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Friday, September 5, 2008

Dear Fans: You're Boned. Signed, The NHL

The Denver Post and ESPN's Terry Frei is taking up the cause for us. That's right, he's standing up for Joe Consumer who gets to continually take it in the backside from the Greed Collective that are the NHL Owners:

Ticket prices keep going up, in part to keep up with the payroll demands
created by the rising cap, which includes a floor and also pressures to at least
get in a "competitive" payroll realm; and the cap goes up in part because of the
additional revenue generated by the increased ticket prices; and …

Or is it the other way around?

What matters is that it's a continuing cycle, and the NHL didn't do much to
try to stop it after it got its alleged idiot-proof cap system.

You can't really say it any more succinct than that. Good on you Terry.

It can't be stated any clearer that while this CBA agreement made it seem like the Owners and Players were going to tie up all the loose ends, especially with the fans by bringing the game back and being more entertaining to watch all while the owners were going to stick it to the players and make them learn for wanting more. Never, ever doubt that the owners merely care about the bottom line - problem is, the owners managed to give the players the key to the city.

What's more is that the owners are also busy chewing on each other to the point where it's nearly collusion against the fans. Case in point behold the wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge reborn in the form of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs:

"The attendance in Buffalo is strong. Buffalo has had a very low ticket price
for a number of years. As long as the interest is strong as it is, it may be
painful, but people may have to pay more for tickets… On a comparative basis,
when you're paying comparative salaries, you need comparative income."
In other words: "Hey Buffalo! You're ruining it for the rest of us with your success and lower prices!"

Some of these owners, Jacobs among them since he's the head of the NHL Board of Governors, have even gone as far as to accuse Golisano for keeping ticket prices down so the Sabres could collect on revenue sharing from the rest of the league.

As you can see at this link, the ticket revenue levels have stayed about the same for the Sabres the last two years, even improving slightly last season when the team missed the playoffs. Consistency is good, especially when it means having a full house - at least, that's what you'd think.

It's incredible to me that teams who can't fill their own house get to point fingers at those who do. The Sabres have done great to sell the game and the experience to the fans since Golisano took over as owner, so much so that there's a waiting list to get season tickets to see the Sabres. However since the Sabres aren't "taking advantage of that" and jacking up prices at will across the board and cut off their nose to spite their face, they're at fault for their woes and they're the ones stealing from the other owners.

Talk about your bully pulpit.

We know how these owners enjoy working together to make sure they get the most money possible. Just revisit expansion of the 1990s if you need a refresher course.

Perhaps its my upstate New York mindset or awareness or just flat-out common sense that tells me that maybe, just maybe, Golisano and the Sabres recognize that Buffalo is a tough town to squeeze folks for their money and that he recognizes that the Buffalo market isn't as financially strong as the bigger cities, something the Ilitch family could take a lesson on since Michigan's economy is about as fragile as Buffalo's.

While I can appreciate the NHL owners for wanting to make sure everyone is doing their part to keep up appearances and no one is dogging it just to pick up a welfare check, in Buffalo's case I don't know that its the same thing. If you jack up the prices in Buffalo, you'll turn it into something eerily similar to what you see in other formerly successful attendance markets. Just look at the numbers from last season attendance-wise.

Buffalo checked in, as a non-playoff team, with a capacity percentage of 109% Yes, greater than capacity thanks to standing room tickets. If Jeremy Jacobs is so insistent on Golisano and the Sabres doing things his way, apparently selling tickets to 82% capacity is how to get things done. It's not quite half-assing it, but it's close.

That's where the question that's akin to "What came first: The chicken or the egg?" comes into play. The Sabres are doing premium priced ticket plans where certain teams will bring with them a certain cost to the tickets. It's a reasonable approach to make to capitalize on games you know are going to be sellouts. Every game the Sabres play with Toronto is guaranteed to sell out because you've got folks from Buffalo and Toronto looking for tickets. Leafs fans especially enjoy coming stateside for a game because Sabres tickets are vastly less expensive than tickets to see the Leafs at Air Canada Center.

The problem you run into with raising ticket prices across the board, and this is where the Sabres and other teams that have gone this way got it right with premium games, is that no one wants to pay the same price to watch the dumpy team you never see as opposed to seeing the blood rival you'd pay out the nose to get in the building. The advantages all work for the team here.

Sadly this is the NHL - a league where mediocrity is the ultimate goal of the owners as far as what the fans get and what they want out of the players all the while making absolutely sure their pockets stay heavily lined and if anyone isn't doing their part to greed up...you get smacked.

At this point, multiple relocations and expansion (God help us all if it comes to that) are the only solutions the league will consider to help rebuild the coffers if it comes to that. The NHL has enough teams playing the role of the "weak sister" and for the time being, the Board of Governors and the Commissioner's Office are saying all the supportive things. You have to know that if teams are bleeding as much money as some say they are (Phoenix and Los Angeles respectively) then the rest of the owners are not happy because they're dragging them down hard and virtually flushing money down the toilet.

So, in the meantime, how do you make up for them? You cough it up out your ass for tickets.

Congratulations, you're paying for rotten miserable owners.


Matt said...

Of all the people to criticize Buffalo, Jeremy Jacobs should understand the WNY market's problems. And as much as Golisano has made some odd decisions, it's clear keeping prices down is a priority to him.

Jacobs is just upset he can't get more people to pay ridiculous prices at his home arena, despite the fact they're one of the most unwatchable teams in the NHL.

Four years after the lockout, the owners are on the highway to another stoppage.

Hockey Joe said...

I know I bring a lot of doom and gloom talk here, but I can see the owners pulling another fast one and locking out again because they can't even figure themselves out the right way. They thought they fixed the players good with this agreement and as it turns out the Players Association has it as good as they ever have.

Jacobs and the rest of the cavemen like him need to go away. It's a shame the turnaround in Chicago started with Dollar Bill's death, but it apparently takes that sort of thing to get some of these guys out of the way.

Jacobs just thinks that the new guy Golisano, new in the sense that he hasn't been in with the rest of the group to get into the Old Boys Club, is trying to put one over on them and take his money. Ridiculous.