NHL Apologizes for Lockout by Raising Ticket Prices. No, Really

Bruce Bennett

Hope you enjoyed your free Molson that one time.

This week, the Chicago-based sports marketing and research group Team Marketing Report published their Fan Cost Index (FCI) for the 2013 NHL season. According to TMR, the FCI is a measure of the cost of taking a family of four to a game, and includes common costs like parking, tickets, concessions and souvenirs.

The findings of the report confirm what the 2012 owners lockout had already suggested—the NHL sucks, and you shouldn't be giving them your money.

In the report, TMR found that the cost of taking a family of four to one game had raised 7.9 percent on average, to a total of $354.82, while the average price of a single ticket had gone up some 5.7 percent from last season.

A description of their methodology, from the report in the link above:

The exclusive Fan Cost Index gives a representative look at the cost of taking a family of four to a hockey game.

The FCI comprise the price of four general (not premium) season tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-sized hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two adult-sized caps.

Premium tickets (club seats or tickets with extra amenities as determined by the individual teams) are listed in a separate category.

The average price isn't set by the league, and individual teams were free to raise or lower ticket prices as they saw fit. Following the 2005 NHL lockout, the average price of a single ticket fell 7.5 percent, and 22 of the league's 30 teams shows decreases in the cost of attending a game—a point of promise in locking fans out of the sport for an unprecedented full season.

In a separate report, the Brand Finance firm estimates the league lost almost $330 million in brand value—roughly one-tenth of their $3.3 billion revenues in 2011-12—during the course of their latest lockout.

With 48 games on the NHL's circus schedule in 2013, owners are apparently trying to make some of that money back.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the climbing costs of attending games in a lockout-shortened season aren't unprecedented. Following the 1994-95 lockout, NHL teams played an identical 48-game schedule. Average ticket prices in that season went up a whopping 13.6 percent over the season before, according to the report.

Of the NHL's 30 member clubs, 19 raised ticket prices by one percent or more over 2011-12 prices, with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders seeing their average ticket prices increase by more than 20 percent. While Buffalo still offers some of the cheapest admission even after their increases, there exist teams like the Capitals—who raised the cost of their tickets some 18 percent—and who now have the highest average cost of attendance amongst all United States teams (and owner Ted Leonsis was reportedly one of the owners who would have held the line on locking out his players for an entire season if need be).

Only three teams—New Jersey, Anaheim and Ottawa—decreased average gate costs this season, while eight clubs maintained previous costs or increased them only marginally.

Pittsburgh was among the clubs which raised their ticket prices. The average single-ticket cost to attend a Penguins home game increased 7.1 percent over last year to $67.52, while their FCI jumped 10.1 percent to $369.07 for a family of four to attend. That places them as the fourth-most expensive home game among U.S. teams, trailing only the Flyers, Rangers and Capitals, and ninth-most expensive in the NHL.

Only the NHL banks on the inelasticity of demand for its product like this. Following their most recent labor stoppages, the NFL, NBA and MLB saw average ticket prices rise less than two percent.

While any increase seems unconscionable, the NHL has had the most games lost to labor dispute of the big four American sports: 2,208 in three lockouts since 1994-95.

Credit NHL owners for knowing how to control their market. Decreased supply creates increased demand, and the exclusivity of a 48-game season must be too tempting not to capitalize on.

The half-off Molson's were probably totally worth it.

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