According to a Team Marketing Report, the average NHL ticket price for 2011-12 was $57.10, which at first glance may not seem too hefty. But when you consider all of the associated fan expenses to enhance game experience, the all important Fan Cost Index (FCI) balloons to $326.45.
The FCI calculates the cost for a group of four to attend the game, including parking, food, beverage, etc. The final verdict: attending a professional hockey game is by no means a cheap date. As wages stagnate, the NHL is a sport which is out of reach for most middle and lower class fans – especially during a downturn in economic conditions.
The league has not shown much regard for the average non-corporate fan because 40% of NHL tickets are purchased by the corporate world. This is hardly a surprise, since companies can most afford the product and utilize tickets as a way to woo potential clients or keep existing ones happy.
When you factor in the inconveniences from the lockout and a less than ideal economy for disposable income, it appears the league’s corporate gravy train may soon be derailing and taking down with it the fourth most popular team sport.
However, there is a rather large silver lining to this dark cloud, being it would force imminent league contraction to twenty-four teams…or maybe less. By contracting the league and adding franchises in established sports markets such as Quebec City and Seattle, the league will be forced to get its act together. In the long term, contraction would result in a superior product on the ice – more than making up for the failed markets.
In a league where most of the teams claim to be experiencing financial difficulty, losing corporate clients will in no way help their bottom line. Since the game has been priced out of the reach of the majority of the middle and lower class, there would be little in the form of demand to replace the corporatistas if they decide not to return to their luxury skyboxes and well stocked bars once the season resumes. With the latest labor impasse arriving at a time of economic uncertainty, it appears the NHL has cornered itself between a hard ice patch and a rock.
Even in the best of conditions, the NHL is a tough sell to corporate clients, many of whom would prefer to spend their money on the NFL, MLB, NBA and other high profile entertainment events such a rock concerts. Being the fourth major sport in the American market, the NHL has a more difficult sales pitch than the three other professional leagues. With the widespread bad publicity and apathy emanating from this lockout, the league will definitely have their work cut out for them when the season resumes.
Much adieu has been made about whether or not the fans will return once the labor situation is settled. Like they have before, of course the masochist fanatics will return in droves for some more abuse. Those fans who are most vocal and pledge never to attend another game are usually the first in line to purchase tickets when a new deal is reached and play resumes.
Such chronic amnesia by fans is the main reason why the NHL can continue their recurring policy of fan abuse with little or no negative repercussions. However, with the corporate sector controlling 40% of the market, it appears the suits and ties, and not the blue collars, will be the ultimate factor in deciding the future economic fate of the game.
The NHL has no one but themselves to blame for its current state of affairs. The teams have done a reprehensible job in controlling key costs such as player salaries, failing to envision the drying up of the corporate cash cow. By all indications, the drought is coming soon and the NHL will have to engage cardiopulmonary resuscitation to keep the game sustainable for owners and fans alike.
When the season returns, it will take a little more than a few cheap dates for fans to extricate the NHL from their latest train wreck.