Saturday, February 14, 2009

How the NHL loses fans (or, Why I skipped the game today)

Of blogging's few benefits, the most valuable is knowing that the whole world has access to your experiences. I'm writing this in the hope that it'll trickle back, somehow, to someone with real influence over the operations of an NHL franchise.

Some context

I am a 20-something, middle-class male with a college degree and a white-collar job. I have a family of 4 -- my two sons are 10 years old and 3 months old. I live in southern Tennessee, roughly 90 minutes from Nashville and 3 hours from Atlanta. As I understand the NHL's marketing strategy, all of this makes me a juicy target for their product. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I'm practically the bull's eye.

For the past 15 years I have been a die-hard hockey fan. My family and I have poured time and money into the game: holding minor-league season tickets (~$2000/yr), subscribing to Center Ice ($170/yr), own half a dozen team jerseys (~$1000), traveling to see at least a couple of games per year (~$300), regularly buying NHL video games ($50 each), and purchasing all sorts of assorted merchandise. I pay attention to the sponsors. I talk about hockey to my friends and family. I spend too much time on message boards. I blog. Earlier today, my wife even gave me a Bruins jersey and two t-shirts for Valentine's Day.

As I understand the NHL's marketing strategy, this puts me in "jackpot" territory. They make a LOT of money off me each year.

The plan

Today the Bruins play in Nashville, the only time this season I will have the opportunity to see them within a convenient driving distance of my home. Earlier this season I traveled to Atlanta to see the Bruins; I have given some casual thought to seeing them in New York on a business trip next month; so needless to say, my ticket purchase for this game should have been a "gimme".

The plan: I would buy three tickets so that I could take my wife and sons (littlest being too young to need a ticket) to see this game. In the process, I'd pay for parking, concessions and souveniers. I was cool with that.

What went wrong

I might be a fan, but I'm not a fool.

Three lower bowl tickets: $128 x 3 = $384
Three upper bowl tickets: $55 x 3 = $165
Convenience charge: $8.70 x 3 = $26.10
Ticketfast charge: $2.50 *why am I paying to print the tickets on MY computer using MY paper?
Parking: ~$10
Concessions: ~ $30
Souveniers: ~ $30
Total cost: Anywhere from $264 to $483

That's right, I am supposed to think it's worthwhile to spend as much on 2 1/2 hours of entertainment as I could use to buy an IPhone or a week of summer camp for my son. I am supposed to shell out this much money on a franchise that advertises Jason Arnott and Shea Weber as its "stars". Did you know that Jason Arnott is still in the league?

I'm a fan, but I'm not a fool.

Salt in the wound

Remember when I mentioned that my Valentine's Day present was a Bruins jersey? My wife, who is incredibly supportive of what has become a very taxing hockey obsession, contacted the Bruins organization weeks ago to try and arrange for the jersey to be signed by the team. The plan was simply to meet a team representative tonight in Nashville (this was back when the plan was still to go to the game) and have it passed around the bus or locker room.

First, she got a run-around from a front office rep, who passed her along to one of the team's travel coordinators... who turned out to be another dead end. She went from one member of the organization to another, trying to find a sympathetic ear, even going so far as to have a Facebook discussion with one of the ice girls. All of this led nowhere. I can understand that, in this day and age, there's a lot of cynicism when it comes to autographs. I understand that an autograph request is not a pressing issue for a team which is, after all, more concerned with multimillion dollar TV contracts and corporate ticket sales.

But the double-frustration of being priced out of the game AND having a simple request ingored sends a message, loud and clear, that my family and I are not valued customers.


Needless to say, I am writing this from my couch at home because I no longer have any intention of going to the game. Nor will I see it on television, because the league blacks out Preds games where I live. So I will not watch the game at all -- instead I'll do something completely different with my evening.

The obvious cost of this experience is that the Predators and the NHL immediately lose money. I won't be handing over my hard-earned dollars, nor will I be paying any attention to their sponsors or telling my friends about the great experience I had. If anything, the opposite will turn out to be true.

But the long-term cost will be even worse. My 10-year-old, that most prized of targets for the NHL marketing folks, has told me not to worry because he's "not that into hockey anyway". He has a Preds jersey from his last birthday, but can't name a single player and has never asked for any other merchandise. He's trying to memorize the names of NFL teams because that's what has taken his interest.

I have no connection, financial or emotional, to the Predators and don't intend to form one if I never see their games. I can continue to follow the Bruins long-distance, but that means I won't be buying tickets... ever. The Preds average about 14,500 fans per game, good for 28th in the league (ahead of the Islanders and Thrashers, who at least bother to offer $10 nosebleeds). My family will never add to that total.

So I'm sitting here on my couch at home, wondering... why bother? The league obviously doesn't need me, so do I really need it?

I'm going to take some time off from this blog to try and figure out an answer to that question. Maybe in a few days I'll come back. I'm thinking probably not.

In the meantime, if you know anyone close to the NHL or either the Bruins or Predators organization, I'd appreciate you passing along this story. I'd like to think the NHL isn't losing its fans for nothing.

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The Bastahd said...

Sorry to hear it Tom... can't believe the Preds charge that much for upper bowl tickets! My Bruins tickets are 7th row, upper bowl and 'only' $42.

Hopefully you will be back, if only for my own benefit as I have enjoyed reading your stuff... very insightful and always entertaining.

Bruins Buff said...

I always enjoy reading your insight, but completely understand where you're coming from.

Hope you'll be back soon.

jamestobrien said...

I agree with Bruins Buff ... ever since I came across your blog (and Stanley Cup of Chowder) it's really expanded my Bruins knowledge during a special season for the B's.

It sounds like you have a winner of a wife, so not a total loss, right? Keep up your taxing obsession - I dig the results.

Anonymous said...

We need you back. You are the only Bruins blogger that can form complete sentences.

Tom said...

I appreciate the warm thoughts, guys.

Sometimes it's good to take some time off and get a little perspective (god it's hard not to make another Kovalev crack), especially as a reminder that the NHL is a business first and foremost, and not a very well-run one at that. It's like several of my favorite restaurants: part of the charm is that they don't give a warm turd whether I like their product or not.

phil said...

Are there any minor league hockey games around where you live? I haven't been to a Bruins game in @ 3 years because I was so disgusted at the product they put on the ice back then. This years' team has been great to watch on tv, I'm thinking about catching a game before the season is over. But I'm definitely going to go see the P-Bruins soon. Good entertainment, good hockey, at reasonable prices.

Tom said...

"Are there any minor league hockey games around where you live? "

Actually there are two choices, the Thrashers and Predators :)

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.