SBJ/June 18-24, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Most NHL clubs say season tickets selling well

The league’s Bill Daly sees business as usual despite hockey’s labor uncertainty.
Photo by: GORT PRODUCTIONS
Full-season-ticket sales for NHL clubs are up more than 7 percent across the league for next year, according to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, despite the potential of a work stoppage for the game this fall.

In a survey of all 30 NHL clubs, officials from 21 teams said season-ticket sales either were up for the 2012-13 season or that their respective teams were at capacity and renewing season-ticket sales at a clip of 90 percent or more (see list at bottom of page). Officials at only three clubs said sales were the same or down; six clubs declined to comment.

Although many team officials would not comment on what impact, if any, the labor situation was having on ticket sales, representatives from about a dozen teams said the potential for a work stoppage this fall has had little to no impact on season-ticket holders putting down deposits for next season.

The NHL collective-bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15. Formal bargaining sessions for a new deal had yet to begin as of last week.

“It certainly does evidence that our Clubs continue to approach next season on a ‘business as usual’ basis, and are not putting the brakes on their businesses or otherwise preordaining a work interruption, as some would like to suggest they (or we) are,” Daly said via email. “No need to at this point.”

Daly said season-ticket renewals were up across the league by about 3 percent over last year and that full-season-ticket sales overall — renewals plus new subscriptions — were up in excess of 7 percent.

For many clubs, there is no room for growth in season-ticket sales. Toronto and Montreal, for example, are sold out with waiting lists of thousands of people. Such is the case in Chicago, Boston and Buffalo, as well.

In Buffalo, there are 3,000 people on a waiting list for Sabres season tickets, and no one cancels their season tickets if they are unhappy, said Michael Gilbert, Sabres vice president of public and community relations. “They cancel because they died or moved away,” he said.

Business is up in some nontraditional hockey towns as well, including Dallas, where the Stars are operating under new ownership. Asked to characterize the Stars’ ticket-sales efforts, new team President Jim Lites said, “Pretty good. This is our first summer with a team that has missed the playoffs four years in a row … and we were two years in bankruptcy.” The Stars, Lites said, were tracking about 5 percent to 10 percent ahead of last year with about 6,000 season tickets sold.

As for any impact of the labor situation on sales, Lites said, “It’s an issue that gets discussed, but I don’t think it’s changing people’s buying attitudes.”

Ed Horne, who was formerly president of NHL Enterprises but left the league in 2009, said he was not surprised that season-ticket sales around the league were unaffected by the uncertain labor situation.

“I don’t think the potential for a work stoppage has reached the consciousness of the hockey fans,” said Horne, now COO of Madison Avenue Sports and Entertainment. “I think the fans believe that things that needed to be fixed were fixed the last time and they can’t envision a situation where they don’t have hockey again. As I think back to 2004, there was a lot of noise and a lot of chatter years before the agreement expired. This time, there is little noise from either side, which I think is smarter.”

Staff writer Christopher Botta contributed to this report.

Tracking NHL teams' season-ticket sales

Anaheim Ducks: About the same pace as this time last year.
Boston Bruins: Sold out of season tickets since the middle of their Cup-winning 2010-11 season; waiting list continues to grow.
Buffalo Sabres: Capped season-ticket sales at 15,500 last season; projecting 95 percent renewal rate, with 3,000 people on a waiting list.
Chicago Blackhawks: Renewal rate of more than 99 percent; sold out, as was the case for the previous four seasons; more than 10,000 people on a waiting list.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Down overall about 5 percent from this time last year, but new sales up about 10 percent.
Dallas Stars: Up 5 percent to 10 percent, with about 6,000 season tickets sold in their 18,000-seat arena.
Detroit Red Wings: Renewals at more than 90 percent for the first time since 2006-07.
Florida Panthers: New sales up 148 percent compared with the same time last year;
renewals up 14 percent.
Los Angeles Kings: Expect to sell out all season tickets for the first time since moving to Staples Center in 1999; season tickets expected to cap out at 15,500, up from 13,000 last season.
Minnesota Wild: Ahead of the past two seasons in both renewals and new sales.
Montreal Canadiens: As in years past, high renewal rate in a sold-out arena; 4,000 on a waiting list.
Nashville Predators: Sales up overall, with a 95 to 97 percent renewal rate and an
increase in new sales.
New Jersey Devils: Renewals pacing above 90 percent.
Ottawa Senators: Sales up 15 percent compared with the same time last year.
Philadelphia Flyers: Demand pacing well ahead of last season; at capacity for season-ticket plans.
Phoenix Coyotes: Renewal rate more than 90 percent, the best in franchise history;
more than 1,500 new sales.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Renewals projected at 97 percent, up from 96 percent last year;
sales are capped at 15,000; waiting list of 9,000.
St. Louis Blues: Both renewals and new sales up significantly over the same time last year.
San Jose Sharks: Pacing at the same renewal rate as this time last year.
Tampa Bay Lightning: More than 5,000 new sales last year; expectations for the same or more for 2012-13.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Renewals in the high 90 percent range, same as last season; 5,700 on a waiting list.
Vancouver Canucks: 97 percent for renewals, same as last year.
Washington Capitals: Renewals at 96 to 97 percent; sold out of season tickets with a
waiting list of about 3,000.
Winnipeg Jets: Sold out for the next three to five years thanks to contracts signed with
season-ticket holders as part of the club’s relocation.

Note: Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Edmonton, the New York Islanders and New York Rangers declined to comment.  Sources: Club officials
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