With sellout games and brisk jersey sales, the Jazz are making bank on fan optimism

Donovan Mitchell’s rise has played heavily into increased prices for game tickets and interest in season ticket renewal.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Utah Jazz fan celebrates a three-point shot in the fourth quarter as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trail Blazers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City, Wednesday November 1, 2017.

In the Utah Jazz team store at Vivint Smart Home Arena, these are bustling times.

There have been 15 straight home sellouts, and at each game, hundreds of fans wander in asking for the same thing.

“For us, it is Donovan Mitchell jerseys,” said Morgan Evans, who manages the store. “Everybody wants a Mitchell.”

Evans, who has worked at the store for four years, says Mitchell jerseys are flying off the racks faster than any the store has ever sold. People specifically demand the Jazz City Edition jersey he wore while winning last month’s Dunk Contest — even though all City edition gear is sold out, and more may not be available until summer.

There are several ways to measure fan interest, and all of those point to one conclusion: Jazz fans are interested, engaged and supporting with their wallets as well as their cheers. And while there are executives tracking through sales and data, they also can hear it firsthand.

“My middle daughter asks me almost on a daily basis when the next Jazz game is, and if she can bring a friend,” said Bart Sharp, the Jazz senior vice president of marketing. “She’s asking every day, ‘How are the Jazz doing? How’s Donovan Mitchell?’”

Hype around Mitchell, who is in contention for NBA Rookie of the Year, is undoubtedly a reason why Jazz games have been such a hot ticket — third-party site TickPick.com recently reported the Jazz have had the third-highest increase in ticket prices since the season began, a jump of two thirds. While the Jazz do not release internal figures, vice president of ticketing Chris Barney acknowledged single-game prices are jumping sharply, and reported NBA attendance data shows Utah playing to 97.1 percent of capacity this season.

But while Mitchell’s surge has played a role, team officials point to a “perfect storm” of factors: The Jazz winning 12 of their past 14 games and re-entering the playoff race; the delight of a team that is staying competitive despite losing their biggest name in the offseason; the amenities of a renovated arena; an international cast of mostly likeable personalities.

That’s also reflected on social media. Sharp points out the team’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers have been on a steady rise until mid-January, when they started spiking. While the Jazz lack the huge bases of bigger markets, they’ve posted the second-best engagements per social media post in the NBA.

“Our fans are very engaged with our brand,” Sharp said. “We can’t seem to give them enough.”

If there was a singular inflection point, it probably came on Jan. 30. The Jazz were playing the Golden State Warriors and debuting their City Edition jerseys, which were controversial, but also a talking point around the league.

The 30-point blowout that night — which started an 11-game winning streak — stressed that Utah, at least to Jazz fans, should be taken seriously. The interest started to take off during the ensuing stretch, when the Jazz were the hottest team going into the All-Star break.

The two biggest players on the team, Rudy Gobert and Mitchell, are early in their careers, driving optimism that the duo could be the foundation of a competitive roster long-term. That, Barney said, is why the Jazz have seen season ticket renewals outpace last season, and why the Jazz are selling new season tickets starting Friday — earlier than ever before.

“I think [fans] feel connected to the team in the way they haven’t felt in a long time,” he said, citing data that the Jazz have collected in focus groups held before every game. “In our marketing, we’re trying to focus less on pricing, and more on telling a basketball story.”

SIGNS OF THE TIMES<br>Some indicators of the recent surge in interest in the Utah Jazz:<br>•The team has sold out 15 straight games (18,306 capacity in renovated arena).<br>• Social media followers are at an all-time high; Jazz are No. 2 in the NBA in engagement per post.<br>• Season tickets are being renewed at a faster rate than last year, andJazz are opening new season ticket sales earlier than ever.<br>• City edition jerseys are sold out at the team store and may not be restocked until summer.

After the renovation of the arena this offseason, nearly 1,600 seats were lost as Utah attempted to bolster its club seating (the Jazz previously had one of the lowest ratios of club seating in the NBA). Barney said the effect has created a natural scarcity, pushing out fans who lost their old seats or were priced out into less expensive sections of the arena.

Still, the Jazz are in the top half of the NBA in season ticket sales. The prices have risen, on average, by three to five percent in most sections for next season, but the Jazz have also made an effort to keep upper-tier sections affordable — the lowest prices for season tickets are $6 per game.

And while buying habits are skewing more toward people who don’t make decisions about attending until closer to game time, which Barney identifies as a “millennial trend,” the Jazz are trying to push the idea that season tickets are the best value. Barney said the price point for the home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers game changed 439 times based partly on algorithms weighing the secondary markets and partly on human judgement. Season ticket prices, however, are locked in.

Barney has been on the phone with several ticket-holders who are faced with the dilemma of renewal. His pitch: Now would be the wrong time to give them up.

“You’re giving up beachfront property for the prime years of Rudy Gobert’s career, and the early seasons of a budding superstar,” Barney said. “People are grasping onto the hope of really what our front office is going to do, and what we’re building towards. And the fans can feel it.”

TIMBERWOLVES AT JAZZ<br>At Vivint Smart Home Arena<br>Tipoff • Friday, 8:30 p.m.<br>TV • ESPN<br>Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM<br>Records • Jazz 31-30, Wolves 38-26<br>Last meeting • Wolves 109, Jazz 98 (Nov. 13)<br>About the Timberwolves • Without Jimmy Butler, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with injury, Minnesota has won two straight games over Sacramento and Chicago. … The Timberwolves will be playing the second game of a back-to-back, and are 5-6 in such games this season. … In 10 career games against the Jazz, Karl Anthony-Towns has averaged more than 22 points and 12 rebounds per contest.<br>About the Jazz • In the 17 games since his return from injury, RudyGobert has posted nine double-doubles. … Donovan Mitchell won his third straight Western Conference Rookie of the Month award after averaging 21.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 3.8 apg in February. … Opponents are averaging fewer assists against the Jazz (20.3 apg) than any other team in the NBA.