A family's dilemma: What's the cost of a memory?

The Toronto Raptors are creating once-in-a-lifetime memories during this historic playoff run to the NBA Finals. But with skyrocketing cost for tickets, can a family justify the expense of the moment at any cost?

Finding tickets is not the problem — paying for them is another matter

The city of Toronto has been captivated by superstar Kawhi Leonard, left, teammate Norm Powell and the rest of the Toronto Raptors during this season’s playoff run to the NBA Finals. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Some of my fondest memories growing up flow from the hundreds of sporting events my father took me to.

I have had the privilege of being part of some of the seminal Toronto sports moments that have dotted the last four decades. I don't know how he did it, but he usually came through. As an eight-year-old, I remember surging onto the field with thousands of other fans at Toronto's old Exhibition Stadium after the Blue Jays clinched their first playoff berth in 1985.

And to this day, I can still feel the then-SkyDome stadium shake after Joe Carter's historic World Series clinching home run in 1993. The memories from sharing in those big sporting moments with my father are priceless. That's why the Toronto Raptors' historic run to the NBA Finals has created so much angst. As far as big sporting events go, it doesn't get much bigger than the NBA Finals. And I wanted to share it with my son.

The day after the Raptors punched their ticket to the final, my 10-year-old and his friends were playing basketball, recreating key plays from the night before. "You guys may never see a team from Toronto get this far again in your lifetime," I told them, quickly bringing down the mood.

WATCH | Raptors advance to NBA Finals:

Game Wrap: Raptors advance to 1st NBA finals in franchise history

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Kawhi Leonard was magical in Game 6, finishing with 27 points and 17 boards as the Raptors beat the Bucks 100-94 to reach the NBA Finals for the 1st time in franchise history. 2:56

Any hardened sports fan knows how fleeting these moments can be; the perfect confluence of talent, luck and circumstance.

"We should go. I am going to try and get tickets. We can't miss this," I told my son before actually grasping what I was proposing.

I soon realized finding tickets was not going to be problem. But paying for them certainly would be. With about 72 hours to tip-off, it was an expensive market. It would be the kind of purchase that would come with sacrifice. 

'Wife needs new brakes'

As one friend put it when I asked if he was planning on going: "I just found out my wife needs new brakes, so no."

Even if you had the opportunity to purchase the lowest priced seat (which few if anybody did), the face value cost was about $400.

So with about 72 hours to go before the Raptors hosted Game 1 against the world champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday, I started my search.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard's high school coach knew he would be great:

Kawhi Leonard's high school coach knew 'he would be an NBA All Star'

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Tim Sweeney Jr. talks to CBC about the intangibles he saw in Leonard while coaching the Raptors' star at Martin Luther King Jr. High School. 7:53

A handful of friends and family are lucky enough to have seats. But I am not foolish enough to even make inquiries. Most, after years of cost and commitment, are rightfully planning on enjoying what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Others are trying to sell their tickets to the highest bidder.

The secondary ticket market is well stocked. But beware of sticker shock. On Ticketmaster, where Raptors season ticketholders are obliged to resell their tickets, the lowest cost for a single standing room ticket currently sits at around $1,320, which includes a whopping $220 in fees. 

That's big money. According to the website TicketIQ, both the low price on the secondary market (about $1,000) and the average ticket cost (about $4,000) are the highest in NBA Finals history. 

"We have probably never had anything like this before. It's like a mini Super Bowl," a long time Toronto ticket broker said.

Not quite what I wanted to hear. But then, a sliver of good news.

"Prices are not going [to] hold up because they are too expensive and the regular fan can't afford it," he predicted.
He thought that maybe by tip-off, a pair could be had for around $600 to $800. I am not going to pretend that's not an absurd amount of money to attend a sporting event.

But at least it was an amount I could wrap my head around. The search would continue. I could identify sacrifices our family could make over the course of the next few months to make up the cost. I started to convince myself that the value of this father-son experience would eclipse any cost.

After all, my dad did the same for me.


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