August 23, 2011
As eviction notices go, this one was a charmer.
It was a personalized letter from Michael Yormark, president of the Florida Panthers, that began with hopes that the summer had been wonderful and that the Panthers fans receiving the correspondence would be "FIRST TO KNOW" (all caps, bolded) about "the most significant and innovative renovations in BankAtlantic Center history."
For the Panthers, a team that's had its share of novel marketing gambits, it was certainly innovative: "Club Red," an "ultra-premium, all-inclusive" seating area that includes VIP parking, a plush lounge and bar experience, as well as "premium lower bowl seats" for every game, concert and show held at the arena.
It was also certainly significant if you were a Panthers season-ticket holder in Sections 101, 102 and 134 … because you just saw your annual fees more than quadruple, forcing you to decide whether to pay up or relocate to another section in the arena.
Take it or leave it.
From the Sun-Sentinel and longtime season-ticket holder Allyn White, who will be displaced by the new arena configuration:
The price to join the exclusive club rocked White like a blindside check. He said he was told his seats would cost $22,500 apiece, which would cover other events at BAC in addition to Panthers games. He said he paid about $5,000 for two seats at center ice in row 15 for the upcoming hockey season.
"I've been a season-ticket holder since Day 1 in Miami. I've never missed a game. You're telling me too bad, your $5,000 tickets are now going to be $45,000?" said White, who runs a travel agency in Fort Lauderdale. "I don't want to sit in the corners. I don't want to sit in row 3. I sit in … prime seats, which I've earned. I've got the best seats in the house."
Which is why the Panthers are re-selling them. Question is whether it's the right thing to do.
Here's the letter from Yormark to season-ticket holders, obtained by Puck Daddy:
As you can see, the Panthers are offering a financial olive branch to the displaced fans: 50 percent off of season tickets for the 2012-13 season "in a comparable area" of the arena.
The counterargument: When you have fans that have grown attached to their sightlines and their neighbors, there's nothing that can compare to it.
I have been in section 134 row 10 for almost 10 years, whether it was for 10 games for 40. Exactly where is a seat equal to my joy in being over the opposing team for heckling? Or grabbing my personal favorite Sveda drink? Oh and if this area is now going to be cut off from the fans does that mean you won't be able to high five the guys when they get on or off the ice? Has that become part of the elite crowds privilege? I thought the ownership and management was finally moving in a direction to bring fans and Panthers closer. This is sounding more and more like today's political climate, catering to the elite at the expense of the common people.
The Panthers' response to this? Here's Yormark, from the Sun-Sentinel:
"Obviously, it's going to be a significant revenue generator for the organization. We also think it's going to create a very unique experience for those people that become members," said Michael Yormark, president and COO of the Panthers and SSE. "We did do focus groups, we talked to our season-seat holders. This was not something that was done in haste."
Yormark said a decision hasn't been made to go ahead with Club Red but could come by the end of the month. There would be 672 seats in the area. The change would affect about 180 current account holders who occupy about 360 seats in the area, according to the Panthers.
The Panthers' argument is one of revenue maximization, and they may have picked the right summer to make that case: Having increased their payroll with a slew of unrestricted free agents during the most aggressive offseason in franchise history.
"Club Red," selling naming rights to the arena ice … hey, if you want the team to spend for what's on the ice, you have to let them collect as much money as it can off the ice, right?
The displacement of 180 fans in an arena that averaged 15,685 per game last season may not seem like a significant inconvenience. The fact that there's a bias (at times) against the "lower bowl" from fans who can't afford 41 home games in that price bracket may not exactly stoke sympathy for their plight.
What can't be minimized are the inherent parts of being a season-ticket holder: comfort and camaraderie.
What can't be minimized is the dedication and patience some of these displaced fans have shown a franchise whose last playoff victory was on April 17, 1997; a dedication they now believe hasn't earned them anything from the team.
As the season-ticket holder who sent us the Panthers letter wrote in their email:
"For those of us who have gone through financially hard times and a generation to maintain those seats, it is a difficult pill to swallow if we lose it in this manner. They are alienating a core fan base, many of whom have had tickets since the inception of the team. "
Maybe there's a chance the Panthers reverse these plans. Maybe they make a stronger effort to appease disgruntled die-hards who are either going to pay out the ass for "their" tickets, or watch someone in a higher tax bracket watch half the game before retiring to a posh lounge. They deserve more than a deep discount on someone else's seats.
As it stands, Club Red has left some of the team's most die-hard fans red in the face, having allowed management to preach patience for several years only to be rewarded with avarice.