Precious Mettle (or, Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?)

There is nothing new in the variable pricing of tickets by pro sports teams; several teams in major North American pro sports leages have been doing it for several years. I’m not here to tell you if it’s a “good” or “bad” practice, but if a team can get away with charging more for “premium” games, then it’s certainly good for that team.

Nothing markets like winning, as the Buffalo Sabres showed last season. Dressed in new duds, the Sabres had a terrific season and advanced all the way to the conference finals. They paced the league in merchandise sales and sold out every home date. But they didn’t win the Stanley Cup. And several of their key players defected over the summer. Despite the defection of these high echelon (and highly paid) players, a Lowe Blow actually helped cause the Sabres’ payroll to go up in 2007-08. It’s hard to believe that the stripped-down Sabres of 2007-08 will be able to approach last season’s franchise record-tying total of 113 points, but such is life in the league’s post-lockout economic climate.

So how to take a lesser (and costlier) product and make it generate more revenue when the ceilings of reasonable revenue have seemingly already been reached? The first thing you do is raise ticket prices for your sold out building.

Done.

The Sabres have raised their ticket prices at all four of their variable levels: Gold, Silver, Bronze and Value. Last year’s “Gold” range was $50-150; this year’s is going to be $68-203. I don’t have a math degree from John Q. Polytechnic Institute or anything like that, but that’s a hefty increase (I have no idea what increase, if any, was passed on to season ticket holders. The Sabres actually capped season ticket sales last year so they would be able to offer a certain number of single game tickets. They were getting kudos for that, but now it’s easy to see why they’d want a cap on season tix sales.).

The “Silvers” rose from a range of $33-92 last season to $41-115 in 2007-08. The “Bronze” tickets went from $23-83 to $29-90 and the “Value” range went up from $16-72 to $20-90. So the cheapest ticket went up four bucks, which is about half a Duff to us Homer Simpson types. And a price increase of precisely 25%.

Is there anything else we can possibly do here to jiggle the equation and wring a few more bucks out of the already sold out building?

Well, yeah.

What you do is jack the number of “Gold” and “Silver” games while decreasing the number of “Bronze” and “Value” games. It works like this. In 2006-07, you have six Gold, 17 Silver, 13 Bronze and five Value games. Then in 2007-08 you go to nine Gold, 22 Silver, five Bronze and five Value games. Boom, done. Your team isn’t likely to be better, but you’ve added some showroom luster to eight games on the schedule just like that.

In 2006-07, all four home dates against Toronto were “Gold” games, as were two of the dates against Montreal (one of which was opening night). This season it’s the same, but with three more “Gold” games added. Those would be the first visits of the season by Philadelphia and the Rangers and the Jan. 1 game against Pittsburgh, widely reported to be an outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Philly game falls on a Friday night and will bring longtime Sabre netminder Marty Biron back to Buffalo. The Rangers game is also on a Friday and it features a team against which Buffalo played a hard-fought playoff series in 2007.

The first time the Rangers came in last season was also on a Friday night. But it was a “Silver” game in those days. If you were shopping for tix for the Rangers’ first visit of the 2006-07 season, you were looking at anywhere from $33 to $92. This year, you’ll have to pay $68 to $203.

Both of last year’s Philadelphia visits were “Bronze” games. But since the Flyers are now one of the best teams in the league(/sarcasm), their visits have been elevated to “Gold” and “Silver” this season.

If you’re looking for evidence that the Capitals are on the rise, have a look at the Sabres schedule. Last year’s visits were “Silver” and “Value” games, respectively. This year’s are “Silver” and “Bronze.”

I could go on, but the offseason is only so long. And you get the idea.

A recent missive in this space mentioned that the fans will be footing the bill for the latest increase in the NHL salary cap, which is followed by the latest rise in player salaries as sure as autumn follows summer (please tell me autumn follows summer). I’m sure Buffalo isn’t the only team that will be employing these tactics, but it’s hard to conceive of other teams doing so to this degree.

Hold onto your wallets, kids.

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4 Comments on “Precious Mettle (or, Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?)”

  1. Mark Says:

    The Phily game is the return of Briere and the NYR game is the return of Drury – not that it is an excuse, but that could/should be the reason…

  2. dumpnchase Says:

    Mark,
    Great point on the Briere and Drury returns. Ironic that the Sabres couldn’t pay the two centers enough to keep them there, but are now charging their fans more to see them in enemy uniforms.

  3. bill ball Says:

    Mike- I appreciate your angle and continuing coverage on this saga. It only took a few seasons post lock out for the business of hockey to come back and bite the fans. These are the same fans who stuck around while the game took its licks through 2004 and 05. With how badly the NHL needs more fans, I’m surprised more noise isn’t made about this situation in the sports press. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised…)
    If the NHL can’t find revenue beyond the gate, owners and GMs need to take a harder look at the bottom line. It’s not the old west, nor is it the old NHL. How many of these fans will continue to come back if the game is locked out again in the next several years?

  4. number games Says:

    why should one team charge more than others. Makes it worse for familys who have to buy more than one ticket. maybe good for the team butis it good for the fans?

    Players get payed too much these days anyways!


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