The biggest change for the Devils at Prudential Center this season is that "sellouts have become the norm for pretty much any opponent other than" the Lightning, according to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen RECORD. The Devils have "sold out 13 of their 15 home games so far this season, with the exceptions being visits from the Lightning." The Devils are "playing to 98 percent of capacity with an average attendance of 17,277, which represents a 12.2 percent increase from their 2011-12 season average of 15,397." Their 13 sellouts already are "four more than they had for 41 home games last season, and just two off the most they’ve had in the six seasons since they moved from the Meadowlands to Newark." Devils Owner & Prudential Center Chair Jeff Vanderbeek said, "More and more people love the arena. You come here and this is not a hockey game, this is a game-day experience." He added, "There’s a lot to do here and more and more people are understanding that and liking that." Vanderbeek cited a "number of factors for the improved attendance." He said that one is a "coming of age of Devils’ fans who grew up watching the team win Stanley Cups" in '95, '00 and '03. Vanderbeek: "The last three years the 26-, 27-, 28-year-old who has known really nothing but Devils’ success -- post-1995 -- they are reaching the age now where they can afford tickets." He estimated that the Devils "sold 1,600-1,700 new season tickets prior to the lockout beginning in September and roughly another 1,000 after it ended, giving them approximately 10,000 full-season-ticket holders." The Devils including partial plans "started with a base of 13,000 to 14,000 tickets sold before individual game and group sales" (Bergen RECORD, 3/18).
Only 70% of the T'Wolves' 10,000-person season-ticket base has "renewed for next year when the team is increasing prices after slashing them to bargain prices three years ago," according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. That is with "offering 10 percent back next year if the team doesn’t make this spring’s playoffs." The T'Wolves recently "began a 'Get Closer' campaign to sell new season tickets with a series of off-beat television commercials featuring Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko and Greg Stiemsma." In the campaign, there is a "promise to make those buyers more a part of the family through a five-level membership program that will offer everything from viewing parties and town-hall meetings to road trips and dinner with owner Glen Taylor, based upon the buyers’ level of commitment." Team President Chris Wright said, "We’re right where we thought we’d be. A lot of the seats we’re losing are in the upper level. We sold so many of those $5 seats three years ago and they went to $14." He added, "We still have 1,000 seats in the lower level for next season that are $20. There’s a piece of me that says that’s still a great buy for consumers. It’s probably one of the cheapest seats in the lower level for any NBA arena, but it is very, very difficult once you have lowered prices to take them back up to average NBA levels." Wright was asked if the revenue "generated from the price increase" will offset the loss of those who do not sign back up. He responded, "Yes, especially since the vast majority of our renewals is in the lower levels. We feel very comfortable with that" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/17).
The Pacers played the Lakers at home on Friday before a seemingly pro-L.A. crowd, and Pacers G George Hill's comments after the game agreeing with that notion "struck a nerve with the fan base," according to Mike Wells of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. The Pacers, who "continue to have attendance problems, have a history of a significant number of fans in the fieldhouse cheering on the marquee teams in the league." Hill said that he "felt like 70 percent of the crowd was cheering for the Lakers." Hill "has the backing of his coach and other members of the Pacers’ organization." Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, "I don’t think it’s bad. I don’t think he’s saying anything negative to the fans. He’s just asking for more support. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that." Hill on Saturday "took to Twitter to clear up his comments." He wrote, "To clear the (air) I’m not talking about the fans that was there supporting us! I’m talking about the ones that were in purple" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/17).
MIDWESTERN HOLLYWOOD: Wells noted Hill in the locker room following the game on Friday was "a few feet away talking (pretty loud) to [Pacers F] Roy Hibbert about the lack of Pacers fans in the building." Hill said, "It sucks. It was 70 (Lakers fans) -- 30 (Pacers fans) out there. These are the same people that wants autographs after the game. We’re out there in the community. We’re doing our job, doing what we’re supposed to do on and off the court. Something has to change." He added, "It’s been all season long where it’s not showing and I don’t think there’s nothing else we can do as an organization and as players" (INDYSTAR.com, 3/16). Wells noted the more Lakers C Dwight Howard "dunked and the more 3-pointers Los Angeles made, the louder the fans cheered." All the Pacers "needed to do was lower the lights in the stands, put Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington in the high-priced seats and you would have thought you were across the country at Staples Center" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/16).
The Celtics are “moving to electronic ticketing for season ticket holders with their Parquet Pass, a square of plastic that serves as everything from ticket to stored value card to tracking device,” according to Amalie Benjamin of the BOSTON GLOBE. The Red Sox also will “offer digital ticketing, though they are just beginning their pilot program for 600 members of the Royal Rooters club.” The teams “want their season ticket holders, their highest-spending and most dependable customers, to feel valued and connected to the brand.” To foster that, the teams “will offer loyalty programs, targeted advertising, and promotions.” Celtics President Rich Gotham said, “With everything digital, there’s a trail that you can clearly look at and see how tickets are being utilized. It gives a level of intelligence to deal with your customer. We feel like we should know that person, and they should know us." As technology has “evolved, so, too has the way to reward fan loyalty.” Celtics VP/Strategic Marketing & Business Operations Matt Griffin said, “That’s where this business is headed, from being a ‘season ticket holder’ to you’re becoming a ‘season ticket member.’” The Celtics program, “tested in a pilot program this season, is billed as a way to give control and convenience to the fan, using cards for parking and merchandise, food and beverage, perhaps even outside the arena.” The pilot program “included about 650 people and has taken some time to work seamlessly.” The Celtics estimate that they “will have 70 percent adoption next season.” Ticket holders “can also opt to stay with paper tickets.”
