SBJ/October 3-9, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL: Renewal rate at more than 90 percent

The NHL has increased its base of full-season-ticket holders for the second consecutive season.

With 90.3 percent of season-ticket holders renewing this year — a 2.5 percent increase — the league will raise its total number of season tickets sold by 4 percent. This year the league will average just over 9,500 season-ticket customers per team, with 20 of 29 clubs improving their renewal rate from last season.

The league data does not include sales numbers for the Winnipeg Jets, who sold 13,000 season tickets on June 4 after relocating from Atlanta.

Team and league sources credited the increase to the NHL’s on-ice performance last season. Others, though, pointed toward new pricing structures and value-adding benefits for the boost in sales. Of the 19 teams that divulged season-ticket sales, 10 clubs raised prices, eight remained flat and one club, the Anaheim Ducks, lowered prices.

“In the last 12 to 18 months we’ve seen a lot more creativity in the packaging of value to create new benefits for [season-ticket] holders, especially experiential events and customized communication,” said Jeff Morander, vice president of club consulting and services for the NHL. “Clubs are also putting more thought and strategy in their pricing from a choice standpoint.”

The New Jersey Devils, who kept overall ticket prices flat for the season, debuted a new entry-level season ticket at $968, down from $1,320, which was the club’s entry-level price in 2010. The low-priced seats are in the team’s new soccer-style supporters section in the upper bowl, where fans are expected to stand and cheer during the entire game.

The club also rolled out a new menu of 22 benefits for season-ticket holders, such as a barbecue with players and a reception with owner Jeff Vanderbeek. The club saw its renewal rate jump from 77 percent last season to 87 percent this year. It also added 1,900 new season-ticket holders to bring its total to just under 10,000.

“You can’t rely on people buying individual tickets the way they used to because of the secondary market,” said Rich Krezwick, president of Devils Arena Entertainment. “You have to invest in value-added events and perks.”

The Anaheim Ducks restructured prices for season tickets in the $40 to $80 range, dropping prices between 4 and 16 percent on those seats and 4.1 percent across the board. One year after seeing its season-ticket base drop by 5 percent, the club increased its overall base by 10 percent.

Even clubs that traditionally have little problem selling tickets debuted packages that included value-added perks. The Vancouver Canucks, who renewed at 98 percent and raised prices by 3.5 percent, offered benefits that include seat upgrades for preseason games, access to pregame skate sessions and customized ticket designs. The Nashville Predators, who raised their total prices by 6 percent and renewed at 92 percent, offered season-ticket holders a rewards card that can be used for concessions, apparel and additional tickets. The Montreal Canadiens, who renewed at 99.4 percent and have a waiting list of 4,400, included VIP parking and visits to the press box with their high-end season tickets.

“We’ve run out of things to sell,” said Canadiens COO Kevin Gilmore. “There is high demand for our product and so we’ve tried to find different ways to meet it.”

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