The Miami Heat are one of just four teams to play in four consecutive NBA Finals. For Heat season ticket holders, that’s like winning the lottery four times in a row.
But many fans cannot or choose not to shell out the cash it would take to buy season tickets on their own. Like a timeshare, they join informal season ticket pools with colleagues, friends and friends of friends.
Come playoff time, fairly divvying up those tickets can prove challenging.
“We’ve done all kinds of things,” says Ayeh Ashong with Miami-based broker Tickets of America, “from pulling straws to flipping coins.”
Ashong says at least twice a year he turns into a counselor for group season ticket holders. There’s an extra game left. Who gets the ticket? Should they just sell it and split the money?
“The Eastern Conference Finals will generally go for anywhere from three to four times face value,” says Ashong. “And the NBA Finals can go for anywhere from four to five times face value.”
Ashong says selling those two rounds of tickets alone is enough to cover a good chunk of an entire year’s season ticket costs.
But for Gregg Gelber’s group, selling the tickets is not an option. Gelber and six long-time friends share four season tickets. “Like everything with our group, it starts with a spreadsheet,” he says.
Gelber, a financial advisor, keeps meticulous track of who’s gone to which games. In the playoffs they randomly select an order and then rotate through the list for playoff tickets. But there is a small bible of playoff-specific rules.
“Giving your ticket to anybody without prior approval is complete banishment,” says Gelber. “Immediately.”
Group members are also prohibited from selling their ticket. “And if you can’t go, you can offer to trade. If that is rejected... it goes to the next person automatically,” he says.
One of the complicating factors with playoff ticket division is that not all games are created equal. The first round is less valuable than the Finals. A Game 1 isn’t as high-stakes as a Game 7.
Gelber’s rotation system gives each season ticket holder even odds of getting any given ticket. That’s one definition of “fair.”
But Mike Rosenthal, who teaches math at Florida International University, says there are other ways to think about fairness.
For season ticket splitting, he suggests using a method that originally started as a way to divvy up an estate when no will had been written.
“[It] was developed during World War II,” says Rosenthal, “by a Polish Mathematician: Bronisław Knaster.”
Using that system, each ticket holder would write down what a given game is worth to them. The person who values a game most gets the ticket, but has to reimburse the other members for not going.
“It satisfies a property that mathematicians call ‘envy free-ness,’” says Rosenthal.
The Peltz family, from Pinecrest, has owned a pair of Heat season tickets for almost two decades. Now that the Heat are a regular fixture in the Finals, the three adult children jostle for use of the family seats.
The youngest son, Jonathan Peltz, used to strategically pass on earlier playoff games hoping to lay claim to more important Finals games.
But last year, the whole thing blew up in his face.
Jonathan and his brother Moish were all set to go to one of the first two Finals games against the Spurs. But their sister Maxine held the trump card. Living in New York at the time, she booked a last-second flight home, with "like, literally 24 hours notice,” says Jonathan.
Word came down that Maxine, the prodigal child, would get to go to the game instead of Jonathan.
“It’s like a corporation,” says Jonathan. “She’s like: I cleared it with mom. So it’s like then she doesn’t have to ask me.”
“[Jonathan] was really mad at me,” says Maxine. “And I was like: this is World War III in the Peltz family.”
Explicit texts were exchanged. A livid Jonathan, at some point, had to be talked down while pacing and fuming. Maxine considered canceling her flight and not coming home.
“I mean, I wish I didn't have to play that card,” says Maxine Peltz. “I would have rather been here for all of the playoff games.”