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Sports teams see ticket prices drop as much as 30% on secondary market as coronavirus fears spread

With the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus causing cancellations of large events and conferences, U.S. sports leagues have started to feel the impact, even if most leagues are still allowing fans to show up.

Ticket prices for leagues like the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association have all fallen since January, according to data from TicketIQ, an online secondary market for event tickets.

According to Ticket IQ data provided to CNBC, secondary market prices for NBA games are down 4.3% since January, with the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets both seeing 30% declines.

NHL ticket prices are down 5.6%, with the most significant drops coming to the New Jersey Devils ( down 33%), New York Islanders (down 32%) and LA Kings (down 31%).

TicketIQ founder Jesse Lawrence told CNBC the secondary market suggests the decline in prices is impacting “specific cities” like New York and Los Angeles as coronavirus has hit those regions the hardest.

“Some of the numbers do suggest that the markets where coronavirus is the worst, those are the markets where prices are down the most,” Lawrence said, adding that the firm couldn’t be sure the declines are due to the virus outbreak alone. “One of the things we have noticed, quantity is way up, so a lot of people are selling instead of going [to games]. So, that’s also driving prices down.”

Seattle is another city that is experiencing a price drop, according to TicketIQ’s data. Defending Major League Soccer champion Seattle Sounders FC has seen a 24% decline since January. Overall, the MLS secondary ticket market is down 3.5% since the start of the year.

The NBA, NHL, and MLS did not respond to requests for comment. Both the NBA and MLS leagues are not showing a decline in attendance due to coronavirus, with the MLS average attendance up 9.4% over the first two weeks of its season. 

Ticket agencies SeatGeek and Ticketmaster declined to comment on potential declines in ticket prices for sporting events.

As of late Tuesday evening, there were at least 1,020 coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data. Almost half of all U.S. cases are in Washington state, California and New York, where the governors have all declared states of emergency.

With fears of the virus spreading, Dr. Harvey Schiller, the chairman of marketing firm Collegiate Sports Management Group, said the sports ticketing industry is similar to what’s occurring with airline tickets. Buyers have the advantage. But safety is more important than anything else

The coronavirus outbreak continues to show signs of massive disruptions throughout sports. Association of Tennis Professionals chairman Andrea Gaudenzi announced the 2020 BNP Paribas Open event is canceled, and the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Officials granted conference regular-season champions Yale men and Princeton women’s automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, which starts this month.

The Big West and Mid-American announced their conference tournaments would be played without fans, while Major League Baseball, the NBA and MLS joined the NHL in temporarily restricting locker room access to reporters.

According to a report from ESPN, the NBA is also considering moving games to cities currently not impacted by the coronavirus. The NBA also released two memos last week, the second of which it advised teams to make contingency plans should the league decide to play games in arenas without spectators.

Schiller, a former sports executive who spent time as CEO of Yankee Global Enterprises, (formerly YankeeNets), the ownership group of the New York Yankees, said it’s an “ideal time” to purchase tickets for events usually priced higher.

Tickets for the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden are also seeing a decline. TicketIQ said secondary market tickets are down 34% from last year The average price is $133 compared to $200 in 2019 .

Lawrence agreed with Schiller, saying his company is presenting the data as an “interesting buying opportunity for certain events.” He did caution TicketIQ doesn’t recommend consumers attend “events in areas where there is a high risk of transmission” without taking precautions.

But with the secondary ticket market currently favorable, Lawrence said it’s a win-win for sports fans, as “there is no risk.” Most ticketing services do offer refunds if events are canceled; hence, consumers can buy low with protections in place.

Lawrence said TicketIQ is also keeping updated information about price drops for consumers to identify the best deals. 

“We’re going to keep a running tally about events that are canceled and events where we see big price changes,” Lawrence said, adding there will also be price updates for Broadway shows, “which have started to cut tickets in the primary market.”