FENWAY FAITHFUL: The Red Sox “have joined with Fortress US on a program based on one used” by the Nationals, while “taking cues from” the MLS Union. The card is “part of a bigger loyalty program the Sox are hoping will change the way fans engage with the team.” Fans enrolled will be able to “earn rewards, much as they might in airline or hotel programs, getting points for attending games, for watching or listening to games at home, for using e-cash at concession stands, for tenure as a season ticket holder.” They then can “use those points for auction items -- like throwing out a first pitch or assisting the scorekeeper behind the Green Monster.” Meanwhile, Patriots Exec Dir of Media Relations Stacey James said that the team has “no plans to give up physical tickets anytime soon” and has “different needs because of the small number of home games.” Bruins President Cam Neely said of the team possibly adopting a similar program, “We haven’t decided what we’re going to do moving forward” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/16).
In DC, Mark Maske cited sources as saying that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials informed the Redskins that the NFL is “unwavering on the team’s two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction and has no intention of considering a lessening of the penalty." Redskins officials have said that they “do not consider the matter fully resolved.” But a source said that Goodell “left open no possibility that the league will reconsider.” A source said that the NFL “won’t relent in part because it does not believe there is any reason to do so, and in part because any change to the penalty would have to be ratified by the other NFL teams” and the NFLPA (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/17).
LOWER PLANE: The Jets are lowering ticket prices on 3,000 seats in MetLife Stadium’s upper deck, dropping some club seat prices, and stripping some seats out of their most premium area. While team President Neil Glat said that 94% of the team’s prices will remain the same, the Jets wanted to get more season-ticket holders buying in the upper deck and sell more tickets in the club areas. Last year, the team reduced 6,300 upper deck seats, which do not carry a PSL, from $75 to $50. Now there will be 9,300 priced at that lower level. In the club seating area in the mezzanine level, some seats will see prices drop to $295 from $395, and others to $250 from $295. Additionally, 364 seats are being stripped out of the elite Coaches Club and put into the Mezzanine Club, dropping the price from $700 to $250. All those seats still require a PSL (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).
HIGH FLYERS: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote Falcons RB Steven Jackson’s signing “not only fills a need," but also “says something about where this franchise is at.” Great players “want to come to Atlanta.” They are “willing to postpone retirement plans or opt out of more lucrative contracts” for the “chance to play for a champion” (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 3/16).
PLAN IN PLACE: In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote, “People are overstating the losses the Ravens have sustained, and have ignored the fact that you can’t sign everyone, especially after players get their prices inflated by success." Like Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome “always has a plan.” The Ravens are “not as bad off as you think” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/17).
In San Diego, Bill Center reports the Padres' payroll at the start of the '13 season "will be just around" $70M. The total includes approximately $65M "for the 25 players on the projected Opening Day roster," $3.5M in "buyouts paid" to former players and around $1.5M to four players opening the season on the disabled list. While the Padres' payroll this season represents a $12M gain over last year and a $32M increase over '10, it will "still rank among the lowest" in MLB. Most of the increase from '12 is "represented by bigger contracts for arbitration-eligible players" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/18).
HOUSTON FANS DESERVE BETTER: The Astros are likely to start the season with a payroll around $25M, and ESPN’s J.A. Adande said that is "not fair" to fans, especially when Minute Maid Park "was built with $180 million in public funds." Adande: "If you want the fans to come out, you have to invest in that team.” Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said teams “are a public trust, and so they have to make the effort to go out and improve the team” (“Around the Horn,” ESPN, 3/15).
ANOTHER GREEN INITIATIVE: MLB.com's Jane Lee noted the A's launched the fourth season of their "Green Collar Baseball" campaign Saturday when the club "introduced its new line of television commercials to the media." This year's commercials feature "plenty of humor," with A's RF Josh Reddick and CF Coco Crisp "landing the majority of air time." Manager Bob Melvin and coaches Mike Gallego and Chip Hale were "also given a good amount of lines," while Ps Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Jarrod Parker all made "their commercial debuts." Gallego "handles a possum in one of the ads," while another spot features a "guru meditating with Crisp, Doolittle, Parker and Reddick." Crisp and Reddick are featured "testing out different pie alternatives -- think pizza, spaghetti and ham," and they also "team up in another ad that features the Bernie Lean" (MLB.com, 3/16).
RYAN EXPRESS ON THE RAILS: Rangers President of Baseball Operations & GM Jon Daniels said of team CEO Nolan Ryan, "I hope he doesn’t leave. I think we’ve got a good thing going. I think we work really well together and not just he and I, I’m talking about 150 or so people. I’m speaking for the baseball side of the organization. I’m sure you could say the same about the business side. We have a really good thing going where everyone kind of pulls on the end of the rope" (DALLASNEWS.com, 3/16).