December 23, 2009
As we've said before, the Great Recession has rendered futile the analysis of NHL market strength this season, based on ticket sales. So let's not crucify the Ottawa Senators franchise for having to get a little aggressive with its ticket pricing, because if anything they're behind the curve established by teams like the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.
Of course, the mere mention of a Canadian team in that company is going to be a story, so the Senators' slashing of ticket prices for certain games is noteworthy. From a press release by Ottawa yesterday:
First, the club is eliminating the gold and silver game categories for games beginning Jan. 1, 2010. These games will now become bronze games, resulting in a decrease of 20 percent for eight silver games and 30 percent for one gold game. The eight games affected by the 20 percent reduction in single-game ticket prices are: Jan. 3 vs. Philadelphia, Jan. 9 vs. Florida, Jan. 19 vs. Chicago, Feb. 4 vs. Vancouver, Feb. 9 vs. Calgary, Feb. 11 vs. Washington, March 27 vs. Florida, and April 10 vs. Buffalo. The single-game ticket prices for the Senators match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 16 will be reduced by 30 percent.
Secondly, the club has added affordable Metro Family 4 Pack pricing to the following five games: Jan. 3 vs. Philadelphia, Jan. 5 vs. Boston, Jan. 21 vs. St. Louis, Feb. 9 vs. Calgary and March 2 vs. New York Rangers.
Here are the Senators ticket prices. Fans that previously purchased tickets to these games are getting the difference refunded.
A 30-percent reduction in price for a Battle of Ontario game against the Maple Leafs? How bad are things in Ottawa?
The Senators, who were tied for 15th overall in the NHL standings before games Tuesday night, rank 19th in paid attendance among the league's 30 teams.
An internal NHL report obtained by the Citizen showed paid Senators attendance had dropped by 22.8 percent from last season. Only the Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning had suffered greater losses.
Actual attendance has only fallen by about seven per cent because the Senators have increased distribution of free tickets.
Should the Senators make the playoffs, they have already pledged to give full- and half-season ticket holders regular-price tickets to the first two rounds of the playoffs, and meaningful discounts to later-round tickets. Ticket prices will also be slashed by two to 33 percent next season and season-ticket holders of more than five years will qualify for free parking.
"We believe these changes will make it easier for fans to attend Senators games," Senators president Cyril Leeder said in a news release.
Slashing playoff tickets for later rounds -- on top of slashing prices for games against the Leafs, Canucks, Flames and Alex Ovechkin(notes) -- would indicate that Ottawa is taking these declines rather seriously.
The 22.8-percent drop at the turnstiles is stunning, but it's commonplace this season around the NHL. We're not blind; fire up Center Ice on any night and you're going to see sections of empty seats that miraculously become fans in attendance when the gate is reported in the box score. It's a shell game the NHL plays better than most; just like charity points in overtime create a false sense of parity in the standings, the manner by which the NHL publicizes its reported attendance is equally as vacuous.
Hopefully, the Citizen or another publication brings the "tickets paid" numbers to light this season. A source told us earlier this month that the Lightning were down a whopping 50 percent in gate receipts in comparison to Oct.-Nov. in 2008. The St. Pete Times found its own disturbing numbers from Tampa that go beyond the recession.
But as we said at the top: You can't discount the effect the economy is having on fans and NHL tickets. Until things like employment improve significantly, let's put the knives away instead of carving up struggling markets.
As for the Senators: Good job attempting to price fans into the game for once. If only you treated them better once they're there.