some season ticket rights because sellers used a resale platform that competes with Ticketmaster.

In a statement to CNBC, the Warriors said they chose not to renew season tickets for some brokers whose "sole intent" was to resell them at a higher price. Those tickets went to fans who had been on a wait list.

StubHub contends that the Warriors threatened would-be sellers, causing its ticket inventory for the team's games to drop by 80 percent from last season to this season.

Ticketmaster declined to comment. In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Ticketmaster decried StubHub's claims that a monopoly could exist for only one team's tickets. Ticketmaster noted in the motion that the Warriors only represent a "sliver" of StubHub's business.

A quick look at NBA Finals tickets available for resale indicates that Ticketmaster holds more inventory.

As of Thursday morning, Ticketmaster had 901 Game 1 tickets for sale, while 542 were listed on Stubhub. That supply advantage held up for Sunday's Game 2, as Ticketmaster had about 2,664 tickets on sale compared with StubHub's roughly 1,244.

The cheapest Game 1 ticket at both sites was listed at $699.