NBA and NHL Playoffs tickets explained
It’s playoff time again in the NBA and NHL, which has drawn a huge amount of interest from SWIAM customers. Questions have come up about tickets for these games and how they’re displayed on our site, so we thought it’d be best to explain a few of the unique quirks of playoff ticketing in major USA sports leagues as best we can.
Here are some things to know for anyone who wants to be there when something like this happens:
All possible playoff scenarios are listed (by home team)
If you’ve spent any time looking through the Sports Where I Am website recently, you will have noticed how far into the future you can search for Playoff games.
This is one of the key features of the SWIAM platform for helping travellers plan activities well in advance of their overseas trips.
You also might have noticed, though, a few games in a city’s schedule that made you do a double-take.
Damn, the Oklahoma City Thunder made the NBA FINALS?!
Have a look at this screenshot from Minneapolis, for example:
That’s right, you can currently buy NBA Finals tickets for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are – at the time of writing – preparing for a do-or-die game 2 of the Play-In Tournament. 1
It’s unlikely the Minnesota Timberwolves will make the NBA Finals in 2023, and probably even more unlikely that the Oklahoma City Thunder will… but it’s not an error.
So why are these games listed on SWIAM?
At the beginning of the postseason, teams release all home-game tickets to season-ticket holders as complete playoff packages. The clubs distribute tickets assuming that their teams will play in absolutely every home game possible – and they make tickets available for sale for them accordingly.
We considered limiting the tickets that appear on Sports Where I Am until a playoff series has been confirmed, because we really don’t want any travellers to suddenly find out that a game they were expecting to attend isn’t happening.
There are a few reasons why it’s better for us to have all of the games listed, though:
📆 A playoff series starts quickly after the previous one finishes – which could leave travellers with only a day or two to try to lock down a spot at these games.
📈 Postseason ticket prices generally rise the closer the game gets, so the sooner you have access, the less expensive your ticket will (probably) be. (Of course, this depends on many factors)
🔔 You don’t have to keep checking the status of each series on top of planning your trip – you’ll have enough tabs open already – so it’s easier to plan when you have a clearer idea of the whole schedule.
🤷 We can’t predict which outcomes are likely and which aren’t – I mean, the Thunder are likely to go on a huge, historic playoff run now after our sarcastic comments above.
Why do the games say “Home Game x” and “Series Game x” in the title? What’s the difference?
As mentioned earlier, Playoff games are listed by the Home team – so the names of the event listings are from the home team’s perspective.
Here are some examples:
- NBA Western Conference First Round: Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – Home Game 1, Series Game 1 (Date: TBD)
- NBA Eastern Conference First Round: New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – Home Game 1, Series Game 3 (Date: TBD)
The Sacramento Kings example above is simple enough – Home Game 1, Series Game 1. That’s just “Game 1” of the series – which is a Kings home game. On the other hand, the Knicks/Cavs “Home Game 1, Series Game 3” means it’s the first available home game for the Knicks, which is Game 3 in the best-of-7 game series.
So what happens if I buy a ticket and the game doesn’t happen?
Rest easy, Wolves fan – of course you will be refunded the cost of your ticket purchase if that NBA Finals game you booked for doesn’t eventuate. We have a 100% guarantee on all tickets sold through SWIAM anyway – so of course we’ll pay you back quickly if your game (and team) are scrubbed from the schedules earlier than you thought.
There are a few other things to know, though:
The date/time of the games can change
The NBA and NHL playoffs are best-of-seven game contests, which can therefore result in a series running for seven total games, or ending after as few as four. Due to this, some schedules can be shifted around by a few days.
As an example (see the screenshot above), if the Golden State Warriors were to progress to the Conference Semifinals after 4 games, and it took the New Orleans Pelicans, say, 6 games to win their Round 1 matchup, then the Warriors would have a few extra days rest to wait for the Pelicans in their (hypothetical) Semifinal matchup.
If, however, both teams were to progress after just 4 games, then the next series (the Conference Semifinals) could start earlier, which could then impact the date/time of the current game listing on SWIAM. This is why all of the Playoff/Finals matchups are listed as ‘Time/Date TBD’.
The time of games can also be shifted to accommodate for timing with other games on the same day or TV broadcast deals – so the potential for changes are something to be aware of when buying playoff tickets.
The date/time of the games can change by a couple of days
The good news is, the NBA does have some anchor points for when each series should begin:
So in the above 2023 example above:
- The playoffs officially begin on April 15,
- The Conference Semifinals begin at April 29th at the earliest (and May 2nd at the latest),
- The Conference Finals begin on May 14 at the earliest (and May 17 at the latest)
- The NBA Finals game dates are set from June 1 onwards.
Long story short: For NBA Playoff games booked in advance, you’ve probably got a maximum of 2-3 days either side of the event dates listed on SWIAM. The NHL dates are less definitive 2, but the rule of thumb still applies.
This will ‘tighten up’ as the postseason progresses and more is known, too.
Your tickets will probably be delivered a little later than you’re used to – but that’s OK
We inform anyone buying tickets through SWIAM that the actual delivery date for tickets can be up to 24-48 hours before the event starts. Sometimes, they’re ready immediately, which allows us to get your tickets to you months in advance, but it all depends on the event, team, and ticket type.
With playoff tickets – and all of the aforementioned schedule shifting that can go with it – it’s probably more likely to be 24 or 48 hours before an event when the actual ticket delivery happens.
It can cause some people to get anxious – particularly travellers, who want to tick things off their list. We get it. If it helps, we’ve been getting travellers to sporting events around the world since 2013, so we’ve seen every delivery method you can imagine.
You’ll find tickets – but they might get expensive
A city will come alive during the postseason. Unfortunately, though, ticket prices will probably also come alive – with the tickets in high demand, for obvious reasons.
Chat to our team so we can help find the right deal
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about a ticket you’re looking at – contact us before purchasing and we’ll point you towards any value picks or discount codes we have running.
This article was originally published in 2018. We’ve made some updates for 2023.
Addition: MLB Postseason tickets explained
At the time of this update3, we’re about a week from the start of the MLB postseason. Once again, we’ve had some queries about the games listed on our site – perhaps even moreso as the format of the MLB postseason is different to some other sports leagues around the world.
In addition to the notes above – which also apply to baseball – here’s a quick summary of how the MLB postseason works:
■ For starters, in the MLB there are two ‘Leagues’: the American League and the National League. This is the equivalent of the “conferences” in other sporting codes like the NFL.
■ Within each League, there are 3 Divisions: East, Central, and West. Hence “AL East“, “NL West“, etc. that you’ve seen in the MLB Standings.
■ The team with the best record in each division qualifies for the postseason… but that only adds up to 6 teams, right? How do you create a postseason bracket with only 3 teams on either side?
This brings us to Wildcard games.
■ For the 4th postseason spot in each league, the two teams with the best records in each of the National and American Leagues – who obviously haven’t already qualified for the postseason – play off in a Wildcard game. This is a one-off game where the winner takes the final spot in the postseason bracket.
■ Once the teams have been decided in both leagues, the first round of Division Series games are a best-of-5 series, followed by a best-of-7 League Championship Series, culminating in the best-of-7 World Series.
Now you know about the format of the MLB postseason, you can scroll up to read our original post, as the points listed there apply for baseball games through October and November.