Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ticket Prices, Profiteering and MLSE

NHL logoLeafs logoTicket prices for NHL games are noticeably higher than for the other major North American professional sports leagues because of hockey's lack of big television contracts. The money has to come from somewhere to pay for player salaries and make it a profitable enough enterprise for anyone to get involved and take all the related risks.

I knew the Toronto Maple Leafs had some of the most expensive tickets in the NHL and probably could have guessed that they are the dearest of the 30 teams. But I didn't know the difference was so great or that their increase in prices was close to the average in the league despite already having the costliest ducats. Check out all the numbers here.

You can at least accept the Anaheim Ducks hiking their prices after last season's Cup win. Bringing their rates more in line with the standard after boosting the popularity of the sport in a non-traditional market also makes their increases more acceptable. The Devils moving into their flashy new digs at the Prudential Center casts their steeper entrance fees in a more meaningful light as well.

But the Leafs, after missing out on the playoffs for the past two years and not icing a team that is significantly different this year, are utterly shameless. It's compounded by the fact that they are one of the few teams who do bring in decent revenue from their television contracts.

It makes the booing from fans at Air Canada Centre far more understandable. Whenever you cough up for some kind of outing, your expectations are inevitably in line somewhat with how much you've paid. A huge disappointment comes with the realization that it wasn't worth your effort or money and will never be filed away under "memorable" in your mind's archives of lifetime events. With the way the Leafs have been playing at home lately, it's not surprising that many fans are in a neck-wringing sort of mood.

When considering those who make the decisions to raise prices, the words "reptilian" and "bloodsuckers" come to mind.

It's not hard to imagine what a conversation between two members of the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) board of directors would have sounded like after the team failed to qualify for the post-season in 2006-07:

"Well, we finished out of the playoffs for the second year in a row. What d'ya suppose we do about this?"

"Why, we jack up ticket prices . What the hell do you think we'd do? Something reasonable like leave things the way they are out of respect for the loyal and long-suffering fans? BWAAAAAHA! Ha!"

"I guess you're right. But what do we do come the end of next season? If the Leafs miss out three years in a row, that will be the first time that they've displayed such extended futility since 1928..."

"Of course, WE DRIVE UP THE PRICES AGAIN! Do you know how many malleable sycophantic apologists we have within Leafs Nation? For every fan who raises a peep about how we over-charge and continually raise prices without any improvements in the team, there are a few dozen others who will dutifully vomit forth the usual mantras about "supply and demand" while taking pleasure in the fact that they can afford such prices while others can't.

Luckily those same useful idiots don't have words such as "profiteering," "gouging," "decency" or "moderation" in their lexicon."

"But where does it all end?"

"It doesn't. Do you think I care about some meaningless piece of tin? All that matters to me is that generations from now we will be held up in business and economics circles as a never before seen anomaly that turns old theories inside out. One line showing an increase in profits and rising prices and another line showing the accompanying fall in quality! I LOVE IT!!"

"I suppose so..."

"Shut-up and pass me the caviar..."

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