Here to Stay

“What I said was it varies from market to market. The one thing that would not be sensible to do is lower your ticket prices to enrich scalpers. That doesn’t make any sense. But the fact of the matter is, more than a majority of our teams would use the opportunity of economic stability to lower their ticket prices.”

I guess to Gary Bettman and his “cost certainty,” enriching scalpers is at the top of his worry list.

Terry Frei at ESPN argues that despite Bettman’s claims that he’s fighting for the fans and that by linking revenues to player salaries it would stop the increase in ticket prices, it’s still happening, and at an alarming rate at that too. Frei argues that if ticket prices continue to rise, the NHL could face a mass exodus of fans who either can’t or won’t pay for the tickets. He also thinks that “the cap [won’t] be $56.7 million. The benchmarks for everything, from extensions to UFA deals, would be lower. The owners wouldn’t be getting as much revenue, but they wouldn’t be paying as much in salaries.”

I’m assuming that when Frei thinks that the cap won’t be at $56.7m next year, he means he expects it to go up. Yet, if I understood his article correctly, he thinks the benchmarks will be lower. Funny, I always thought that an increase in cap always meant more money being thrown around – after all, isn’t that why some hockey pundits are arguing that the new cap hasn’t done anything for the league and that the lockout was all for naught? After the first season under the new CBA we saw a ton of money being thrown around, highlighted by the Rangers’ splurge on Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. This year we saw the likes of Jeff Finger and Wade Redden and Ryan Malone get paid much more than “market value.” If the cap is expected to go up, what makes Frei think that there would be lower benchmarks? In every single summer since the implementation of the salary cap we’ve seen more precedents (Mike Richards‘ lifetime contract) and loopholes (Lou Lamouriello) than ever.

Frei uses the Kings, Canucks, Flames, Jackets, Ducks, and Hurricanes as examples of increasing ticket prices. Yet he fails to mention that even with the new ticket prices, both Canadian teams still play to sell-out crowds every single night. The attendance for the other teams he’s mentioned have been mediocre or average at best: Kings (21st), Jackets (28th), Ducks (15th), and Hurricanes (20th). Of those 4 teams, only the Ducks have on averaged played out to sold-out crowds. What separates the Ducks from the rest of them? They’re only one season removed from being Stanley Cup champs. The Canes and Lightning enjoyed such success after their Cup-winning seasons, but without continually winning their attendance dropped, especially for Carolina, who managed to miss the playoffs.

I don’t think that ticket price is the main factor that’s driving fans away, and Frei doesn’t explicitly say so either, but the fact of the matter is, winning matters. Unless a team is in Canada or Minnesota, teams that win are always going to the be ones that post good attendance numbers, regardless of where they are. Bettman and Bill Daly have always tried to sell the game to the American public. I think it’s time that they let the game sell itself. This season could be the season that Hockeytown becomes Hockeytown once again, or the season that we see Washington become for the first time, a viable hockey market.

Read more about the rising ticket prices courtesy of Frei.