Puck Daddy - NHL

(Ed. Note: Total Jersey Fouls. All of'em.)

Boston Bruins fans are facing a perfect storm of circumstances for marketing executives and ticket salesmen this season: Success on the ice plus surging popularity in the city -- something no doubt bolstered by the buzz around the Winter Classic at Fenway Park in 2010 -- equaling higher demand and prices for games.

How much higher? Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe explains:

A flurry of e-mails landed here in recent days concerning what some perceive as price-gouging by the Bruins for the upcoming season. Overall, prices have increased by approximately 15 percent (steep in today's challenged economy) for all buyers, including season ticket-holders. Non-season ticket-holders also get hit with an added 15 percent when purchasing designated "gold'' games -- a variable-pricing tactic the club implemented for 14 games last season. This season, 20 of the 40 dates at the Garden are "gold'' games. Better team, higher prices. Go figure.

According to Amy Latimer, vice president of sales and marketing, the season-ticket base has increased by more than 5,000 over last season to more than 13,000. "To be honest, the increase was more than we ever expected,'' she said, noting that the club will limit season-ticket sales to approximately 13,200. Other than some seats in the family section, which will be rolled out for general sale through the season, the upper bowl is sold out for the season. Only seats in the pricier lower bowl remain for sale, said Latimer, which is what triggered some of the e-mails here. "A loge seat that I bought last season for $135.50 is now $197.50,'' wrote one reader. "Incredible.''

Indeed, but the Bruins aren't exactly chasing anyone away with these prices ... even if some long-time customers aren't exactly happy. We actually mediated a dispute between a Boston season-ticket holder and the team over email recently, and learned a few harsh truths about the cost of success for an Original Six team's fans when the team's fortunes reverse for the better.

"BsFan8" (name withheld upon request) is a season-ticket holder in the 300 level who paid $2,074 for two seats last season. Around March, he said season-ticket pricing information disappeared from the Bruins' site; "coincidently, it seems, right around the time the organization found out they were getting the Winter Classic," he wrote.

When the new ticket info was posted, "BsFan8" was aghast: By his calculations, his tickets are now valued at $1,796 higher than they were last season for a total cost of $3,870. From his email:

When we first started going to games in '01, we were very surprised to see the lack of support the Bs seemed to have in the city - as compared to the Sox and Pats. However, the past two seasons, the number of people walking around town with Bs paraphernalia -- and the number of stores actually displaying the stuff has noticeably and dramatically increased. Now, with this momentum they've generated (and in this economy), they've decided to build on it by jacking up the prices?

I can't speak for other sections and what their increase will be for the following season, but has any team in recent memory increased prices this quickly in one season? Are other teams increasing prices at all?

We got in touch with the Bruins, who explained that as long as season-ticket holders from last season made a deadline for renewal, their prices were fixed. From Matt Chmura, director of communications for the Bruins:

A season ticket holder who had tickets in the 300 level of the Garden for the 2008-2009 season at $2074 ($24 per ticket, times two seats, times 43 games, plus a $10 S&H fee), paid exactly the same amount $2074 for two seats to the 2009-2010 season if they renewed by the season ticket holder renewal deadline of March 18, 2009.

If the season ticket holder did not renew by the season ticket holder deadline, but did renew by April 30, 2009, his/her price for a pair of 2009-2010 season tickets would have been $2246 ($26 per ticket, times two seats, times 43 games, plus a $10 S&H fee).

It's important to note that 93% of season ticket holders renewed their seats by March 18, 2009 saw little to no increase in their prices for the 2009-2010 season over the 2008-2009 season.

An additional 4% of our season ticket holder base from the 2008-2009 season renewed between March 18, 2009-April 30, 2009 with an average increase of 5% over their prices from the 2008-2009 season.

Those are the facts, according to the team. But as Dupont noted, it's the new ticket buyers that are feeling the bite. Chmura continues:

To complement the 97% renewal rate of our 2008-2009 season ticket holder base which we had achieved by April 30, 2009, we also sold 4,300 new full season tickets by the same date to bring our full season ticket holder base to 13,000. 

Finally, on May 1, 2009 with only 840 total season tickets remaining in the entire arena, we set prices on the remaining seats that we had left.  This was done in an effort to maximize revenue on the few remaining tickets that we had left.  However this was only done after giving all of our season ticket holders from the 2008-2009 season over two months (renewal packets were sent out on February 20, 2009), to renew their season tickets at little or no increase. This was also done after giving fans over two months to become new season ticket holders with little increase.

Chmura said the Winter Classic "was part of" the price hike for new season-ticket buyers. There's also no telling what this season's 13,000 season-ticket holders are going to be paying come the 2011-12 season.

The Bruins aren't exactly a cheap date to begin with: The 2008 Fan Cost Index from Team Marketing Report (.pdf) gave Boston the third-highest price tag for a family of four ($352.60) at the game, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. But as the Bruins explained to us and to the Globe, fans are clearly willing to shoulder that cost even in a hideous economy; if that's the case, why not milk the cow, right?

Especially since, as a hockey town, Boston's shown time and time again that the cow has a pretty short lifespan. Which is another way of saying that one season's cash grab can be become next season's 15,000-fan average per home game.

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