Post-Lockout NHL: Higher Ticket Prices, Better Attendance

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Maybe the NHL should shoot for a lockout-shortened hockey season every year?

Soon after the NHL ended its 100+-day lockout, the discussion turned to how fans would react. Specifically, team and arena owners worried about the possibility that fans would be so bitter about the lockout that they wouldn’t show up for games, dollars in hand.

When the shortened season schedule was announced, NHL teams rolled out deals on tickets and concessions to try to make nice with the fans and draw them back to arenas. Opening-night tickets were sold at 50% off, family ticket deals offered free seats for a child with a paying adult, and arena concessions and team merchandise were discounted or given away during promotional events.

Apparently, the promotions did the trick. Either that or fans would have supported their teams no matter what. In any event, a little over a month into the lockout-shortened season, the NHL is boasting solid average attendance at games—up 1.42% over last season. The Bleacher Report reported that the increase, while modest, means the NHL is on pace for the third year in a row of rising average per-game attendance.

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A Boston Globe Magazine article published in late January noted that we shouldn’t be surprised by how quickly fans seem to have let bygones be bygones:

As Globe hockey columnist Kevin Paul Dupont wrote, NHL fans “have always acted as the enablers in the lockout dynamic.” After the league returned from the canceled 2004-05 season, attendance increased for 25 of 30 teams, including the Bruins. The NHL set records for total attendance (20,854,169) and average game attendance (16,955). Those numbers are very good — by hockey standards.

According to ESPN data, average game attendance thus far in 2013 is around 17,700.

Nonetheless, teams are trying to send the message that they don’t take fan support for granted, and the charm offensive is still in effect in many hockey towns. The Detroit Red Wings recently sent season ticketholders booklets of coupons good for free team merchandise, $1 sodas, and $3 beers at the arena—beers that normally run around $9 a pop, according to the Detroit News.

In the same way that NBA teams offer cheap ticket deals at arenas that struggle to draw fans, flailing NHL squads are rolling out all sorts of ticket deals to keep locals coming through the turnstiles. For instance, the Phoenix Coyotes—dead last in the NHL in terms of average home game attendance—introduced the GOALden ticket package. The promotion should attract gamblers and fans alike: For $100, you get seats for up to 10 home games, or until opposing teams score a total of five goals against the Coyotes, whichever comes first.

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The Florida Panthers, meanwhile, are trying to boost season ticket numbers by including free concerts from the likes of Larry the Cable Guy and Daughtry with seat packages. The Colorado Avalanche and other teams are selling packages that bundle tickets and refreshments—$99 for four tickets, four meals, and four drinks, for example.

While there seem to be plenty of inexpensive ticket promotions around the NHL, per the Fan Cost Index, the price of attending an NHL game actually went up this year. The average regular season ticket now costs $61.01, up nearly 6% from last year, and the average price to bring a family of four to a game (including tickets, drinks, food, parking, and souvenirs) is up to $354.82, a rise of nearly 8%.

And why wouldn’t teams raise prices? After all, attendance is rising.