Working in the executive offices of the Chicago Bullsfor the last 24 years, Steve Schanwald has seen just about every part of the business, thanks in part to Michael Jordan and the run of six championships in the 1990s.
But Schanwald admits that the talk over which huge free agents — LeBron, Dwyane and Chris (Bosh) — will land where, and the impact it has had on business is something completely new.
"I've never seen a feeding frenzy like this," said Schanwald, the team's executive vice president of business operations. "Tickets are being sold on speculation alone."
After the Bulls traded away Kirk Hinrich to the Wizards as part of the Drafton Thursday night, speculation fell to the Bulls, as reports had LeBron and Chris Bosh to the team.
In two days, the Bulls — who led the league in attendance last season — sold 1,500 new season tickets. That's on top of the 1,500 new season tickets they sold after the season ended. That's without actually making any acquisition, of course.
Most of the tickets, Schanwald said, were in the 300 level. Still, at the cheapest, that's roughly $1,800 per season ticket, of which the Bulls require a 30 percent deposit.
Now speculation has already shifted to the Miami Heat, with reports saying that all a combination of the top free agents, including LeBron, could possibly land in South Beach next season.
ESPN.com reported last night that a free agent summit between the three playersdid in fact take place in person in Miami over the weekend. The Miami Herald this morning disputed that story.
"I don't know what's true or not, but I can tell you yesterday was a huge day for us," said Eric Woolworth, president of business operations for the Heat. "And the phones have been buzzing all morning today."
Woolworth would not say how many total tickets the team has sold.
Woolworth, who has been in the league for 16 years, said it's not only the potential of watching this class of free agents play for their team that has people buying tickets, it's the speed of information as well.
"There of course have been other times where big free agents have become available and teams have been rumored to have been the favorite," Woolworth said. "But never has there been a mechanism like this — the lightning speed of the Internet and information flow has changed the business."
Unlike the Bulls, those who buy season tickets for the Heat are committed to pay in full by Nov. 1, though Woolworth said payments plans are available.
When people hear that their team might get any combination of James, Wade or Bosh, sometimes they don't even want to wait to speak to a person on the phone, even though they could be spending thousands of dollars.
Schanwald said the Bulls sold 200 tickets online in recent days. Woolworth said the Heat, which built its own ticketing system, has sold 70 and counting. Those are huge numbers compared to past online season ticket sales.
Schanwald would not say how many total season tickets the Bulls have sold so far, other than to say that the team will sell up to 15,500 tickets on a season basis, leaving roughly 6,200 seats to sell per game in the United Center.
And it's not just the Bulls and the Heat that have seen the bump.
The New York Knicks have also seen a huge jump in sales thanks to speculation that LeBron might be landing in the Big Apple.
They've sold more than 3,400 new season tickets this offseason, which has surpassed the total number of new season tickets sold all of last year.
But the Knicks aren't charging fans any more per ticket for the chance of landing LeBron. Ticket prices haven't risen since after the 2003-04 season, when they last made the playoffs.
Update: Don't leave the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets out of the speculation game. The Nets say they've sold about 1,700 new season tickets in the offseason.
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Editor's note: an earlier version mistakenly stated in a headline that the Bulls had sold 3,000 tickets in 48 hours.
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