We've always marveled at the euphoric level of fan support the Pittsburgh Penguins receive at home; its on the level of a beloved NFL franchise (like the Steelers, for example) or the kind of rabid enthusiasm and personal connection you'd expect to see surrounding a college sports team.
The reason that second example was especially valid for the Penguins was their Student Rush program, in which tickets that are not sold one hour prior to faceoff are sold to anyone with a valid student ID on a first-come basis for the starving college student price of $20. As Jennie Luptak, a Pitt freshman back in 2007, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a year ago:
"We know how lucky we are to be witnessing one of the most promising teams in the NHL, and the students bring so much energy to the crowd," Ms. Luptak said. "I mean, the guys aren't much older than us, so we feel a camaraderie that's unprecedented in the league. These are our Pittsburgh Penguins."
Well, not really. The Penguins are no more the fans' than McDonald's is the carnivores'. They're a business; and in case you haven't noticed, they've slightly increased payroll for the next two seasons. It appears the Student Rush promotion may be a casualty of this escalation.
The club also plans to select four games for special "Student Rush" promotions. For those games, college and high school students will be able to purchase discounted tickets for $20. A total of 400 tickets will be available for each of the four games.
While Empty Netters didn't get confirmation that the same-day student ticket promotion was done, his coverage brings up an important point about the NHL: Are fannies in the seats more important than the price of their tickets?
Seth explains that the NHL, more than any other sport, is a slave to ticket revenue, but he also cuts to the heart of this decision: "The class of fans who helped make this team the hottest ticket in town and helped the Penguins achieve that record of 67 consecutive sellouts they like to brag about is being priced out."
So, in a sense, good business is bad business. There should be a natural progression for these young fans from Student Rush to first job to mini-plan to season-ticket holder. That's the way it should work. Pricing out your most rabid fans -- in a season that, let's face it, has its share of uncertainty for Sidney Crosby and the boys -- seems like another symptom of a rather depressing off-season for the Penguins.
But if we've learned anything about fans being priced out, it's that they'll eventually get a free exhibition game out of it, which is nice.
The worst part about this is the potential death of the home-game "Student Rush" promotion, because it's such a killer good idea. I hope Seth is wrong and the Rush survives. Instead of seeing teams scale back availability, the NHL should mandate the Penguins' original model be adopted by every team in the League. Student Rush, every regular season game. Are you telling me that wouldn't fill in the blanks over in Jersey?
Obviously, there are some cities that don't need a Student Rush. And there are some season-ticket holders that no doubt bristle at the fact that a kid sitting a few seats over could be paying $80 less than they are.
But the bottom line is that it is a kid. Bettman's NHL spent an entire decade mis-marketing the game while an entire generation of young sports fans swallowed up the NFL, the X Games and MMA.
The ultimate crack rock for hockey has always been the live, in-arena experience. So did it like the dealers do it: Give'em a taste until they're out of school, and then start asking for more scratch as their addiction grows.