September 05, 2008
Terry Frei's column on the rise in NHL ticket prices ("NHL is risking a widespread exodus if it keeps raising prices") is worth your attention because (a) it's always good for a laugh when a professional hockey writer with a magic press pass from two mainstream media outlets (as Frei admits) opines about the price of "going to the game" and (b) it's equally hilarious when ESPN plays the fan populist card when they're the first to slime team management for not adding payroll to compete.
That said, it is a good read. If a little shortsighted:
The NHL keeps finding ways to raise prices -- and justify it. Bettman's stance at the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta was that the league hadn't failed to follow through on an implied promise. "What we said was we were in an inflationary system, and the system we were trying to get would mitigate the inflation," he said. He argued that ticket prices had risen minimally in the NHL, but far more in other sports.
But think of the mileage the NHL could have gotten up by backing up its talk with, at the very least, a holding of the line on ticket prices -- or, perhaps more eye-opening, an aggressive rollback in recognition that prices in the NHL were completely out of whack ... and one of the league's biggest problems.
While it's indisputable that the lockout didn't curb salary inflation and that the savings have never been passed onto the fans, taking Bettman to task is missing the target. Variable pricing, ticket package discount, trendy clubs and luxury perks available only to a select few ... all of these things are an attempt to steer consumers into the season-ticket base.
NHL teams know that they're in a niche, and thanks to the League's constant bumbling in promoting the game that niche may or may not grow. Hence, they lock in as many fans as you can into multi-game or season ticket plans. The best way to do this, as in any business, is to show that membership has its privileges; and, as we pointed out previously, the easiest way to sell that membership is to price gouge non-members.
We'll say this for Terry Frei: He's been one of the few MSM hockey writers that's consistently defended non-traditional markets when they're struggling at the gate. Excusing the aforementioned ESPN/populist irony, this line reads like poetry:
It seems the folks most often making 100 percent, automatic-sellout support of a hockey team a litmus test for a market's passion often have a press pass hanging around their neck or are eating potato chips and drinking beer in front of their televisions as they watch games, rather than paying the high cost of attending the games themselves.